BEFORE speaking of the
different forms of government, let us try to fix the exact sense of the
word, which has not yet been very clearly explained.
1. GOVERNMENT IN GENERAL
I WARN the reader that
this chapter requires careful reading, and that I am unable to make myself
clear to those who refuse to be attentive. Every free action is produced
by the concurrence of two causes; one moral, i.e., the will which
determines the act; the other physical, i.e., the power which executes it.
When I walk towards an object, it is necessary first that I should will to
go there, and, in the second place, that my feet should carry me. If a
paralytic wills to run and an active man wills not to, they will both stay
where they are. The body politic has the same motive powers; here too
force and will are distinguished, will under the name of legislative power
and force under that of executive power. Without their concurrence,
nothing is, or should be, done.
We have seen that the legislative power belongs to the people, and can
belong to it alone. It may, on the other hand, readily be seen, from the
principles laid down above, that the executive power cannot belong to the
generality as legislature or Sovereign, because it consists wholly of
particular acts which fall outside the competency of the law, and
consequently of the Sovereign, whose acts must always be laws.
The public force therefore needs an agent of its own to bind it together
and set it to work under the direction of the general will, to serve as a
means of communication between the State and the Sovereign, and to do for
the collective person more or less what the union of soul and body does
for man. Here we have what is, in the State, the basis of government,
often wrongly confused with the Sovereign, whose minister it is.
What then is government? An intermediate body set up between the
subjects and the Sovereign, to secure their mutual correspondence, charged
with the execution of the laws and the maintenance of liberty, both civil
The members of this body are called magistrates or kings, that
is to say governors, and the whole body bears the name prince.18
Thus those who hold that the act, by which a people puts itself under a
prince, is not a contract, are certainly right. It is simply and solely a
commission, an employment, in which the rulers, mere officials of the
Sovereign, exercise in their own name the power of which it makes them
depositaries. This power it can limit, modify or recover at pleasure; for
the alienation of such a right is incompatible with the nature of the
social body, and contrary to the end of association.
I call then government, or supreme administration, the
legitimate exercise of the executive power, and prince or magistrate the
man or the body entrusted with that administration.
In government reside the intermediate forces whose relations make up
that of the whole to the whole, or of the Sovereign to the State. This
last relation may be represented as that between the extreme terms of a
continuous proportion, which has government as its mean proportional. The
government gets from the Sovereign the orders it gives the people, and,
for the State to be properly balanced, there must, when everything is
reckoned in, be equality between the product or power of the government
taken in itself, and the product or power of the citizens, who are on the
one hand sovereign and on the other subject.
Furthermore, none of these three terms can be altered without the
equality being instantly destroyed. If the Sovereign desires to govern, or
the magistrate to give laws, or if the subjects refuse to obey, disorder
takes the place of regularity, force and will no longer act together, and
the State is dissolved and falls into despotism or anarchy. Lastly, as
there is only one mean proportional between each relation, there is also
only one good government possible for a State. But, as countless events
may change the relations of a people, not only may different governments
be good for different peoples, but also for the same people at different
In attempting to give some idea of the various relations that may hold
between these two extreme terms, I shall take as an example the number of
a people, which is the most easily expressible.
Suppose the State is composed of ten thousand citizens. The Sovereign
can only be considered collectively and as a body; but each member, as
being a subject, is regarded as an individual: thus the Sovereign is to
the subject as ten thousand to one, i.e., each member of the State has as
his share only a ten-thousandth part of the sovereign authority, although
he is wholly under its control. If the people numbers a hundred thousand,
the condition of the subject undergoes no change, and each equally is
under the whole authority of the laws, while his vote, being reduced to a
hundred-thousandth part, has ten times less influence in drawing them up.
The subject therefore remaining always a unit, the relation between him
and the Sovereign increases with the number of the citizens. From this it
follows that, the larger the State, the less the liberty.
When I say the relation increases, I mean that it grows more unequal.
Thus the greater it is in the geometrical sense, the less relation there
is in the ordinary sense of the word. In the former sense, the relation,
considered according to quantity, is expressed by the quotient; in the
latter, considered according to identity, it is reckoned by similarity.
Now, the less relation the particular wills have to the general will,
that is, morals and manners to laws, the more should the repressive force
be increased. The government, then, to be good, should be proportionately
stronger as the people is more numerous.
On the other hand, as the growth of the State gives the depositaries of
the public authority more temptations and chances of abusing their power,
the greater the force with which the government ought to be endowed for
keeping the people in hand, the greater too should be the force at the
disposal of the Sovereign for keeping the government in hand. I am
speaking, not of absolute force, but of the relative force of the
different parts of the State.
It follows from this double relation that the continuous proportion
between the Sovereign, the prince and the people, is by no means an
arbitrary idea, but a necessary consequence of the nature of the body
politic. It follows further that, one of the extreme terms, viz., the
people, as subject, being fixed and represented by unity, whenever the
duplicate ratio increases or diminishes, the simple ratio does the same,
and is changed accordingly. From this we see that there is not a single
unique and absolute form of government, but as many governments differing
in nature as there are States differing in size.
If, ridiculing this system, any one were to say that, in order to find
the mean proportional and give form to the body of the government, it is
only necessary, according to me, to find the square root of the number of
the people, I should answer that I am here taking this number only as an
instance; that the relations of which I am speaking are not measured by
the number of men alone, but generally by the amount of action, which is a
combination of a multitude of causes; and that, further, if, to save
words, I borrow for a moment the terms of geometry, I am none the less
well aware that moral quantities do not allow of geometrical accuracy.
The government is on a small scale what the body politic which includes
it is on a great one. It is a moral person endowed with certain faculties,
active like the Sovereign and passive like the State, and capable of being
resolved into other similar relations. This accordingly gives rise to a
new proportion, within which there is yet another, according to the
arrangement of the magistracies, till an indivisible middle term is
reached, i.e., a single ruler or supreme magistrate, who may be
represented, in the midst of this progression, as the unity between the
fractional and the ordinal series.
Without encumbering ourselves with this multiplication of terms, let us
rest content with regarding government as a new body within the State,
distinct from the people and the Sovereign, and intermediate between them.
There is between these two bodies this essential difference, that the
State exists by itself, and the government only through the Sovereign.
Thus the dominant will of the prince is, or should be, nothing but the
general will or the law; his force is only the public force concentrated
in his hands, and, as soon as he tries to base any absolute and
independent act on his own authority, the tie that binds the whole
together begins to be loosened. If finally the prince should come to have
a particular will more active than the will of the Sovereign, and should
employ the public force in his hands in obedience to this particular will,
there would be, so to speak, two Sovereigns, one rightful and the other
actual, the social union would evaporate instantly, and the body politic
would be dissolved.
However, in order that the government may have a true existence and a
real life distinguishing it from the body of the State, and in order that
all its members may be able to act in concert and fulfil the end for which
it was set up, it must have a particular personality, a sensibility common
to its members, and a force and will of its own making for its
preservation. This particular existence implies assemblies, councils,
power and deliberation and decision, rights, titles, and privileges
belonging exclusively to the prince and making the office of magistrate
more honourable in proportion as it is more troublesome. The difficulties
lie in the manner of so ordering this subordinate whole within the whole,
that it in no way alters the general constitution by affirmation of its
own, and always distinguishes the particular force it possesses, which is
destined to aid in its preservation, from the public force, which is
destined to the preservation of the State; and, in a word, is always ready
to sacrifice the government to the people, and never to sacrifice the
people to the government.
Furthermore, although the artificial body of the government is the work
of another artificial body, and has, we may say, only a borrowed and
subordinate life, this does not prevent it from being able to act with
more or less vigour or promptitude, or from being, so to speak, in more or
less robust health. Finally, without departing directly from the end for
which it was instituted, it may deviate more or less from it, according to
the manner of its constitution.
From all these differences arise the various relations which the
government ought to bear to the body of the State, according to the
accidental and particular relations by which the State itself is modified,
for often the government that is best in itself will become the most
pernicious, if the relations in which it stands have altered according to
the defects of the body politic to which it belongs.
2. THE CONSTITUENT PRINCIPLE IN THE VARIOUS FORMS OF GOVERNMENT
TO set forth the general
cause of the above differences, we must here distinguish between
government and its principle, as we did before between the State and the
The body of the magistrate may be composed of a greater or a less number
of members. We said that the relation of the Sovereign to the subjects was
greater in proportion as the people was more numerous, and, by a clear
analogy, we may say the same of the relation of the government to the
But the total force of the government, being always that of the State,
is invariable; so that, the more of this force it expends on its own
members, the less it has left to employ on the whole people.
