1. THAT THE GENERAL WILL IS INDESTRUCTIBLE
AS long as several men
in assembly regard themselves as a single body, they have only a single
will which is concerned with their common preservation and general
well-being. In this case, all the springs of the State are vigorous and
simple and its rules clear and luminous; there are no embroilments or
conflicts of interests; the common good is everywhere clearly apparent,
and only good sense is needed to perceive it. Peace, unity and equality
are the enemies of political subtleties. Men who are upright and simple
are difficult to deceive because of their simplicity; lures and ingenious
pretexts fail to impose upon them, and they are not even subtle enough to
be dupes. When, among the happiest people in the world, bands of peasants
are seen regulating affairs of State under an oak, and always acting
wisely, can we help scorning the ingenious methods of other nations, which
make themselves illustrious and wretched with so much art and mystery?
A State so governed needs very few laws; and, as it becomes necessary to
issue new ones, the necessity is universally seen. The first man to
propose them merely says what all have already felt, and there is no
question of factions or intrigues or eloquence in order to secure the
passage into law of what every one has already decided to do, as soon as
he is sure that the rest will act with him.
Theorists are led into error because, seeing only States that have been
from the beginning wrongly constituted, they are struck by the
impossibility of applying such a policy to them. They make great game of
all the absurdities a clever rascal or an insinuating speaker might get
the people of Paris or London to believe. They do not know that Cromwell
would have been put to "the bells" by the people of Berne, and
the Duc de Beaufort on the treadmill by the Genevese.
But when the social bond begins to be relaxed and the State to grow
weak, when particular interests begin to make themselves felt and the
smaller societies to exercise an influence over the larger, the common
interest changes and finds opponents: opinion is no longer unanimous; the
general will ceases to be the will of all; contradictory views and debates
arise; and the best advice is not taken without question.
Finally, when the State, on the eve of ruin, maintains only a vain,
illusory and formal existence, when in every heart the social bond is
broken, and the meanest interest brazenly lays hold of the sacred name of
"public good," the general will becomes mute: all men, guided by
secret motives, no more give their views as citizens than if the State had
never been; and iniquitous decrees directed solely to private interest get
passed under the name of laws.
Does it follow from this that the general will is exterminated or
corrupted? Not at all: it is always constant, unalterable and pure; but it
is subordinated to other wills which encroach upon its sphere. Each man,
in detaching his interest from the common interest, sees clearly that he
cannot entirely separate them; but his share in the public mishaps seems
to him negligible beside the exclusive good he aims at making his own.
Apart from this particular good, he wills the general good in his own
interest, as strongly as any one else. Even in selling his vote for money,
he does not extinguish in himself the general will, but only eludes it.
The fault he commits is that of changing the state of the question, and
answering something different from what he is asked. Instead of saying, by
his vote, "It is to the advantage of the State," he says, "It
is of advantage to this or that man or party that this or that view should
prevail." Thus the law of public order in assemblies is not so much
to maintain in them the general will as to secure that the question be
always put to it, and the answer always given by it.
I could here set down many reflections on the simple right of voting in
every act of Sovereignty — a right which no one can take from the
citizens — and also on the right of stating views, making proposals,
dividing and discussing, which the government is always most careful to
leave solely to its members, but this important subject would need a
treatise to itself, and it is impossible to say everything in a single
IT may be seen, from the
last chapter, that the way in which general business is managed may give a
clear enough indication of the actual state of morals and the health of
the body politic. The more concert reigns in the assemblies, that is, the
nearer opinion approaches unanimity, the greater is the dominance of the
general will. On the other hand, long debates, dissensions and tumult
proclaim the ascendancy of particular interests and the decline of the
This seems less clear when two or more orders enter into the
constitution, as patricians and plebeians did at Rome; for quarrels
between these two orders often disturbed the comitia, even in the best
days of the Republic. But the exception is rather apparent than real; for
then, through the defect that is inherent in the body politic, there were,
so to speak, two States in one, and what is not true of the two together
is true of either separately. Indeed, even in the most stormy times, the
plebiscita of the people, when the Senate did not interfere with them,
always went through quietly and by large majorities. The citizens having
but one interest, the people had but a single will.
At the other extremity of the circle, unanimity recurs; this is the case
when the citizens, having fallen into servitude, have lost both liberty
and will. Fear and flattery then change votes into acclamation;
deliberation ceases, and only worship or malediction is left. Such was the
vile manner in which the senate expressed its views under the Emperors. It
did so sometimes with absurd precautions. Tacitus observes that, under
Otho, the senators, while they heaped curses on Vitellius, contrived at
the same time to make a deafening noise, in order that, should he ever
become their master, he might not know what each of them had said.
