Of Laws in Relation to the Nature of the Climate
1. General Idea. If it be true that the
temper of the mind and the passions of the heart are extremely different
in different climates, the laws ought to be in relation both to the
variety of those passions and to the variety of those tempers.
2. Of the Difference of Men in different
Climates. Cold air constringes the extremities of the external fibres
of the body;1 this increases their
elasticity, and favours the return of the blood from the extreme parts to
the heart. It contracts2 those very
fibres; consequently it increases also their force. On the contrary, warm
air relaxes and lengthens the extremes of the fibres; of course it
diminishes their force and elasticity.
People are therefore more vigorous in cold climates. Here the action of
the heart and the reaction of the extremities of the fibres are better
performed, the temperature of the humours is greater, the blood moves more
freely towards the heart, and reciprocally the heart has more power. This
superiority of strength must produce various effects; for instance, a
greater boldness, that is, more courage; a greater sense of superiority,
that is, less desire of revenge; a greater opinion of security, that is,
more frankness, less suspicion, policy, and cunning. In short, this must
be productive of very different tempers. Put a man into a close, warm
place, and for the reasons above given he will feel a great faintness. If
under this circumstance you propose a bold enterprise to him, I believe
you will find him very little disposed towards it; his present weakness
will throw him into despondency; he will be afraid of everything, being in
a state of total incapacity. The inhabitants of warm countries are, like
old men, timorous; the people in cold countries are, like young men,
brave. If we reflect on the late wars,3
which are more recent in our memory, and in which we can better
distinguish some particular effects that escape us at a greater distance
of time, we shall find that the northern people, transplanted into
southern regions,4 did not perform
such exploits as their countrymen who, fighting in their own climate,
possessed their full vigour and courage.
This strength of the fibres in northern nations is the cause that the
coarser juices are extracted from their aliments. Hence two things result:
one, that the parts of the chyle or lymph are more proper, by reason of
their large surface, to be applied to and to nourish the fibres; the
other, that they are less proper, from their coarseness, to give a certain
subtilty to the nervous juice. Those people have therefore large bodies
and but little vivacity.
The nerves that terminate from all parts in the cutis form each a
nervous bundle; generally speaking, the whole nerve is not moved, but a
very minute part. In warm climates, where the cutis is relaxed, the ends
of the nerves are expanded and laid open to the weakest action of the
smallest objects. In cold countries the cutis is constinged and the papillæ
compressed: the miliary glands are in some measure paralytic; and the
sensation does not reach the brain, except when it is very strong and
proceeds from the whole nerve at once. Now, imagination, taste,
sensibility, and vivacity depend on an infinite number of small
I have observed the outermost part of a sheep's tongue, where, to the
naked eye, it seems covered with papillæ. On these papillæ I
have discerned through a microscope small hairs, or a kind of down;
between the papillæ were pyramids shaped towards the ends like
pincers. Very likely these pyramids are the principal organ of taste.
I caused the half of this tongue to be frozen, and, observing it with
the naked eye, I found the papillæ considerably diminished: even
some rows of them were sunk into their sheath. The outermost part I
examined with the microscope, and perceived no pyramids. In proportion as
the frost went off, the papillæ seemed to the naked eye to rise, and
with the microscope the miliary glands began to appear.
This observation confirms what I have been saying, that in cold
countries the nervous glands are less expanded: they sink deeper into
their sheaths, or they are sheltered from the action of external objects;
consequently they have not such lively sensations.
In cold countries they have very little sensibility tor pleasure; in
temperate countries, they have more; in warm countries, their sensibility
is exquisite. As climates are distinguished by degrees of latitude, we
might distinguish them also in some measure by those of sensibility. I
have been at the opera in England and in Italy, where I have seen the same
pieces and the same performers: and yet the same music produces such
different effects on the two nations: one is so cold and phlegmatic, and
the other so lively and enraptured, that it seems almost inconceivable.