The more numerous the magistrates, therefore, the weaker the government.
This principle being fundamental, we must do our best to make it clear.
In the person of the magistrate we can distinguish three essentially
different wills: first, the private will of the individual, tending only
to his personal advantage; secondly, the common will of the magistrates,
which is relative solely to the advantage of the prince, and may be called
corporate will, being general in relation to the government, and
particular in relation to the State, of which the government forms part;
and, in the third place, the will of the people or the sovereign will,
which is general both in relation to the State regarded as the whole, and
to the government regarded as a part of the whole.
In a perfect act of legislation, the individual or particular will
should be at zero; the corporate will belonging to the government should
occupy a very subordinate position; and, consequently, the general or
sovereign will should always predominate and should be the sole guide of
all the rest.
According to the natural order, on the other hand, these different wills
become more active in proportion as they are concentrated. Thus, the
general will is always the weakest, the corporate will second, and the
individual will strongest of all: so that, in the government, each member
is first of all himself, then a magistrate, and then a citizen — in
an order exactly the reverse of what the social system requires.
This granted, if the whole government is in the hands of one man, the
particular and the corporate will are wholly united, and consequently the
latter is at its highest possible degree of intensity. But, as the use to
which the force is put depends on the degree reached by the will, and as
the absolute force of the government is invariable, it follows that the
most active government is that of one man.
Suppose, on the other hand, we unite the government with the legislative
authority, and make the Sovereign prince also, and all the citizens so
many magistrates: then the corporate will, being confounded with the
general will, can possess no greater activity than that will, and must
leave the particular will as strong as it can possibly be. Thus, the
government, having always the same absolute force, will be at the lowest
point of its relative force or activity.
These relations are incontestable, and there are other considerations
which still further confirm them. We can see, for instance, that each
magistrate is more active in the body to which he belongs than each
citizen in that to which he belongs, and that consequently the particular
will has much more influence on the acts of the government than on those
of the Sovereign; for each magistrate is almost always charged with some
governmental function, while each citizen, taken singly, exercises no
function of Sovereignty. Furthermore, the bigger the State grows, the more
its real force increases, though not in direct proportion to its growth;
but, the State remaining the same, the number of magistrates may increase
to any extent, without the government gaining any greater real force; for
its force is that of the State, the dimension of which remains equal. Thus
the relative force or activity of the government decreases, while its
absolute or real force cannot increase.
Moreover, it is a certainty that promptitude in execution diminishes as
more people are put in charge of it: where prudence is made too much of,
not enough is made of fortune; opportunity is let slip, and deliberation
results in the loss of its object.
I have just proved that the government grows remiss in proportion as the
number of the magistrates increases; and I previously proved that, the
more numerous the people, the greater should be the repressive force. From
this it follows that the relation of the magistrates to the government
should vary inversely to the relation of the subjects to the Sovereign;
that is to say, the larger the State, the more should the government be
tightened, so that the number of the rulers diminish in proportion to the
increase of that of the people.
It should be added that I am here speaking of the relative strength of
the government, and not of its rectitude: for, on the other hand, the more
numerous the magistracy, the nearer the corporate will comes to the
general will; while, under a single magistrate, the corporate will is, as
I said, merely a particular will. Thus, what may be gained on one side is
lost on the other, and the art of the legislator is to know how to fix the
point at which the force and the will of the government, which are always
in inverse proportion, meet in the relation that is most to the advantage
of the State.
3. THE DIVISION OF GOVERNMENTS
WE saw in the last
chapter what causes the various kinds or forms of government to be
distinguished according to the number of the members composing them: it
remains in this to discover how the division is made.
In the first place, the Sovereign may commit the charge of the
government to the whole people or to the majority of the people, so that
more citizens are magistrates than are mere private individuals. This form
of government is called democracy.
Or it may restrict the government to a small number, so that there are
more private citizens than magistrates; and this is named aristocracy.
Lastly, it may concentrate the whole government in the hands of a single
magistrate from whom all others hold their power. This third form is the
most usual, and is called monarchy, or royal government.
It should be remarked that all these forms, or at least the first two,
admit of degree, and even of very wide differences; for democracy may
include the whole people, or may be restricted to half. Aristocracy, in
its turn, may be restricted indefinitely from half the people down to the
smallest possible number. Even royalty is susceptible of a measure of
distribution. Sparta always had two kings, as its constitution provided;
and the Roman Empire saw as many as eight emperors at once, without it
being possible to say that the Empire was split up. Thus there is a point
at which each form of government passes into the next, and it becomes
clear that, under three comprehensive denominations, government is really
susceptible of as many diverse forms as the State has citizens.
There are even more: for, as the government may also, in certain
aspects, be subdivided into other parts, one administered in one fashion
and one in another, the combination of the three forms may result in a
multitude of mixed forms, each of which admits of multiplication by all
the simple forms.
There has been at all times much dispute concerning the best form of
government, without consideration of the fact that each is in some cases
the best, and in others the worst.
If, in the different States, the number of supreme magistrates should be
in inverse ratio to the number of citizens, it follows that, generally,
democratic government suits small States, aristocratic government those of
middle size, and monarchy great ones. This rule is immediately deducible
from the principle laid down. But it is impossible to count the
innumerable circumstances which may furnish exceptions.
HE who makes the law
knows better than any one else how it should be executed and interpreted.
It seems then impossible to have a better constitution than that in which
the executive and legislative powers are united; but this very fact
renders the government in certain respects inadequate, because things
which should be distinguished are confounded, and the prince and the
Sovereign, being the same person, form, so to speak, no more than a
government without government.
It is not good for him who makes the laws to execute them, or for the
body of the people to turn its attention away from a general standpoint
and devote it to particular objects. Nothing is more dangerous than the
influence of private interests in public affairs, and the abuse of the
laws by the government is a less evil than the corruption of the
legislator, which is the inevitable sequel to a particular standpoint. In
such a case, the State being altered in substance, all reformation becomes
impossible, A people that would never misuse governmental powers would
never misuse independence; a people that would always govern well would
not need to be governed.
If we take the term in the strict sense, there never has been a real
democracy, and there never will be. It is against the natural order for
the many to govern and the few to be governed. It is unimaginable that the
people should remain continually assembled to devote their time to public
affairs, and it is clear that they cannot set up commissions for that
purpose without the form of administration being changed.
In fact, I can confidently lay down as a principle that, when the
functions of government are shared by several tribunals, the less numerous
sooner or later acquire the greatest authority, if only because they are
in a position to expedite affairs, and power thus naturally comes into
Besides, how many conditions that are difficult to unite does such a
government presuppose! First, a very small State, where the people can
readily be got together and where each citizen can with ease know all the
rest; secondly, great simplicity of manners, to prevent business from
multiplying and raising thorny problems; next, a large measure of equality
in rank and fortune, without which equality of rights and authority cannot
long subsist; lastly, little or no luxury — for luxury either comes
of riches or makes them necessary; it corrupts at once rich and poor, the
rich by possession and the poor by covetousness; it sells the country to
softness and vanity, and takes away from the State all its citizens, to
make them slaves one to another, and one and all to public opinion.
This is why a famous writer has made virtue the fundamental principle of
Republics;E1 for all these
conditions could not exist without virtue. But, for want of the necessary
distinctions, that great thinker was often inexact, and sometimes obscure,
and did not see that, the sovereign authority being everywhere the same,
the same principle should be found in every well-constituted State, in a
greater or less degree, it is true, according to the form of the
It may be added that there is no government so subject to civil wars and
intestine agitations as democratic or popular government, because there is
none which has so strong and continual a tendency to change to another
form, or which demands more vigilance and courage for its maintenance as
it is. Under such a constitution above all, the citizen should arm himself
with strength and constancy, and say, every day of his life, what a
virtuous Count Palatine19 said in
the Diet of Poland: Malo periculosam libertatem quam quietum
Were there a people of gods, their government would be democratic. So
perfect a government is not for men.
WE have here two quite
distinct moral persons, the government and the Sovereign, and in
consequence two general wills, one general in relation to all the
citizens, the other only for the members of the administration. Thus,
although the government may regulate its internal policy as it pleases, it
can never speak to the people save in the name of the Sovereign, that is,
of the people itself, a fact which must not be forgotten.
