at 4年前  ca 论法的精神经典语录  pv 1108  by 名著  

In what Manner the Laws are in relation to the Principles of Despotic Government. 

    The principle of despotic government is fear; but a timid, ignorant, and faint-spirited people have no occasion for a great number of laws.


    Everything ought to depend here on two or three ideas; hence there is no necessity that any new notions should be added. When we want to break a horse, we take care not to let him change his master, his lesson, or his pace. Thus an impression is made on his brain by two or three motions, and no more.

    If a prince is shut up in a seraglio, he cannot leave his voluptuous abode without alarming those who keep him confined. Thev will not bear that his person and power should pass into other hands. He seldom therefore wages war in person, and hardly ventures to entrust the command to his generals.

    A prince of this stamp, unaccustomed to resistance in his palace, is enraged to see his will opposed by armed force; hence he is generally governed by wrath or vengeance. Besides, he can have no notion of true glory. War therefore is carried on under such a government in its full natural fury, and less extent is given to the law of nations than in other states.

    Such a prince has so many imperfections that they are afraid to expose his natural stupidity to public view. He is concealed in his palace, and the people are ignorant of his situation. It is lucky for him that the inhabitants of those countries need only the name of a prince to govern them.

    When Charles XII was at Bender, he met with some opposition from the senate of Sweden; upon which he wrote word home that he would send one of his boots to command them. This boot would have governed like a despotic prince.

    If the prince is a prisoner, he is supposed to be dead, and another mounts the throne. The treaties made by the prisoner are void, his successor will not ratify them; and indeed, as he is the law, the state, and the prince: when he is no longer a prince, he is nothing: were he not therefore deemed to be deceased, the state would be subverted.

    One thing which chiefly determined the Turks to conclude a separate peace with Peter I was the Muscovites telling the Vizir that in Sweden another prince had been placed upon the throne.36

    The preservation of the state is only the preservation of the prince, or rather of the palace where he is confined. Whatever does not directly menace this palace or the capital makes no impression on ignorant, proud, and prejudiced minds; and as for the concatenation of events, they are unable to trace, to foresee, or even to conceive it. Politics, with its several springs and laws, must here be very much limited; the political government is as simple as the civil.


    The whole is reduced to reconciling the political and civil administration to the domestic government, the officers of state to those of the seraglio.

    Such a state is happiest when it can look upon itself as the only one in the world, when it is environed with deserts, and separated from those people whom they call Barbarians. Since it cannot depend on the militia, it is proper it should destroy a part of itself.

    As fear is the principle of despotic government, its end is tranquillity; but this tranquillity cannot be called a peace: no, it is only the silence of those towns which the enemy is ready to invade.

    Since strength does not lie in the state, but in the army that founded it, in order to defend the state the army must be preserved, how formidable soever to the prince. How, then, can we reconcile the security of the government to that of the prince's person?

    Observe how industriously the Russian government endeavours to temper its arbitrary power, which it finds more burdensome than the people themselves. They have broken their numerous guards, mitigated criminal punishments, erected tribunals, entered into a knowledge of the laws, and instructed the people. But there are particular causes that will probably once more involve them in the very misery which they now endeavour to avoid.

    In those states religion has more influence than anywhere else; it is fear added to fear. In Mahomedan countries, it is partly from their religion that the people derive the surprising veneration they have for their prince.


    It is religion that amends in some measure the Turkish constitution. The subjects, who have no attachment of honour to the glory and grandeur of the state, are connected with it by the force and principle of religion.

    Of all despotic governments there is none that labours more under its own weight than that wherein the prince declares himself proprietor of all the lands, and heir to all his subjects. Hence the neglect of agriculture arises; and if the prince intermeddles likewise in trade, all manner of industry is ruined.

    Under this sort of government, nothing is repaired or improved. Houses are built only for the necessity of habitation; there is no digging of ditches or planting of trees; everything is drawn from, but nothing restored to, the earth; the ground lies untilled, and the whole country becomes a desert.

    Is it to be imagined that the laws which abolish the property of land and the succession of estates will diminish the avarice and cupidity of the great? By no means. They will rather stimulate this cupidity and avarice. The great men will be prompted to use a thousand oppressive methods, imagining they have no other property than the gold and silver which they are able to seize upon by violence, or to conceal.