It is the same with regard to pain, which is excited by the laceration
of some fibre of the body. The Author of nature has made it an established
rule that this pain should be more acute in proportion as the laceration
is greater: now it is evident that the large bodies and coarse fibres of
the people of the north are less capable of laceration than the delicate
fibres of the inhabitants of warm countries; consequently the soul is
there less sensible of pain. You must flay a Muscovite alive to make him
From this delicacy of organs peculiar to warm climates it follows that
the soul is most sensibly moved by whatever relates to the union of the
two sexes: here everything leads to this object.
In northern climates scarcely has the animal part of love a power of
making itself felt. In temperate climates, love, attended by a thousand
appendages, endeavours to please by things that have at first the
appearance, though not the reality, of this passion. In warmer climates it
is liked for its own sake, it is the only cause of happiness, it is life
In southern countries a machine of a delicate frame but strong
sensibility resigns itself either to a love which rises and is incessantly
laid in a seraglio, or to a passion which leaves women in a greater
independence, and is consequently exposed to a thousand inquietudes. In
northern regions a machine robust and heavy finds pleasure in whatever is
apt to throw the spirits into motion, such as hunting, travelling, war,
and wine. If we travel towards the north, we meet with people who have few
vices, many virtues, and a great share of frankness and sincerity. If we
draw near the south, we fancy ourselves entirely removed from the verge of
morality; here the strongest passions are productive of all manner of
crimes, each man endeavouring, let the means be what they will, to indulge
his inordinate desires. In temperate climates we find the inhabitants
inconstant in their manners, as well as in their vices and virtues: the
climate has not a quality determinate enough to fix them.
The heat of the climate may be so excessive as to deprive the body of
all vigour and strength. Then the faintness is communicated to the mind;
there is no curiosity, no enterprise, no generosity of sentiment; the
inclinations are all passive; indolence constitutes the utmost happiness;
scarcely any punishment is so severe as mental employment; and slavery is
more supportable than the force and vigour of mind necessary for human
3. Contradiction in the Tempers of some Southern
Nations. The Indians5 are
naturally a pusillanimous people; even the children6
of Europeans born in India lose the courage peculiar to their own climate.
But how shall we reconcile this with their customs and penances so full of
barbarity? The men voluntarily undergo the greatest hardships, and the
women burn themselves; here we find a very odd compound of fortitude and
Nature, having framed those people of a texture so weak as to fill them
with timidity, has formed them at the same time of an imagination so
lively that every object makes the strongest impression upon them. That
delicacy of organs which renders them apprehensive of death contributes
likewise to make them dread a thousand things more than death: the very
same sensibility induces them to fly and dare all dangers.
As a good education is more necessary to children than to such as have
arrived at maturity of understanding, so the inhabitants of those
countries have much greater need than the European nations of a wiser
legislator. The greater their sensibility, the more it behoves them to
receive proper impressions, to imbibe no prejudices, and to let themselves
be directed by reason.
At the time of the Romans the inhabitants of the north of Europe were
destitute of arts, education, and almost of laws; and yet the good sense
annexed to the gross fibres of those climates enabled them to make an
admirable stand against the power of Rome, till the memorable period in
which they quitted their woods to subvert that great empire.
4. Cause of the Immutability of Religion,
Manners, Customs, and Laws in the Eastern Countries. If to that
delicacy of organs which renders the eastern nations so susceptible of
every impression you add likewise a sort of indolence of mind, naturally
connected with that of the body, by means of which they grow incapable of
any exertion or effort, it is easy to comprehend that when once the soul
has received an impression it cannot change it. This is the reason that
the laws, manners, and customs,7
even those which seem quite indifferent, such as their mode of dress, are
the same to this very day in eastern countries as they were a thousand
5. That those are bad Legislators who favour the
Vices of the Climate, and good Legislators who oppose those Vices. The
Indians believe that repose and non-existence are the foundation of all
things, and the end in which they terminate. Hence they consider entire
inaction as the most perfect of all states, and the object of their
desires. To the Supreme Being they give the title of immovable.8
The inhabitants of Siam believe that their utmost happiness9
consists in not being obliged to animate a machine, or to give motion to a
In those countries where the excess of heat enervates and exhausts the
body, rest is so delicious, and motion so painful, that this system of
metaphysics seems natural; and Foe,10
the legislator of the Indies, was directed by his own sensations when he
placed mankind in a state extremely passive; but his doctrine arising from
the laziness of the climate favoured it also in its turn; which has been
the source of an infinite deal of mischief.