The first societies governed themselves aristocratically. The heads of
families took counsel together on public affairs. The young bowed without
question to the authority of experience. Hence such names as priests,
elders, senate, and gerontes. The savages of North America
govern themselves in this way even now, and their government is admirable.
But, in proportion as artificial inequality produced by institutions
became predominant over natural inequality, riches or power21
were put before age, and aristocracy became elective. Finally, the
transmission of the father's power along with his goods to his children,
by creating patrician families, made government hereditary, and there came
to be senators of twenty.
There are then three sorts of aristocracy — natural, elective and
hereditary. The first is only for simple peoples; the third is the worst
of all governments; the second is the best, and is aristocracy properly so
Besides the advantage that lies in the distinction between the two
powers, it presents that of its members being chosen; for, in popular
government, all the citizens are born magistrates; but here magistracy is
confined to a few, who become such only by election.22
By this means uprightness, understanding, experience and all other claims
to pre-eminence and public esteem become so many further guarantees of
Moreover, assemblies are more easily held, affairs better discussed and
carried out with more order and diligence, and the credit of the State is
better sustained abroad by venerable senators than by a multitude that is
unknown or despised.
In a word, it is the best and most natural arrangement that the wisest
should govern the many, when it is assured that they will govern for its
profit, and not for their own. There is no need to multiply instruments,
or get twenty thousand men to do what a hundred picked men can do even
better. But it must not be forgotten that corporate interest here begins
to direct the public power less under the regulation of the general will,
and that a further inevitable propensity takes away from the laws part of
the executive power.
If we are to speak of what is individually desirable, neither should the
State be so small, nor a people so simple and upright, that the execution
of the laws follows immediately from the public will, as it does in a good
democracy. Nor should the nation be so great that the rulers have to
scatter in order to govern it and are able to play the Sovereign each in
his own department, and, beginning by making themselves independent, end
by becoming masters.
But if aristocracy does not demand all the virtues needed by popular
government, it demands others which are peculiar to itself; for instance,
moderation on the side of the rich and contentment on that of the poor;
for it seems that thorough-going equality would be out of place, as it was
not found even at Sparta.
Furthermore, if this form of government carries with it a certain
inequality of fortune, this is justifiable in order that as a rule the
administration of public affairs may be entrusted to those who are most
able to give them their whole time, but not, as Aristotle maintains, in
order that the rich may always be put first. On the contrary, it is of
importance that an opposite choice should occasionally teach the people
that the deserts of men offer claims to pre-eminence more important than
those of riches.
So far, we have considered the prince as a moral and collective person,
unified by the force of the laws, and the depositary in the State of the
executive power. We have now to consider this power when it is gathered
together into the hands of a natural person, a real man, who alone has the
right to dispose of it in accordance with the laws. Such a person is
called a monarch or king.
In contrast with other forms of administration, in which a collective
being stands for an individual, in this form an individual stands for a
collective being; so that the moral unity that constitutes the prince is
at the same time a physical unity, and all the qualities, which in the
other case are only with difficulty brought together by the law, are found
Thus the will of the people, the will of the prince, the public force of
the State, and the particular force of the government, all answer to a
single motive power; all the springs of the machine are in the same hands,
the whole moves towards the same end; there are no conflicting movements
to cancel one another, and no kind of constitution can be imagined in
which a less amount of effort produces a more considerable amount of
action. Archimedes, seated quietly on the bank and easily drawing a great
vessel afloat, stands to my mind for a skilful monarch, governing vast
states from his study, and moving everything while he seems himself
But if no government is more vigorous than this, there is also none in
which the particular will holds more sway and rules the rest more easily.
Everything moves towards the same end indeed, but this end is by no means
that of the public happiness, and even the force of the administration
constantly shows itself prejudicial to the State.
Kings desire to be absolute, and men are always crying out to them from
afar that the best means of being so is to get themselves loved by their
people. This precept is all very well, and even in some respects very
true. Unfortunately, it will always be derided at court. The power which
comes of a people's love is no doubt the greatest; but it is precarious
and conditional, and princes will never rest content with it. The best
kings desire to be in a position to be wicked, if they please, without
forfeiting their mastery: political sermonisers may tell them to their
hearts' content that, the people's strength being their own, their first
interest is that the people should be prosperous, numerous and formidable;
they are well aware that this is untrue. Their first personal interest is
that the people should be weak, wretched, and unable to resist them. I
admit that, provided the subjects remained always in submission, the
prince's interest would indeed be that it should be powerful, in order
that its power, being his own, might make him formidable to his
neighbours; but, this interest being merely secondary and subordinate, and
strength being incompatible with submission, princes naturally give the
preference always to the principle that is more to their immediate
advantage. This is what Samuel put strongly before the Hebrews, and what
Machiavelli has clearly shown. He professed to teach kings; but it was the
people he really taught. His Prince is the book of Republicans.23
We found, on general grounds, that monarchy is suitable only for great
States, and this is confirmed when we examine it in itself. The more
numerous the public administration, the smaller becomes the relation
between the prince and the subjects, and the nearer it comes to equality,
so that in democracy the ratio is unity, or absolute equality. Again, as
the government is restricted in numbers the ratio increases and reaches
its maximum when the government is in the hands of a single
person. There is then too great a distance between prince and people, and
the State lacks a bond of union. To form such a bond, there must be
intermediate orders, and princes, personages and nobility to compose them.
But no such things suit a small State, to which all class differences mean
If, however, it is hard for a great State to be well governed, it is
much harder for it to be so by a single man; and every one knows what
happens when kings substitute others for themselves.
An essential and inevitable defect, which will always rank monarchical
below the republican government, is that in a republic the public voice
hardly ever raises to the highest positions men who are not enlightened
and capable, and such as to fill them with honour; while in monarchies
those who rise to the top are most often merely petty blunderers, petty
swindlers, and petty intriguers, whose petty talents cause them to get
into the highest positions at Court, but, as soon as they have got there,
serve only to make their ineptitude clear to the public. The people is far
less often mistaken in its choice than the prince; and a man of real worth
among the king's ministers is almost as rare as a fool at the head of a
republican government. Thus, when, by some fortunate chance, one of these
born governors takes the helm of State in some monarchy that has been
nearly overwhelmed by swarms of "gentlemanly" administrators,
there is nothing but amazement at the resources he discovers, and his
coming marks an era in his country's history.
For a monarchical State to have a chance of being well governed, its
population and extent must be proportionate to the abilities of its
governor. It is easier to conquer than to rule. With a long enough lever,
the world could be moved with a single finger; to sustain it needs the
shoulders of Hercules. However small a State may be, the prince is hardly
ever big enough for it. When, on the other hand, it happens that the State
is too small for its ruler, in these rare cases too it is ill governed,
because the ruler, constantly pursuing his great designs, forgets the
interests of the people, and makes it no less wretched by misusing the
talents he has, than a ruler of less capacity would make it for want of
those he had not. A kingdom should, so to speak, expand or contract with
each reign, according to the prince's capabilities; but, the abilities of
a senate being more constant in quantity, the State can then have
permanent frontiers without the administration suffering.
The disadvantage that is most felt in monarchical government is the want
of the continuous succession which, in both the other forms, provides an
unbroken bond of union. When one king dies, another is needed; elections
leave dangerous intervals and are full of storms; and unless the citizens
are disinterested and upright to a degree which very seldom goes with this
kind of government, intrigue and corruption abound. He to whom the State
has sold itself can hardly help selling it in his turn and repaying
himself, at the expense of the weak, the money the powerful have wrung
from him. Under such an administration, venality sooner or later spreads
through every part, and peace so enjoyed under a king is worse than the
disorders of an interregnum.
What has been done to prevent these evils? Crowns have been made
hereditary in certain families, and an order of succession has been set
up, to prevent disputes from arising on the death of kings. That is to
say, the disadvantages of regency have been put in place of those of
election, apparent tranquillity has been preferred to wise administration,
and men have chosen rather to risk having children, monstrosities, or
imbeciles as rulers to having disputes over the choice of good kings. It
has not been taken into account that, in so exposing ourselves to the
risks this possibility entails, we are setting almost all the chances
against us. There was sound sense in what the younger Dionysius said to
his father, who reproached him for doing some shameful deed by asking, "Did
I set you the example?" "No," answered his son, "but
your father was not king."
