IF amidst the infinite
number of subjects contained in this book there is anything which,
contrary to my expectation, may possibly offend, I can at least assure the
public that it was not inserted with an ill intention: for I am not
naturally of a captious temper. Plato thanked the gods that he was born in
the same age with Socrates: and for my part I give thanks to the Supreme
that I was born a subject of that government under which I live; and that
it is His pleasure I should obey those whom He has made me love.
I beg one favour of my readers, which I fear will not be granted me;
this is, that they will not judge by a few hours' reading of the labour of
twenty years; that they will approve or condemn the book entire, and not a
few particular phrases. If they would search into the design of the
author, they can do it in no other way so completely as by searching into
the design of the work.
I have first of all considered mankind; and the result of my thoughts
has been, that amidst such an infinite diversity of laws and manners, they
were not solely conducted by the caprice of fancy.
I have laid down the first principles, and have found that the
particular cases follow naturally from them; that the histories of all
nations are only consequences of them; and that every particular law is
connected with another law, or depends on some other of a more general
When I have been obliged to look back into antiquity, I have endeavoured
to assume the spirit of the ancients, lest I should consider those things
as alike which are really different; and lest I should miss the difference
of those which appear to be alike.
I have not drawn my principles from my prejudices, but from the nature
Here a great many truths will not appear till we have seen the chain
which connects them with others. The more we enter into particulars, the
more we shall perceive the certainty of the principles on which they are
founded. I have not even given all these particulars, for who could
mention them all without a most insupportable fatigue?
The reader will not here meet with any of those bold flights which seem
to characterise the works of the present age. When things are examined
with never so small a degree of extent, the sallies of imagination must
vanish; these generally arise from the mind's collecting all its powers to
view only one side of the subject, while it leaves the other unobserved.
I write not to censure anything established in any country whatsoever.
Every nation will here find the reasons on which its maxims are founded;
and this will be the natural inference, that to propose alterations
belongs only to those who are so happy as to be born with a genius capable
of penetrating the entire constitution of a state.
It is not a matter of indifference that the minds of the people be
enlightened. The prejudices of magistrates have arisen from national
prejudice. In a time of ignorance they have committed even the greatest
evils without the least scruple; but in an enlightened age they even
tremble while conferring the greatest blessings. They perceive the ancient
abuses; they see how they must be reformed; but they are sensible also of
the abuses of a reformation. They let the evil continue, if they fear a
worse; they are content with a lesser good, if they doubt a greater. They
examine into the parts, to judge of them in connection; and they examine
all the causes, to discover their different effects.
Could I but succeed so as to afford new reasons to every man to love his
prince, his country, his laws; new reasons to render him more sensible in
every nation and government of the blessings he enjoys, I should think
myself the most happy of mortals.
Could I but succeed so as to persuade those who command, to increase
their knowledge in what they ought to prescribe; and those who obey, to
find a new pleasure resulting from obedience — I should think myself
the most happy of mortals.
The most happy of mortals should I think myself could I contribute to
make mankind recover from their prejudices. By prejudices I here mean, not
that which renders men ignorant of some particular things, but whatever
renders them ignorant of themselves.
It is in endeavouring to instruct mankind that we are best able to
practise that general virtue which comprehends the love of all. Man, that
flexible being, conforming in society to the thoughts and impressions of
others, is equally capable of knowing his own nature, whenever it is laid
open to his view; and of losing the very sense of it, when this idea is
banished from his mind.
Often have I begun, and as often have I laid aside, this undertaking. I
have a thousand times given the leaves I had written to the winds: I,
every day, felt my paternal hands fall. I have followed my object without
any fixed plan: I have known neither rules nor exceptions; I have found
the truth, only to lose it again. But when I once discovered my first
principles, everything I sought for appeared; and in the course of twenty
years, I have seen my work begun, growing up, advancing to maturity, and
If this work meets with success, I shall owe it chiefly to the grandeur
and majesty of the subject. However, I do not think that I have been
totally deficient in point of genius. When I have seen what so many great
men both in France, England, and Germany have said before me, I have been
lost in admiration; but I have not lost my courage: I have said with
Correggio, "And I also am a painter."
1. For the better understanding of the first four books of this work, it
is to be observed that what I distinguish by the name of virtue,
in a republic, is the love of one's country, that is, the love of
equality. It is not a moral, nor a Christian, but a political virtue;
and it is the spring which sets the republican government in motion, as
honour is the spring which gives motion to monarchy. Hence it is that I
have distinguished the love of one's country, and of equality, by the
appellation of political virtue. My ideas are new, and therefore I have
been obliged to find new words, or to give new acceptations to old terms,
in order to convey my meaning. They, who are unacquainted with this
particular, have made me say most strange absurdities, such as would be
shocking in any part of the world, because in all countries and
governments morality is requisite.
2. The reader is also to notice that there is a vast difference between
saying that a certain quality, modification of the mind, or virtue, is not
the spring by which government is actuated, and affirming that it is not
to be found in that government. Were I to say such a wheel or such a
pinion is not the spring which sets the watch going, can you infer thence
that they are not to be found in the watch? So far is it from being true
that the moral and Christian virtues are excluded from monarchy, that even
political virtue is not excluded. In a word, honour is found in a
republic, though its spring be political virtue; and political virtue is
found in a monarchical government, though it be actuated by honour.
To conclude, the honest man of whom we treat in the third book, chapter
5, is not the Christian, but the political honest man, who is possessed of
the political virtue there mentioned. He is the man who loves the laws of
his country, and who is actuated by the love of those laws. I have set
these matters in a clearer light in the present edition, by giving a more
precise meaning to my expression: and in most places where I have made use
of the word virtue I have taken care to add the term political.
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