The legislators of China were more rational when, considering men not in
the peaceful state which they are to enjoy hereafter, but in the situation
proper for discharging the several duties of life, they made their
religion, philosophy, and laws all practical. The more the physical causes
incline mankind to inaction, the more the moral causes should estrange
them from it.
6. Of Agriculture in warm Climates.
Agriculture is the principal labour of man. The more the climate inclines
him to shun this labour, the more the religion and laws of the country
ought to incite him to it. Thus the Indian laws, which give the lands to
the prince, and destroy the spirit of property among the subjects,
increase the bad effects of the climate, that is, their natural indolence.
7. Of Monkery. The very same mischiefs result
from monkery: it had its rise in the warm countries of the East, where
they are less inclined to action than to speculation.
In Asia the number of dervishes or monks seems to increase together with
the warmth of the climate. The Indies, where the heat is excessive, are
full of them; and the same difference is found in Europe.
In order to surmount the laziness of the climate, the laws ought to
endeavour to remove all means of subsisting without labour: but in the
southern parts of Europe they act quite the reverse. To those who want to
live in a state of indolence, they afford retreats the most proper for a
speculative life, and endow them with immense revenues. These men, who
live in the midst of plenty which they know not how to enjoy, are in the
right to give their superfluities away to the common people. The poor are
bereft of property; and these men indemnify them by supporting them in
idleness, so as to make them even grow fond of their misery.
8. An excellent Custom of China. The
historical relations11 of China
mention a ceremony12 of opening the
ground which the emperor performs every year. The design of this public
and solemn act is to excite the people to tillage.13
Further, the emperor is every year informed of the husbandman who has
distinguished himself most in his profession; and he makes him a mandarin
of the eighth order.
Among the ancient Persians14 the
kings quitted their grandeur and pomp on the eighth day of the month,
called Chorrem-ruz, to eat with the husbandmen. These institutions
were admirably calculated for the encouragement of agriculture.
9. Means of encouraging Industry. We shall
show, in the nineteenth book, that lazy nations are generally proud. Now
the effect might well be turned against the cause, and laziness be
destroyed by pride. In the south of Europe, where people have such a high
notion of the point of honour, it would be right to give prizes to
husbandmen who had excelled in agriculture; or to artists who had made the
greatest improvements in their several professions. This practice has
succeeded in our days in Ireland, where it has established one of the most
considerable linen manufactures in Europe.
10. Of the Laws in relation to the Sobriety of
the People. In warm countries the aqueous part of the blood loses
itself greatly by perspiration;15
it must therefore be supplied by a like liquid. Water is there of
admirable use; strong liquors would congeal the globules16
of blood that remain after the transuding of the aqueous humour.
In cold countries the aqueous part of the blood is very little evacuated
by perspiration. They may therefore make use of spirituous liquors,
without which the blood would congeal. They are full of humours;
consequently strong liquors, which give a motion to the blood, are proper
for those countries.
The law of Mahomet, which prohibits the drinking of wine, is therefore
fitted to the climate of Arabia: and indeed, before Mahomet's time, water
was the common drink of the Arabs. The law17
which forbade the Carthaginians to drink wine was a law of the climate;
and, indeed, the climate of those two countries is pretty nearly the same.
Such a law would be improper for cold countries, where the climate seems
to force them to a kind of national intemperance, very different from
personal ebriety. Drunkenness predominates throughout the world, in
proportion to the coldness and humidity of the climate. Go from the
equator to the north pole, and you will find this vice increasing together
with the degree of latitude. Go from the equator again to the south pole,
and you will find the same vice travelling south,18
exactly in the same proportion.