Everything conspires to take away from a man who is set in authority
over others the sense of justice and reason. Much trouble, we are told, is
taken to teach young princes the art of reigning; but their education
seems to do them no good. It would be better to begin by teaching them the
art of obeying. The greatest kings whose praises history tells were not
brought up to reign: reigning is a science we are never so far from
possessing as when we have learnt too much of it, and one we acquire
better by obeying than by commanding. "Nam utilissimus idem ac
brevissimus bonarum malarumque rerum delectus cogitare quid aut nolueris
sub alio principe, aut volueris."24
One result of this lack of coherence is the inconstancy of royal
government, which, regulated now on one scheme and now on another,
according to the character of the reigning prince or those who reign for
him, cannot for long have a fixed object or a consistent policy — and
this variability, not found in the other forms of government, where the
prince is always the same, causes the State to be always shifting from
principle to principle and from project to project. Thus we may say that
generally, if a court is more subtle in intrigue, there is more wisdom in
a senate, and Republics advance towards their ends by more consistent and
better considered policies; while every revolution in a royal ministry
creates a revolution in the State; for the principle common to all
ministers and nearly all kings is to do in every respect the reverse of
what was done by their predecessors.
This incoherence further clears up a sophism that is very familiar to
royalist political writers; not only is civil government likened to
domestic government, and the prince to the father of a family — this
error has already been refuted — but the prince is also freely
credited with all the virtues he ought to possess, and is supposed to be
always what he should be. This supposition once made, royal government is
clearly preferable to all others, because it is incontestably the
strongest, and, to be the best also, wants only a corporate will more in
conformity with the general will.
But if, according to Plato,25 the
"king by nature" is such a rarity, how often will nature and
fortune conspire to give him a crown? And, if royal education necessarily
corrupts those who receive it, what is to be hoped from a series of men
brought up to reign? It is, then, wanton self-deception to confuse royal
government with government by a good king. To see such government as it is
in itself, we must consider it as it is under princes who are incompetent
or wicked: for either they will come to the throne wicked or incompetent,
or the throne will make them so.
These difficulties have not escaped our writers, who, all the same, are
not troubled by them. The remedy, they say, is to obey without a murmur:
God sends bad kings in His wrath, and they must be borne as the scourges
of Heaven. Such talk is doubtless edifying; but it would be more in place
in a pulpit than in a political book. What are we to think of a doctor who
promises miracles, and whose whole art is to exhort the sufferer to
patience? We know for ourselves that we must put up with a bad government
when it is there; the question is how to find a good one.
7. MIXED GOVERNMENTS
STRICTLY speaking, there
is no such thing as a simple government. An isolated ruler must have
subordinate magistrates; a popular government must have a head. There is
therefore, in the distribution of the executive power, always a gradation
from the greater to the lesser number, with the difference that sometimes
the greater number is dependent on the smaller, and sometimes the smaller
on the greater.
Sometimes the distribution is equal, when either the constituent parts
are in mutual dependence, as in the government of England, or the
authority of each section is independent, but imperfect, as in Poland.
This last form is bad; for it secures no unity in the government, and the
State is left without a bond of union.
Is a simple or a mixed government the better? Political writers are
always debating the question, which must be answered as we have already
answered a question about all forms of government.
Simple government is better in itself, just because it is simple. But
when the executive power is not sufficiently dependent upon the
legislative power, i.e., when the prince is more closely related to the
Sovereign than the people to the prince, this lack of proportion must be
cured by the division of the government; for all the parts have then no
less authority over the subjects, while their division makes them all
together less strong against the Sovereign.
The same disadvantage is also prevented by the appointment of
intermediate magistrates, who leave the government entire, and have the
effect only of balancing the two powers and maintaining their respective
rights. Government is then not mixed, but moderated.
The opposite disadvantages may be similarly cured, and, when the
government is too lax, tribunals may be set up to concentrate it. This is
done in all democracies. In the first case, the government is divided to
make it weak; in the second, to make it strong: for the maxima of
both strength and weakness are found in simple governments, while the
mixed forms result in a mean strength.
8. THAT ALL FORMS OF GOVERNMENT DO NOT SUIT ALL COUNTRIES
LIBERTY, not being a
fruit of all climates, is not within the reach of all peoples. The more
this principle, laid down by Montesquieu,E2
is considered, the more its truth is felt; the more it is combated, the
more chance is given to confirm it by new proofs.
In all the governments that there are, the public person consumes
without producing. Whence then does it get what it consumes? From the
labour of its members. The necessities of the public are supplied out of
the superfluities of individuals. It follows that the civil State can
subsist only so long as men's labour brings them a return greater than
The amount of this excess is not the same in all countries. In some it
is considerable, in others middling, in yet others nil, in some even
negative. The relation of product to subsistence depends on the fertility
of the climate, on the sort of labour the land demands, on the nature of
its products, on the strength of its inhabitants, on the greater or less
consumption they find necessary, and on several further considerations of
which the whole relation is made up.
On the other side, all governments are not of the same nature: some are
less voracious than others, and the differences between them are based on
this second principle, that the further from their source the public
contributions are removed, the more burdensome they become. The charge
should be measured not by the amount of the impositions, but by the path
they have to travel in order to get back to those from whom they came.
When the circulation is prompt and well-established, it does not matter
whether much or little is paid; the people is always rich and, financially
speaking, all is well. On the contrary, however little the people gives,
if that little does not return to it, it is soon exhausted by giving
continually: the State is then never rich, and the people is always a
people of beggars.
It follows that, the more the distance between people and government
increases, the more burdensome tribute becomes: thus, in a democracy, the
people bears the least charge; in an aristocracy, a greater charge; and,
in monarchy, the weight becomes heaviest. Monarchy therefore suits only
wealthy nations; aristocracy, States of middling size and wealth; and
democracy, States that are small and poor.
In fact, the more we reflect, the more we find the difference between
free and monarchical States to be this: in the former, everything is used
for the public advantage; in the latter, the public forces and those of
individuals are affected by each other, and either increases as the other
grows weak; finally, instead of governing subjects to make them happy,
despotism makes them wretched in order to govern them.
We find then, in every climate, natural causes according to which the
form of government which it requires can be assigned, and we can even say
what sort of inhabitants it should have.
Unfriendly and barren lands, where the product does not repay the
labour, should remain desert and uncultivated, or peopled only by savages;
lands where men's labour brings in no more than the exact minimum
necessary to subsistence should be inhabited by barbarous peoples: in such
places all polity is impossible. Lands where the surplus of product over
labour is only middling are suitable for free peoples; those in which the
soil is abundant and fertile and gives a great product for a little labour
call for monarchical government, in order that the surplus of
superfluities among the subjects may be consumed by the luxury of the
prince: for it is better for this excess to be absorbed by the government
than dissipated among the individuals. I am aware that there are
exceptions; but these exceptions themselves confirm the rule, in that
sooner or later they produce revolutions which restore things to the
General laws should always be distinguished from individual causes that
may modify their effects. If all the South were covered with Republics and
all the North with despotic States, it would be none the less true that,
in point of climate, despotism is suitable to hot countries, barbarism to
cold countries, and good polity to temperate regions. I see also that, the
principle being granted, there may be disputes on its application; it may
be said that there are cold countries that are very fertile, and tropical
countries that are very unproductive. But this difficulty exists only for
those who do not consider the question in all its aspects. We must, as I
have already said, take labour, strength, consumption, etc., into account.
Take two tracts of equal extent, one of which brings in five and the
other ten. If the inhabitants of the first consume four and those of the
second nine, the surplus of the first product will be a fifth and that of
the second a tenth. The ratio of these two surpluses will then be inverse
to that of the products, and the tract which produces only five will give
a surplus double that of the tract which produces ten.