    To prevent, therefore, the utter ruin of the state, the avidity of the prince ought to be moderated by some established custom. Thus, in Turkey, the sovereign is satisfied with the right of three per cent on the value of inheritances. But as he gives the greatest part of the lands to his soldiery, and disposes of them as he pleases; as he seizes on all the inheritances of the officers of the empire at their decease; as he has the property of the possessions of those who die without issue, and the daughters have only the usufruct; it thence follows that the greatest part of the estates of the country are held in a precarious manner.

    By the laws of Bantam, the king seizes on the whole inheritance, even wife, children, and habitation. In order to elude the cruelest part of this law, they are obliged to marry their children at eight, nine, or ten years of age, and sometimes younger, to the end that they may not be a wretched part of the father's succession.

    In countries where there are no fundamental laws, the succession to the empire cannot be fixed.      The crown is then elective, and the right of electing is in the prince, who names a successor either of his own or of some other family. In vain would it be to establish here the succession of the eldest son; the prince might always choose another. The successor is declared by the prince himself, or by a civil war. Hence a despotic state is, upon another account, more liable than a monarchical government to dissolution.

    As every prince of the royal family is held equally capable of being chosen, hence it follows that the prince who ascends the throne immediately strangles his brothers, as in Turkey; or puts out their eyes, as in Persia; or bereaves them of their understanding, as in the Mogul's country; or if these precautions are not used, as in Morocco, the vacancy of the throne is always attended with the horrors of a civil war.

    By the constitution of Russia the Czar may choose whom he has a mind for his successor, whether of his own or of a strange family. Such a settlement produces a thousand revolutions, and renders the throne as tottering as the succession is arbitrary.

    The right of succession being one of those things which are of most importance to the people to know, the best is that which most sensibly strikes them. Such as a certain order of birth. A settlement of this kind puts a stop to intrigues, and stifles ambition; the mind of a weak prince is no longer enslaved, nor is he made to speak his will as he is just expiring.


    When the succession is established by a fundamental law, only one prince is the successor, and his brothers have neither a real nor apparent right to dispute the crown with him. They can neither pretend to nor take any advantage of the will of a father. There is then no more occasion to confine or kill the king's brother than any other subject.

    But in despotic governments, where the prince's brothers are equally his slaves and his rivals, prudence requires that their persons be secured; especially in Mahomedan countries, where religion considers victory or success as a divine decision in their favour; so that they have no such thing as a monarch de jure, but only de facto.

    There is a far greater incentive to ambition in countries where the princes of the blood are sensible that if they do not ascend the throne they must be either imprisoned or put to death, than among us, where they are placed in such a station as may satisfy, if not their ambition, at least their moderate desires.

    The princes of despotic governments have ever perverted the use of marriage. They generally take a great many wives, especially in that part of the world where absolute power is in some measure naturalised, namely, Asia. Hence they come to have such a multitude of children that they can hardly have any great affection for them, nor the children for one another.


    The reigning family resembles the state; it is too weak itself, and its head too powerful; it seems very numerous and extensive, and yet is suddenly extinct. Artaxerxes put all his children to death for conspiring against him.


    It is not at all probable that fifty children would conspire against their father, and much less that this conspiracy would be owing to his having refused to resign his concubine to his eldest son. It is more natural to believe that the whole was an intrigue of those oriental seraglios, where fraud, treachery, and deceit reign in silence and darkness; and where an old prince, grown every day more infirm, is the first prisoner of the palace.

    After what has been said, one would imagine that human nature should perpetually rise up against despotism. But notwithstanding the love of liberty, so natural to mankind, notwithstanding their innate detestation of force and violence, most nations are subject to this very government. This is easily accounted for. To form a moderate government, it is necessary to combine the several powers; to regulate, temper, and set them in motion; to give, as it were, ballast to one, in order to enable it to counterpoise the other. This is a masterpiece of legislation; rarely produced by hazard, and seldom attained by prudence. On the contrary, a despotic government offers itself, as it were, at first sight; it is uniform throughout; and as passions only are requisite to establish it, this is what every capacity may reach.



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