It is very natural that where wine is contrary to the climate, and
consequently to health, the excess of it should be more severely punished
than in countries where intoxication produces very few bad effects to the
person, fewer to the society, and where it does not make people frantic
and wild, but only stupid and heavy. Hence those laws19
which inflicted a double punishment for crimes committed in drunkenness
were applicable only to a personal, and not to a national, ebriety. A
German drinks through custom, and a Spaniard by choice.
In warm countries the relaxing of the fibres produces a great evacuation
of the liquids, but the solid parts are less transpired. The fibres, which
act but faintly, and have very little elasticity, are not much impaired;
and a small quantity of nutritious juice is sufficient to repair them; for
which reason they eat very little.
It is the variety of wants in different climates that first occasioned a
difference in the manner of living, and this gave rise to a variety of
laws. Where people are very communicative there must be particular laws,
and others where there is but little communication.
11. Of the Laws in relation to the Distempers of
the Climate. Herodotus20
informs us that the Jewish laws concerning the leprosy were borrowed from
the practice of the Egyptians. And, indeed, the same distemper required
the same remedies. The Greeks and the primitive Romans were strangers to
these laws, as well as to the disease. The climate of Egypt and Palestine
rendered them necessary; and the facility with which this disease is
spread is sufficient to make us sensible of the wisdom and sagacity of
Even we ourselves have felt the effects of them. The Crusades brought
the leprosy amongst us; but the wise regulations made at that time
hindered it from infecting the mass of the people.
We find by the law of the Lombards21
that this disease was spread in Italy before the Crusades, and merited the
attention of the legislature. Rotharis ordained that a leper should be
expelled from his house, banished to a particular place, and rendered
incapable of disposing of his property; because from the very moment he
had been turned out of his house he was reckoned dead in the eye of the
law. In order to prevent all communication with lepers, they were rendered
incapable of civil acts.
I am apt to think that this disease was brought into Italy by the
conquests of the Greek emperors, in whose armies there might be some
soldiers from Palestine or Egypt. Be that as it may, the progress of it
was stopped till the time of the Crusades.
It is related that Pompey's soldiers returning from Syria brought a
distemper home with them not unlike the leprosy. We have no account of any
regulation made at that time; but it is highly probable that some such
step was taken, since the distemper was checked till the time of the
It is now two centuries since a disease unknown to our ancestors was
first transplanted from the new world to ours, and came to attack human
nature even in the very source of life and pleasure. Most of the principal
families in the south of Europe were seen to perish by a distemper that
had grown too common to be ignominious, and was considered in no other
light than in that of its being fatal. It was the thirst of gold that
propagated this disease; the Europeans went continually to America, and
always brought back a new leaven of it.
Reasons drawn from religion seemed to require that this punishment of
guilt should be permitted to continue; but the infection had reached the
bosom of matrimony, and given the vicious taint even to guiltless infants.
As it is the business of legislators to watch over the health of the
citizens, it would have been a wise part in them to have stopped this
communication by laws made on the plan of those of Moses.
The plague is a disease whose infectious progress is much more rapid.
Egypt is its principal seat, whence it spreads over the whole globe. Most
countries in Europe have made exceedingly good regulations to prevent this
infection, and in our times an admirable method has been contrived to stop
it; this is by forming a line of troops round the infected country, which
cuts off all manner of communication.
The Turks,22 who have no such
regulations, see the Christians escape this infection in the same town,
and none but themselves perish; they buy the clothes of the infected, wear
them, and proceed in their old way, as if nothing had happened. The
doctrine of a rigid fate, which directs their whole conduct, renders the
magistrate a quiet spectator; he thinks that everything comes from the
hand of God, and that man has nothing more to do than to submit.
12. Of the Laws against Suicides. We do not
find in history that the Romans ever killed themselves without a cause;
but the English are apt to commit suicide most unaccountably; they destroy
themselves even in the bosom of happiness. This action among the Romans
was the effect of education, being connected with their principles and
customs; among the English it is the consequence of a distemper,23
being connected with the physical state of the machine, and independent of
every other cause.
In all probability it is a defect of the filtration of the nervous
juice: the machine, whose motive faculties are often unexerted, is weary
of itself; the soul feels no pain, but a certain uneasiness in existing.