But there is no question of a double product, and I think no one would
put the fertility of cold countries, as a general rule, on an equality
with that of hot ones. Let us, however, suppose this equality to exist:
let us, if you will, regard England as on the same level as Sicily, and
Poland as Egypt — further south, we shall have Africa and the Indies;
further north, nothing at all. To get this equality of product, what a
difference there must be in tillage: in Sicily, there is only need to
scratch the ground; in England, how men must toil! But, where more hands
are needed to get the same product, the superfluity must necessarily be
Consider, besides, that the same number of men consume much less in hot
countries. The climate requires sobriety for the sake of health; and
Europeans who try to live there as they would at home all perish of
dysentery and indigestion. "We are," says Chardin, "carnivorous
animals, wolves, in comparison with the Asiatics. Some attribute the
sobriety of the Persians to the fact that their country is less
cultivated; but it is my belief that their country abounds less in
commodities because the inhabitants need less. If their frugality,"
he goes on, "were the effect of the nakedness of the land, only the
poor would eat little; but everybody does so. Again, less or more would be
eaten in various provinces, according to the land's fertility; but the
same sobriety is found throughout the kingdom. They are very proud of
their manner of life, saying that you have only to look at their hue to
recognise how far it excels that of the Christians. In fact, the Persians
are of an even hue; their skins are fair, fine and smooth; while the hue
of their subjects, the Armenians, who live after the European fashion, is
rough and blotchy, and their bodies are gross and unwieldy."
The nearer you get to the equator, the less people live on. Meat they
hardly touch; rice, maize, curcur, millet and cassava are their ordinary
food. There are in the Indies millions of men whose subsistence does not
cost a halfpenny a day. Even in Europe we find considerable differences of
appetite between Northern and Southern peoples. A Spaniard will live for a
week on a German's dinner. In the countries in which men are more
voracious, luxury therefore turns in the direction of consumption. In
England, luxury appears in a well-filled table; in Italy, you feast on
sugar and flowers.
Luxury in clothes shows similar differences. In climates in which the
changes of season are prompt and violent, men have better and simpler
clothes; where they clothe themselves only for adornment, what is striking
is more thought of than what is useful; clothes themselves are then a
luxury. At Naples, you may see daily walking in the Pausilippeum men in
gold-embroidered upper garments and nothing else. It is the same with
buildings; magnificence is the sole consideration where there is nothing
to fear from the air. In Paris and London, you desire to be lodged warmly
and comfortably; in Madrid, you have superb salons, but not a window that
closes, and you go to bed in a mere hole.
In hot countries foods are much more substantial and succulent; and the
third difference cannot but have an influence on the second. Why are so
many vegetables eaten in Italy? Because there they are good, nutritious
and excellent in taste. In France, where they are nourished only on water,
they are far from nutritious and are thought nothing of at table. They
take up all the same no less ground, and cost at least as much pains to
cultivate. It is a proved fact that the wheat of Barbary, in other
respects inferior to that of France, yields much more flour, and that the
wheat of France in turn yields more than that of northern countries; from
which it may be inferred that a like gradation in the same direction, from
equator to pole, is found generally. But is it not an obvious disadvantage
for an equal product to contain less nourishment?
To all these points may be added another, which at once depends on and
strengthens them. Hot countries need inhabitants less than cold countries,
and can support more of them. There is thus a double surplus, which is all
to the advantage of despotism. The greater the territory occupied by a
fixed number of inhabitants, the more difficult revolt becomes, because
rapid or secret concerted action is impossible, and the government can
easily unmask projects and cut communications; but the more a numerous
people is gathered together, the less can the government usurp the
Sovereign's place: the people's leaders can deliberate as safely in their
houses as the prince in council, and the crowd gathers as rapidly in the
squares as the prince's troops in their quarters. The advantage of
tyrannical government therefore lies in acting at great distances. With
the help of the rallying-points it establishes, its strength, like that of
the lever,26 grows with distance.
The strength of the people, on the other hand, acts only when
concentrated: when spread abroad, it evaporates and is lost, like powder
scattered on the ground, which catches fire only grain by grain. The least
populous countries are thus the fittest for tyranny: fierce animals reign
only in deserts.
9. THE MARKS OF A GOOD GOVERNMENT
THE question "What
absolutely is the best government?" is unanswerable as well as
indeterminate; or rather, there are as many good answers as there are
possible combinations in the absolute and relative situations of all
But if it is asked by what sign we may know that a given people is well
or ill governed, that is another matter, and the question, being one of
fact, admits of an answer.
It is not, however, answered, because everyone wants to answer it in his
own way. Subjects extol public tranquillity, citizens individual liberty;
the one class prefers security of possessions, the other that of person;
the one regards as the best government that which is most severe, the
other maintains that the mildest is the best; the one wants crimes
punished, the other wants them prevented; the one wants the State to be
feared by its neighbours, the other prefers that it should be ignored; the
one is content if money circulates, the other demands that the people
shall have bread. Even if an agreement were come to on these and similar
points, should we have got any further? As moral qualities do not admit of
exact measurement, agreement about the mark does not mean agreement about
For my part, I am continually astonished that a mark so simple is not
recognised, or that men are of so bad faith as not to admit it. What is
the end of political association? The preservation and prosperity of its
members. And what is the surest mark of their preservation and prosperity?
Their numbers and population. Seek then nowhere else this mark that is in
dispute. The rest being equal, the government under which, without
external aids, without naturalisation or colonies, the citizens increase
and multiply most, is beyond question the best. The government under which
a people wanes and diminishes is the worst. Calculators, it is left for
you to count, to measure, to compare.27
10. THE ABUSE OF GOVERNMENT AND ITS TENDENCY TO DEGENERATE
AS the particular will
acts constantly in opposition to the general will, the government
continually exerts itself against the Sovereignty. The greater this
exertion becomes, the more the constitution changes; and, as there is in
this case no other corporate will to create an equilibrium by resisting
the will of the prince, sooner or later the prince must inevitably
suppress the Sovereign and break the social treaty. This is the
unavoidable and inherent defect which, from the very birth of the body
politic, tends ceaselessly to destroy it, as age and death end by
destroying the human body.
There are two general courses by which government degenerates: i.e.,
when it undergoes contraction, or when the State is dissolved.
Government undergoes contraction when it passes from the many to the
few, that is, from democracy to aristocracy, and from aristocracy to
royalty. To do so is its natural propensity.28
If it took the backward course from the few to the many, it could be said
that it was relaxed; but this inverse sequence is impossible.
Indeed, governments never change their form except when their energy is
exhausted and leaves them too weak to keep what they have. If a government
at once extended its sphere and relaxed its stringency, its force would
become absolutely nil, and it would persist still less. It is therefore
necessary to wind up the spring and tighten the hold as it gives way: or
else the State it sustains will come to grief.
The dissolution of the State may come about in either of two ways.
First, when the prince ceases to administer the State in accordance with
the laws, and usurps the Sovereign power. A remarkable change then occurs:
not the government, but the State, undergoes contraction; I mean that the
great State is dissolved, and another is formed within it, composed solely
of the members of the government, which becomes for the rest of the people
merely master and tyrant. So that the moment the government usurps the
Sovereignty, the social compact is broken, and all private citizens
recover by right their natural liberty, and are forced, but not bound, to
The same thing happens when the members of the government severally
usurp the power they should exercise only as a body; this is as great an
infraction of the laws, and results in even greater disorders. There are
then, so to speak, as many princes as there are magistrates, and the
State, no less divided than the government, either perishes or changes its
When the State is dissolved, the abuse of government, whatever it is,
bears the common name of anarchy. To distinguish, democracy
degenerates into ochlocracy, and aristocracy into oligarchy;
and I would add that royalty degenerates into tyranny; but this
last word is ambiguous and needs explanation.
In vulgar usage, a tyrant is a king who governs violently and without
regard for justice and law. In the exact sense, a tyrant is an individual
who arrogates to himself the royal authority without having a right to it.
This is how the Greeks understood the word "tyrant": they
applied it indifferently to good and bad princes whose authority was not
legitimate.29 Tyrant and
usurper are thus perfectly synonymous terms.
In order that I may give different things different names, I call him
who usurps the royal authority a tyrant, and him who usurps the
sovereign power a despot. The tyrant is he who thrusts himself in
contrary to the laws to govern in accordance with the laws; the despot is
he who sets himself above the laws themselves. Thus the tyrant cannot be a
despot, but the despot is always a tyrant.
11. THE DEATH OF THE BODY POLITIC
SUCH is the natural and
inevitable tendency of the best constituted governments. If Sparta and
Rome perished, what State can hope to endure for ever? If we would set up
a long-lived form of government, let us not even dream of making it
eternal. If we are to succeed, we must not attempt the impossible, or
flatter ourselves that we are endowing the work of man with a stability of
which human conditions do not permit.