On these various considerations depend the rules by which the methods of
counting votes and comparing opinions should be regulated, according as
the general will is more or less easy to discover, and the State more or
less in its decline.
There is but one law which, from its nature, needs unanimous consent.
This is the social compact; for civil association is the most voluntary of
all acts. Every man being born free and his own master, no one, under any
pretext whatsoever, can make any man subject without his consent. To
decide that the son of a slave is born a slave is to decide that he is not
born a man.
If then there are opponents when the social compact is made, their
opposition does not invalidate the contract, but merely prevents them from
being included in it. They are foreigners among citizens. When the State
is instituted, residence constitutes consent; to dwell within its
territory is to submit to the Sovereign.34
Apart from this primitive contract, the vote of the majority always
binds all the rest. This follows from the contract itself. But it is asked
how a man can be both free and forced to conform to wills that are not his
own. How are the opponents at once free and subject to laws they have not
I retort that the question is wrongly put. The citizen gives his consent
to all the laws, including those which are passed in spite of his
opposition, and even those which punish him when he dares to break any of
them. The constant will of all the members of the State is the general
will; by virtue of it they are citizens and free.35
When in the popular assembly a law is proposed, what the people is asked
is not exactly whether it approves or rejects the proposal, but whether it
is in conformity with the general will, which is their will. Each man, in
giving his vote, states his opinion on that point; and the general will is
found by counting votes. When therefore the opinion that is contrary to my
own prevails, this proves neither more nor less than that I was mistaken,
and that what I thought to be the general will was not so. If my
particular opinion had carried the day I should have achieved the opposite
of what was my will; and it is in that case that I should not have been
This presupposes, indeed, that all the qualities of the general will
still reside in the majority: when they cease to do so, whatever side a
man may take, liberty is no longer possible.
In my earlier demonstration of how particular wills are substituted for
the general will in public deliberation, I have adequately pointed out the
practicable methods of avoiding this abuse; and I shall have more to say
of them later on. I have also given the principles for determining the
proportional number of votes for declaring that will. A difference of one
vote destroys equality; a single opponent destroys unanimity; but between
equality and unanimity, there are several grades of unequal division, at
each of which this proportion may be fixed in accordance with the
condition and the needs of the body politic.
There are two general rules that may serve to regulate this relation.
First, the more grave and important the questions discussed, the nearer
should the opinion that is to prevail approach unanimity. Secondly, the
more the matter in hand calls for speed, the smaller the prescribed
difference in the numbers of votes may be allowed to become: where an
instant decision has to be reached, a majority of one vote should be
enough. The first of these two rules seems more in harmony with the laws,
and the second with practical affairs. In any case, it is the combination
of them that gives the best proportions for determining the majority
IN the elections of the
prince and the magistrates, which are, as I have said, complex acts, there
are two possible methods of procedure, choice and lot. Both have been
employed in various republics, and a highly complicated mixture of the two
still survives in the election of the Doge at Venice.
"Election by lot," says Montesquieu, "is democratic in
nature."E3 I agree that it is
so; but in what sense? "The lot," he goes on, "is a way of
making choice that is unfair to nobody; it leaves each citizen a
reasonable hope of serving his country." These are not reasons.
If we bear in mind that the election of rulers is a function of
government, and not of Sovereignty, we shall see why the lot is the method
more natural to democracy, in which the administration is better in
proportion as the number of its acts is small.
In every real democracy, magistracy is not an advantage, but a
burdensome charge which cannot justly be imposed on one individual rather
than another. The law alone can lay the charge on him on whom the lot
falls. For, the conditions being then the same for all, and the choice not
depending on any human will, there is no particular application to alter
the universality of the law.
In an aristocracy, the prince chooses the prince, the government is
preserved by itself, and voting is rightly ordered.
The instance of the election of the Doge of Venice confirms, instead of
destroying, this distinction; the mixed form suits a mixed government. For
it is an error to take the government of Venice for a real aristocracy. If
the people has no share in the government, the nobility is itself the
people. A host of poor Barnabotes never gets near any magistracy, and its
nobility consists merely in the empty title of Excellency, and in the
right to sit in the Great Council. As this Great Council is as numerous as
our General Council at Geneva, its illustrious members have no more
privileges than our plain citizens. It is indisputable that, apart from
the extreme disparity between the two republics, the bourgeoisie
of Geneva is exactly equivalent to the patriciate of Venice; our
natives and inhabitants correspond to the townsmen
and the people of Venice; our peasants correspond to the
subjects on the mainland; and, however that republic be regarded,
if its size be left out of account, its government is no more aristocratic
than our own. The whole difference is that, having no life-ruler, we do
not, like Venice, need to use the lot.