Pain is a local sensation, which leads us to the desire of seeing an end
of it; the burden of life, which prompts us to the desire of ceasing to
exist, is an evil confined to no particular part.
It is evident that the civil laws of some countries may have reasons for
branding suicide with infamy: but in England it cannot be punished without
punishing the effects of madness.
13. Effects arising from the Climate of England.
In a nation so distempered by the climate as to have a disrelish of
everything, nay, even of life, it is plain that the government most
suitable to the inhabitants is that in which they cannot lay their
uneasiness to any single person's charge, and in which, being under the
direction rather of the laws than of the prince, it is impossible for them
to change the government without subverting the laws themselves.
And if this nation has likewise derived from the climate a certain
impatience of temper, which renders them incapable of bearing the same
train of things for any long continuance, it is obvious that the
government above mentioned is the fittest for them.
This impatience of temper is not very considerable of itself; but it may
become so when joined with courage.
It is quite a different thing from levity, which makes people undertake
or drop a project without cause; it borders more upon obstinacy, because
it proceeds from so lively a sense of misery that it is not weakened even
by the habit of suffering.
This temper in a free nation is extremely proper for disconcerting the
projects of tyranny,24 which is
always slow and feeble in its commencement, as in the end it is active and
lively; which at first only stretches out a hand to assist, and exerts
afterwards a multitude of arms to oppress.
Slavery is ever preceded by sleep. But a people who find no rest in any
situation, who continually explore every part, and feel nothing but pain,
can hardly be lulled to sleep.
Politics is a smooth file, which cuts gradually, and attains its end by
a slow progression. Now the people of whom we have been speaking are
incapable of bearing the delays, the details, and the coolness of
negotiations: in these they are more unlikely to succeed than any other
nation; hence they are apt to lose by treaties what they obtain by their
14. Other Effects of the Climate. Our
ancestors, the ancient Germans, lived in a climate where the passions were
extremely calm. Their laws decided only in such cases where the injury was
visible to the eye, and went no further. And as they judged of the
outrages done to men from the greatness of the wound, they acted with no
other delicacy in respect to the injuries done to women. The law of the
Alemans25 on this subject is very
extraordinary. If a person uncovers a woman's head, he pays a fine of
fifty sous; if he uncovers her leg up to the knee, he pays the same; and
double from the knee upwards. One would think that the law measured the
insults offered to women as we measure a figure in geometry; it did not
punish the crime of the imagination, but that of the eye. But upon the
migration of a German nation into Spain, the climate soon found a
necessity for different laws. The law of the Visigoths inhibited the
surgeons to bleed a free woman, except either her father, mother, brother,
son, or uncle was present. As the imagination of the people grew warm, so
did that of the legislators; the law suspected everything when the people
had become suspicious.
These laws had, therefore, a particular regard for the two sexes. But in
their punishments they seem rather to humour the revengeful temper of
private persons than to administer public justice. Thus, in most cases,
they reduced both the criminals to be slaves to the offended relatives or
to the injured husband; a free-born woman26
who had yielded to the embraces of a married man was delivered up to his
wife to dispose of her as she pleased. They obliged the slaves,27
if they found their master's wife in adultery, to bind her and carry her
to her husband; they even permitted her children28
to be her accusers, and her slaves to be tortured in order to convict her.
Thus their laws were far better adapted to refine, even to excess, a
certain point of honour than to form a good civil administration. We must
not, therefore, be surprised if Count Julian was of opinion that an
affront of that kind ought to be expiated by the ruin of his king and
country: we must not be surprised if the Moors, with such a conformity of
manners, found it so easy to settle and to maintain themselves in Spain,
and to retard the fall of their empire.
15. Of the different Confidence which the Laws
have in the People, according to the Difference of Climates. The
people of Japan are of so stubborn and perverse a temper that neither
their legislators nor magistrates can put any confidence in them: they set
nothing before their eyes but judgments, menaces, and chastisements; every
step they take is subject to the inquisition of the civil magistrate.