The body politic, as well as the human body, begins to die as soon as it
is born, and carries in itself the causes of its destruction. But both may
have a constitution that is more or less robust and suited to preserve
them a longer or a shorter time. The constitution of man is the work of
nature; that of the State the work of art. It is not in men's power to
prolong their own lives; but it is for them to prolong as much as possible
the life of the State, by giving it the best possible constitution. The
best constituted State will have an end; but it will end later than any
other, unless some unforeseen accident brings about its untimely
The life-principle of the body politic lies in the sovereign authority.
The legislative power is the heart of the State; the executive power is
its brain, which causes the movement of all the parts. The brain may
become paralysed and the individual still live. A man may remain an
imbecile and live; but as soon as the heart ceases to perform its
functions, the animal is dead.
The State subsists by means not of the laws, but of the legislative
power. Yesterday's law is not binding to-day; but silence is taken for
tacit consent, and the Sovereign is held to confirm incessantly the laws
it does not abrogate as it might. All that it has once declared itself to
will it wills always, unless it revokes its declaration.
Why then is so much respect paid to old laws? For this very reason. We
must believe that nothing but the excellence of old acts of will can have
preserved them so long: if the Sovereign had not recognised them as
throughout salutary, it would have revoked them a thousand times. This is
why, so far from growing weak, the laws continually gain new strength in
any well constituted State; the precedent of antiquity makes them daily
more venerable: while wherever the laws grow weak as they become old, this
proves that there is no longer a legislative power, and that the State is
12. HOW THE SOVEREIGN AUTHORITY MAINTAINS ITSELF
THE Sovereign, having no
force other than the legislative power, acts only by means of the laws;
and the laws being solely the authentic acts of the general will, the
Sovereign cannot act save when the people is assembled. The people in
assembly, I shall be told, is a mere chimera. It is so to-day, but two
thousand years ago it was not so. Has man's nature changed?
The bounds of possibility, in moral matters, are less narrow than we
imagine: it is our weaknesses, our vices and our prejudices that confine
them. Base souls have no belief in great men; vile slaves smile in mockery
at the name of liberty.
Let us judge of what can be done by what has been done. I shall say
nothing of the Republics of ancient Greece; but the Roman Republic was, to
my mind, a great State, and the town of Rome a great town. The last census
showed that there were in Rome four hundred thousand citizens capable of
bearing arms, and the last computation of the population of the Empire
showed over four million citizens, excluding subjects, foreigners, women,
children and slaves.
What difficulties might not be supposed to stand in the way of the
frequent assemblage of the vast population of this capital and its
neighbourhood. Yet few weeks passed without the Roman people being in
assembly, and even being so several times. It exercised not only the
rights of Sovereignty, but also a part of those of government. It dealt
with certain matters, and judged certain cases, and this whole people was
found in the public meeting-place hardly less often as magistrates than as
If we went back to the earliest history of nations, we should find that
most ancient governments, even those of monarchical form, such as the
Macedonian and the Frankish, had similar councils. In any case, the one
incontestable fact I have given is an answer to all difficulties; it is
good logic to reason from the actual to the possible.
13. THE SAME (continued)
IT is not enough for the
assembled people to have once fixed the constitution of the State by
giving its sanction to a body of law; it is not enough for it to have set
up a perpetual government, or provided once for all for the election of
magistrates. Besides the extraordinary assemblies unforeseen circumstances
may demand, there must be fixed periodical assemblies which cannot be
abrogated or prorogued, so that on the proper day the people is
legitimately called together by law, without need of any formal summoning.
But, apart from these assemblies authorised by their date alone, every
assembly of the people not summoned by the magistrates appointed for that
purpose, and in accordance with the prescribed forms, should be regarded
as unlawful, and all its acts as null and void, because the command to
assemble should itself proceed from the law.
The greater or less frequency with which lawful assemblies should occur
depends on so many considerations that no exact rules about them can be
given. It can only be said generally that the stronger the government the
more often should the Sovereign show itself.
This, I shall be told, may do for a single town; but what is to be done
when the State includes several? Is the sovereign authority to be divided?
Or is it to be concentrated in a single town to which all the rest are
Neither the one nor the other, I reply. First, the sovereign authority
is one and simple, and cannot be divided without being destroyed. In the
second place, one town cannot, any more than one nation, legitimately be
made subject to another, because the essence of the body politic lies in
the reconciliation of obedience and liberty, and the words subject and
Sovereign are identical correlatives the idea of which meets in the single
I answer further that the union of several towns in a single city is
always bad, and that, if we wish to make such a union, we should not
expect to avoid its natural disadvantages. It is useless to bring up
abuses that belong to great States against one who desires to see only
small ones; but how can small States be given the strength to resist great
ones, as formerly the Greek towns resisted the Great King, and more
recently Holland and Switzerland have resisted the House of Austria?
Nevertheless, if the State cannot be reduced to the right limits, there
remains still one resource; this is, to allow no capital, to make the seat
of government move from town to town, and to assemble by turn in each the
Provincial Estates of the country.
People the territory evenly, extend everywhere the same rights, bear to
every place in it abundance and life: by these means will the State become
at once as strong and as well governed as possible. Remember that the
walls of towns are built of the ruins of the houses of the countryside.
For every palace I see raised in the capital, my mind's eye sees a whole
country made desolate.
14. THE SAME (continued)
THE moment the people is
legitimately assembled as a sovereign body, the jurisdiction of the
government wholly lapses, the executive power is suspended, and the person
of the meanest citizen is as sacred and inviolable as that of the first
magistrate; for in the presence of the person represented, representatives
no longer exist. Most of the tumults that arose in the comitia at Rome
were due to ignorance or neglect of this rule. The consuls were in them
merely the presidents of the people; the tribunes were mere speakers;30
the senate was nothing at all.
These intervals of suspension, during which the prince recognises or
ought to recognise an actual superior, have always been viewed by him with
alarm; and these assemblies of the people, which are the aegis of the body
politic and the curb on the government, have at all times been the horror
of rulers: who therefore never spare pains, objections, difficulties, and
promises, to stop the citizens from having them. When the citizens are
greedy, cowardly, and pusillanimous, and love ease more than liberty, they
do not long hold out against the redoubled efforts of the government; and
thus, as the resisting force incessantly grows, the sovereign authority
ends by disappearing, and most cities fall and perish before their time.
But between the sovereign authority and arbitrary government there
sometimes intervenes a mean power of which something must be said.
15. DEPUTIES OR REPRESENTATIVES
AS soon as public
service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would
rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not
far from its fall. When it is necessary to march out to war, they pay
troops and stay at home: when it is necessary to meet in council, they
name deputies and stay at home. By reason of idleness and money, they end
by having soldiers to enslave their country and representatives to sell
It is through the hustle of commerce and the arts, through the greedy
self-interest of profit, and through softness and love of amenities that
personal services are replaced by money payments. Men surrender a part of
their profits in order to have time to increase them at leisure. Make
gifts of money, and you will not be long without chains. The word finance
is a slavish word, unknown in the city-state. In a country that is truly
free, the citizens do everything with their own arms and nothing by means
of money; so far from paying to be exempted from their duties, they would
even pay for the privilege of fulfilling them themselves. I am far from
taking the common view: I hold enforced labour to be less opposed to
liberty than taxes.
The better the constitution of a State is, the more do public affairs
encroach on private in the minds of the citizens. Private affairs are even
of much less importance, because the aggregate of the common happiness
furnishes a greater proportion of that of each individual, so that there
is less for him to seek in particular cares. In a well-ordered city every
man flies to the assemblies: under a bad government no one cares to stir a
step to get to them, because no one is interested in what happens there,
because it is foreseen that the general will will not prevail, and lastly
because domestic cares are all-absorbing. Good laws lead to the making of
better ones; bad ones bring about worse. As soon as any man says of the
affairs of the State What does it matter to me? the State may be
given up for lost.
The lukewarmness of patriotism, the activity of private interest, the
vastness of States, conquest and the abuse of government suggested the
method of having deputies or representatives of the people in the national
assemblies. These are what, in some countries, men have presumed to call
the Third Estate. Thus the individual interest of two orders is put first
and second; the public interest occupies only the third place.
Sovereignty, for the same reason as makes it inalienable, cannot be
represented; it lies essentially in the general will, and will does not
admit of representation: it is either the same, or other; there is no
intermediate possibility. The deputies of the people, therefore, are not
and cannot be its representatives: they are merely its stewards, and can
carry through no definitive acts. Every law the people has not ratified in
person is null and void — is, in fact, not a law. The people of
England regards itself as free; but it is grossly mistaken; it is free
only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are
elected, slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing. The use it makes of the
short moments of liberty it enjoys shows indeed that it deserves to lose
The idea of representation is modern; it comes to us from feudal
government, from that iniquitous and absurd system which degrades humanity
and dishonours the name of man. In ancient republics and even in
monarchies, the people never had representatives; the word itself was
unknown. It is very singular that in Rome, where the tribunes were so
sacrosanct, it was never even imagined that they could usurp the functions
of the people, and that in the midst of so great a multitude they never
attempted to pass on their own authority a single plebiscitum. We can,
however, form an idea of the difficulties caused sometimes by the people
being so numerous, from what happened in the time of the Gracchi, when
some of the citizens had to cast their votes from the roofs of buildings.
Where right and liberty are everything, disadvantages count for nothing.
Among this wise people everything was given its just value, its lictors
were allowed to do what its tribunes would never have dared to attempt;
for it had no fear that its lictors would try to represent it.
To explain, however, in what way the tribunes did sometimes represent
it, it is enough to conceive how the government represents the Sovereign.
Law being purely the declaration of the general will, it is clear that, in
the exercise of the legislative power, the people cannot be represented;
but in that of the executive power, which is only the force that is
applied to give the law effect, it both can and should be represented. We
thus see that if we looked closely into the matter we should find that
very few nations have any laws. However that may be, it is certain that
the tribunes, possessing no executive power, could never represent the
Roman people by right of the powers entrusted to them, but only by
usurping those of the senate.
In Greece, all that the people had to do, it did for itself; it was
constantly assembled in the public square. The Greeks lived in a mild
climate; they had no natural greed; slaves did their work for them; their
great concern was with liberty. Lacking the same advantages, how can you
preserve the same rights? Your severer climates add to your needs;31
for half the year your public squares are uninhabitable; the flatness of
your languages unfits them for being heard in the open air; you sacrifice
more for profit than for liberty, and fear slavery less than poverty.
What then? Is liberty maintained only by the help of slavery? It may be
so. Extremes meet. Everything that is not in the course of nature has its
disadvantages, civil society most of all. There are some unhappy
circumstances in which we can only keep our liberty at others' expense,
and where the citizen can be perfectly free only when the slave is most a
slave. Such was the case with Sparta. As for you, modern peoples, you have
no slaves, but you are slaves yourselves; you pay for their liberty with
your own. It is in vain that you boast of this preference; I find in it
more cowardice than humanity.
I do not mean by all this that it is necessary to have slaves, or that
the right of slavery is legitimate: I am merely giving the reasons why
modern peoples, believing themselves to be free, have representatives,
while ancient peoples had none. In any case, the moment a people allows
itself to be represented, it is no long free: it no longer exists.
All things considered, I do not see that it is possible henceforth for
the Sovereign to preserve among us the exercise of its rights, unless the
city is very small. But if it is very small, it will be conquered? No. I
will show later on how the external strength of a great people32
may be combined with the convenient polity and good order of a small
16. THAT THE INSTITUTION OF GOVERNMENT IS NOT A CONTRACT
THE legislative power
once well established, the next thing is to establish similarly the
executive power; for this latter, which operates only by particular acts,
not being of the essence of the former, is naturally separate from it.
Were it possible for the Sovereign, as such, to possess the executive
power, right and fact would be so confounded that no one could tell what
was law and what was not; and the body politic, thus disfigured, would
soon fall a prey to the violence it was instituted to prevent.
As the citizens, by the social contract, are all equal, all can
prescribe what all should do, but no one has a right to demand that
another shall do what he does not do himself. It is strictly this right,
which is indispensable for giving the body politic life and movement, that
the Sovereign, in instituting the government, confers upon the prince.
It has been held that this act of establishment was a contract between
the people and the rulers it sets over itself, — a contract in which
conditions were laid down between the two parties binding the one to
command and the other to obey. It will be admitted, I am sure, that this
is an odd kind of contract to enter into. But let us see if this view can
First, the supreme authority can no more be modified than it can be
alienated; to limit it is to destroy it. It is absurd and contradictory
for the Sovereign to set a superior over itself; to bind itself to obey a
master would be to return to absolute liberty.
Moreover, it is clear that this contract between the people and such and
such persons would be a particular act; and from this is follows that it
can be neither a law nor an act of Sovereignty, and that consequently it
would be illegitimate.
It is plain too that the contracting parties in relation to each other
would be under the law of nature alone and wholly without guarantees of
their mutual undertakings, a position wholly at variance with the civil
state. He who has force at his command being always in a position to
control execution, it would come to the same thing if the name "contract"
were given to the act of one man who said to another: "I give you all
my goods, on condition that you give me back as much of them as you
There is only one contract in the State, and that is the act of
association, which in itself excludes the existence of a second. It is
impossible to conceive of any public contract that would not be a
violation of the first.
17. THE INSTITUTION OF GOVERNMENT
UNDER what general idea
then should the act by which government is instituted be conceived as
falling? I will begin by stating that the act is complex, as being
composed of two others — the establishment of the law and its
By the former, the Sovereign decrees that there shall be a governing
body established in this or that form; this act is clearly a law.
By the latter, the people nominates the rulers who are to be entrusted
with the government that has been established. This nomination, being a
particular act, is clearly not a second law, but merely a consequence of
the first and a function of government.
The difficulty is to understand how there can be a governmental act
before government exists, and how the people, which is only Sovereign or
subject, can, under certain circumstances, become a prince or magistrate.
It is at this point that there is revealed one of the astonishing
properties of the body politic, by means of which it reconciles apparently
contradictory operations; for this is accomplished by a sudden conversion
of Sovereignty into democracy, so that, without sensible change, and
merely by virtue of a new relation of all to all, the citizens become
magistrates and pass from general to particular acts, from legislation to
the execution of the law.
This changed relation is no speculative subtlety without instances in
practice: it happens every day in the English Parliament, where, on
certain occasions, the Lower House resolves itself into Grand Committee,
for the better discussion of affairs, and thus, from being at one moment a
sovereign court, becomes at the next a mere commission; so that
subsequently it reports to itself, as House of Commons, the result of its
proceedings in Grand Committee, and debates over again under one name what
it has already settled under another.
It is, indeed, the peculiar advantage of democratic government that it
can be established in actuality by a simple act of the general will.
Subsequently, this provisional government remains in power, if this form
is adopted, or else establishes in the name of the Sovereign the
government that is prescribed by law; and thus the whole proceeding is
regular. It is impossible to set up government in any other manner
legitimately and in accordance with the principles so far laid down.
18. HOW TO CHECK THE USURPATIONS OF GOVERNMENT
WHAT we have just said
confirms Chapter 16, and makes it clear that the institution of government
is not a contract, but a law; that the depositaries of the executive power
are not the people's masters, but its officers; that it can set them up
and pull them down when it likes; that for them there is no question of
contract, but of obedience and that in taking charge of the functions the
State imposes on them they are doing no more than fulfilling their duty as
citizens, without having the remotest right to argue about the conditions.
When therefore the people sets up an hereditary government, whether it
be monarchical and confined to one family, or aristocratic and confined to
a class, what it enters into is not an undertaking; the administration is
given a provisional form, until the people chooses to order it otherwise.
It is true that such changes are always dangerous, and that the
established government should never be touched except when it comes to be
incompatible with the public good; but the circumspection this involves is
a maxim of policy and not a rule of right, and the State is no more bound
to leave civil authority in the hands of its rulers than military
authority in the hands of its generals.
It is also true that it is impossible to be too careful to observe, in
such cases, all the formalities necessary to distinguish a regular and
legitimate act from a seditious tumult, and the will of a whole people
from the clamour of a faction. Here above all no further concession should
be made to the untoward possibility than cannot, in the strictest logic,
be refused it. From this obligation the prince derives a great advantage
in preserving his power despite the people, without it being possible to
say he has usurped it; for, seeming to avail himself only of his rights,
he finds it very easy to extend them, and to prevent, under the pretext of
keeping the peace, assemblies that are destined to the re-establishment of
order; with the result that he takes advantage of a silence he does not
allow to be broken, or of irregularities he causes to be committed, to
assume that he has the support of those whom fear prevents from speaking,
and to punish those who dare to speak. Thus it was that the decemvirs,
first elected for one year and then kept on in office for a second, tried
to perpetuate their power by forbidding the comitia to assemble; and by
this easy method every government in the world, once clothed with the
public power, sooner or later usurps the sovereign authority.