Those laws which out of five heads of families establish one as a
magistrate over the other four; those laws which punish a family or a
whole ward for a single crime; those laws, in fine, which find nobody
innocent where one may happen to be guilty, are made with a design to
implant in the people a mutual distrust, and to make every man the
inspector, witness, and judge of his neighbour's conduct.
On the contrary, the people of India are mild,29
tender, and compassionate. Hence their legislators repose great confidence
in them. They have established30
very few punishments; these are not severe, nor are they rigorously
executed. They have subjected nephews to their uncles, and orphans to
their guardians, as in other countries they are subjected to their
fathers; they have regulated the succession by the acknowledged merit of
the successor. They seem to think that every individual ought to place
entire confidence in the good nature of his fellow-subjects.31
They enfranchise their slaves without difficulty, they marry them, they
treat them as their children.32
Happy climate which gives birth to innocence, and produces a lenity in the
1. This appears even in the
countenance: in cold weather people look thinner.
2. We know that it shortens iron.
3. Those for the succession to the
4. For instance, in Spain.
5. "One hundred European
soldiers," says Tavernier, "would without any great difficulty
beat a thousand Indian soldiers."
6. Even the Persians who settle in
the Indies contract in the third generation the indolence and cowardice of
the Indians. See Bernier on the Mogul, i, p. 182.
7. We find by a fragment of Nicolaus
Damascenus, collected by Constantine Porphyrogenitus, that it was an
ancient custom in the East to send to strangle a governor who had given
any displeasure; it was in the time of the Medes.
8. Panamanack: See Kircher.
9. La Loubere, Account of the
Kingdom of Siam, p. 446.
10. Foe endeavoured to reduce the
heart to a mere vacuum: "We have eyes and ears, but perfection
consists in neither seeing nor hearing; a mouth, hands, &c., but
perfection requires that these members should be inactive." This is
taken from the dialogue of a Chinese philosopher, quoted by Father Du
11. Father Du Halde, History of
China, i, p. 72.
12. Several of the kings of India do
the same. La Loubere, Account of the Kingdom of Siam, p. 69.
13. Venty, the third emperor of the
third dynasty, tilled the lands himself, and made the empress and his
wives employ their time in the silkworks in his palace. History of
14. Hyde, Religion of the
15. Monsieur Bernier, travelling from
Lahore to Cashmere, wrote thus: "My body is a sieve; scarcely have I
swallowed a pint of water, but I see it transude like dew out of all my
limbs, even to my fingers' ends. I drink ten pints a day, and it does me
no manner of harm." — Bernier, Travels, ii, p. 261.
16. In the blood there are red
globules, fibrous parts, white globules, and water, in which the whole
17. Plato, Laws, ii;
Aristotle, Of the Care of Domestic Affairs; Eusebius, Evangelical
Preparation, xii. 17.
18. This is seen in the Hottentots,
and the inhabitants of the most southern part of Chili.
19. As Pittacus did, according to
Aristotle, Politics, ii. 12. He lived in a climate where
drunkenness is not a national vice.
20. Book ii.
21. Book ii. tit. 1, § 3; tit.
18, § 1.
22. Ricaut, State of the Ottoman
Empire, p. 284.
23. It may be complicated with the
scurvy, which, in some countries especially, renders a man whimsical and
unsupportable to himself. See Pirard, Voyages, part II, 21.
24. Here I take this word for the
design of subverting the established power, and especially that of
democracy; this is the signification in which it was understood by the
Greeks and Romans.
25. Chapter 58, §§ 1, 2.
26. Law of the Visigoths, iii, tit.
4, § 9.
27. Ibid., § 6.
28. Ibid., § 13.
29. See Bernier, ii, p. 140.
30. See in the Edifying Letters,
coll. xiv, p. 403, the principal laws or customs of the inhabitants of the
peninsula on this side the Ganges.
31. See Edifying Letters,
coll, ix, p. 378.
32. I had once thought that the
lenity of slavery in India had made Diodorus say that there was neither
master nor slave in that country; but Diodorus has attributed to the whole
continent of India what, according to Strabo, xv, belonged only to a
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