The periodical assemblies of which I have already spoken are designed to
prevent or postpone this calamity, above all when they need no formal
summoning; for in that case, the prince cannot stop them without openly
declaring himself a law-breaker and an enemy of the State.
The opening of these assemblies, whose sole object is the maintenance of
the social treaty, should always take the form of putting two propositions
that may not be suppressed, which should be voted on separately.
The first is: "Does it please the Sovereign to preserve the present
form of government?"
The second is: "Does it please the people to leave its
administration in the hands of those who are actually in charge of it?"
I am here assuming what I think I have shown; that there is in the State
no fundamental law that cannot be revoked, not excluding the social
compact itself; for if all the citizens assembled of one accord to break
the compact, it is impossible to doubt that it would be very legitimately
broken. Grotius even thinks that each man can renounce his membership of
his own State, and recover his natural liberty and his goods on leaving
the country.33 It would be indeed
absurd if all the citizens in assembly could not do what each can do by
18. Thus at Venice the College, even
in the absence of the Doge, is called "Most Serene Prince."
19. The Palatine of Posen, father of
the King of Poland, Duke of Lorraine.
20. I prefer liberty with danger to
peace with slavery.
21. It is clear that the word optimales
meant, among the ancients, not the best, but the most powerful.
22. It is of great importance that
the form of the election of magistrates should be regulated by law; for if
it is left at the discretion of the prince, it is impossible to avoid
falling into hereditary aristocracy, as the Republics of Venice and Berne
actually did. The first of these has therefore long been a State
dissolved; the second, however, is maintained by the extreme wisdom of the
senate, and forms an honourable and highly dangerous exception.
23. Machiavelli was a proper man and
a good citizen; but, being attached to the court of the Medici, he could
not help veiling his love of liberty in the midst of his country's
oppression. The choice of his detestable hero, Caesar Borgia, clearly
enough shows his hidden aim; and the contradiction between the teaching of
the Prince and that of the Discourses on Livy and the History
of Florence shows that this profound political thinker has so far been
studied only by superficial or corrupt readers. The Court of Rome sternly
prohibited his book. I can well believe it; for it is that Court it most
24. Tacitus, Histories, i.
16. "For the best, and also the shortest way of finding out what is
good and what is bad is to consider what you would have wished to happen
or not to happen, had another than you been Emperor."
25. In the Statesman.
26. This does not contradict what I
said before (Book II, ch. 9) about the disadvantages of great States; for
we were then dealing with the authority of the government over the
members, while here we are dealing with its force against the subjects.
Its scattered members serve it as rallying-points for action against the
people at a distance, but it has no rallying-point for direct action on
its members themselves. Thus the length of the lever is its weakness in
the one case, and its strength in the other.
27. On the same principle it should
be judged what centuries deserve the preference for human prosperity.
Those in which letters and arts have flourished have been too much
admired, because the hidden object of their culture has not been fathomed,
and their fatal effects not taken into account. "ldque apud
imperitos humanitas vocabatur, cum pars servitutis esset." (Fools
called "humanity" what was a part of slavery, Tacitus, Agricola,
31.) Shall we never see in the maxims books lay down the vulgar interest
that makes their writers speak? No, whatever they may say, when, despite
its renown, a country is depopulated, it is not true that all is well, and
it is not enough that a poet should have an income of 100,000 francs to
make his age the best of all. Less attention should be paid to the
apparent repose and tranquillity of the rulers than to the well-being of
their nations as wholes, and above all of the most numerous States. A
hail-storm lays several cantons waste, but it rarely makes a famine.
Outbreaks and civil wars give rulers rude shocks, but they are not the
real ills of peoples, who may even get a respite, while there is a dispute
as to who shall tyrannise over them. Their true prosperity and calamities
come from their permanent condition: it is when the whole remains crushed
beneath the yoke, that decay sets in, and that the rulers destroy them at
will, and "ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant."
(Where they create solitude, they call it peace, Tacitus, Agricola,
31.) When the bickerings of the great disturbed the kingdom of France, and
the Coadjutor of Paris took a dagger in his pocket to the Parliament,
these things did not prevent the people of France from prospering and
multiplying in dignity, ease and freedom. Long ago Greece flourished in
the midst of the most savage wars; blood ran in torrents, and yet the
whole country was covered with inhabitants. It appeared, says Machiavelli,
that in the midst of murder, proscription and civil war, our republic only
throve: the virtue, morality and independence of the citizens did more to
strengthen it than all their dissensions had done to enfeeble it. A little
disturbance gives the soul elasticity; what makes the race truly
prosperous is not so much peace as liberty.
28. The slow formation and the
progress of the Republic of Venice in its lagoons are a notable instance
of this sequence; and it is most astonishing that, after more than twelve
hundred years' existence, the Venetians seem to be still at the second
stage, which they reached with the Serrar di Consiglio in 1198. As
for the ancient Dukes who are brought up against them, it is proved,
whatever the Squittinio della libertà veneta may say of
them, that they were in no sense sovereigns.
A case certain to be cited against my view is that of
the Roman Republic, which, it will be said, followed exactly the opposite
course, and passed from monarchy to aristocracy and from aristocracy to
democracy. I by no means take this view of it.
What Romulus first set up was a mixed government, which
soon deteriorated into despotism. From special causes, the State died an
untimely death, as new-born children sometimes perish without reaching
manhood. The expulsion of the Tarquins was the real period of the birth of
the Republic. But at first it took on no constant form, because, by not
abolishing the patriciate, it left half its work undone. For, by this
means, hereditary aristocracy, the worst of all legitimate forms of
administration, remained in conflict with democracy, and the form of the
government, as Machiavelli has proved, was only fixed on the establishment
of the tribunate: only then was there a true government and a veritable
democracy. In fact, the people was then not only Sovereign, but also
magistrate and judge; the senate was only a subordinate tribunal, to
temper and concentrate the government, and the consuls themselves, though
they were patricians, first magistrates, and absolute generals in war,
were in Rome itself no more than presidents of the people.
From that point, the government followed its natural
tendency, and inclined strongly to aristocracy. The patriciate, we may
say, abolished itself, and the aristocracy was found no longer in the body
of patricians as at Venice and Genoa, but in the body of the senate, which
was composed of patricians and plebeians, and even in the body of tribunes
when they began to usurp an active function: for names do not affect
facts, and, when the people has rulers who govern for it, whatever name
they bear, the government is an aristocracy.
The abuse of aristocracy led to the civil wars and the
triumvirate. Sulla, Julius Caesar and Augustus became in fact real
monarchs; and finally, under the despotism of Tiberius, the State was
dissolved. Roman history then confirms, instead of invalidating, the
principle I have laid down.
29. "Omnes enim et habentur
et dicuntur tyranni, qui potestate utuntur perpetua in ea civitate quæ
libertate usa est" (Cornelius Nepos, Life of Miltiades).
(For all those are called and considered tyrants, who hold perpetual power
in a State that has known liberty.) It is true that Aristotle (Ethics,
Book viii, chapter x) distinguishes the tyrant from the king by the fact
that the former governs in his own interest, and the latter only for the
good of his subjects; but not only did all Greek authors in general use
the word tyrant in a different sense, as appears most clearly in
Xenophon's Hiero, but also it would follow from Aristotle's
distinction that, from the very beginning of the world, there has not yet
been a single king.
30. In nearly the same sense as this
word has in the English Parliament. The similarity of these functions
would have brought the consuls and the tribunes into conflict, even had
all jurisdiction been suspended.
31. To adopt in cold countries the
luxury and effeminacy of the East is to desire to submit to its chains; it
is indeed to bow to them far more inevitably in our case than in theirs.
32. I had intended to do this in the
sequel to this work, when in dealing with external relations I came to the
subject of confederations. The subject is quite new, and its principles
have still to be laid down.
33. Provided, of course, he does not
leave to escape his obligations and avoid having to serve his country in
the hour of need. Flight in such a case would be criminal and punishable,
and would be, not withdrawal, but desertion.
E1. Montesquieu, The Spirit of
E2. Montesquieu, The Spirit of
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