Election by lot would have few disadvantages in a real democracy, in
which, as equality would everywhere exist in morals and talents as well as
in principles and fortunes, it would become almost a matter of
indifference who was chosen. But I have already said that a real democracy
is only an ideal.
When choice and lot are combined, positions that require special
talents, such as military posts, should be filled by the former; the
latter does for cases, such as judicial offices, in which good sense,
justice, and integrity are enough, because in a State that is well
constituted, these qualities are common to all the citizens.
Neither lot nor vote has any place in monarchical government. The
monarch being by right sole prince and only magistrate, the choice of his
lieutenants belongs to none but him. When the Abbé de Saint-Pierre
proposed that the Councils of the King of France should be multiplied, and
their members elected by ballot, he did not see that he was proposing to
change the form of government.
I should now speak of the methods of giving and counting opinions in the
assembly of the people; but perhaps an account of this aspect of the Roman
constitution will more forcibly illustrate all the rules I could lay down.
It is worth the while of a judicious reader to follow in some detail the
working of public and private affairs in a Council consisting of two
hundred thousand men.
4. THE ROMAN COMITIA
WE are without
well-certified records of the first period of Rome's existence; it even
appears very probable that most of the stories told about it are fables;
indeed, generally speaking, the most instructive part of the history of
peoples, that which deals with their foundation, is what we have least of.
Experience teaches us every day what causes lead to the revolutions of
empires; but, as no new peoples are now formed, we have almost nothing
beyond conjecture to go upon in explaining how they were created.
The customs we find established show at least that these customs had an
origin. The traditions that go back to those origins, that have the
greatest authorities behind them, and that are confirmed by the strongest
proofs, should pass for the most certain. These are the rules I have tried
to follow in inquiring how the freest and most powerful people on earth
exercised its supreme power.
After the foundation of Rome, the new-born republic, that is, the army
of its founder, composed of Albans, Sabines and foreigners, was divided
into three classes, which, from this division, took the name of tribes.
Each of these tribes was subdivided into ten curiæ, and each
curia into decuriæ, headed by leaders called curiones
Besides this, out of each tribe was taken a body of one hundred Equites
or Knights, called a century, which shows that these divisions,
being unnecessary in a town, were at first merely military. But an
instinct for greatness seems to have led the little township of Rome to
provide itself in advance with a political system suitable for the capital
of the world.
Out of this original division an awkward situation soon arose. The
tribes of the Albans (Ramnenses) and the Sabines (Tatienses) remained
always in the same condition, while that of the foreigners (Luceres)
continually grew as more and more foreigners came to live at Rome, so that
it soon surpassed the others in strength. Servius remedied this dangerous
fault by changing the principle of cleavage, and substituting for the
racial division, which he abolished, a new one based on the quarter of the
town inhabited by each tribe. Instead of three tribes he created four,
each occupying and named after one of the hills of Rome. Thus, while
redressing the inequality of the moment, he also provided for the future;
and in order that the division might be one of persons as well as
localities, he forbade the inhabitants of one quarter to migrate to
another, and so prevented the mingling of the races.
He also doubled the three old centuries of Knights and added twelve
more, still keeping the old names, and by this simple and prudent method,
succeeded in making a distinction between the body of Knights, and the
people, without a murmur from the latter.
To the four urban tribes Servius added fifteen others called rural
tribes, because they consisted of those who lived in the country, divided
into fifteen cantons. Subsequently, fifteen more were created, and the
Roman people finally found itself divided into thirty-five tribes, as it
remained down to the end of the Republic.
The distinction between urban and rural tribes had one effect which is
worth mention, both because it is without parallel elsewhere, and because
to it Rome owed the preservation of her morality and the enlargement of
her empire. We should have expected that the urban tribes would soon
monopolise power and honours, and lose no time in bringing the rural
tribes into disrepute; but what happened was exactly the reverse. The
taste of the early Romans for country life is well known. This taste they
owed to their wise founder, who made rural and military labours go along
with liberty, and, so to speak, relegated to the town arts, crafts,
intrigue, fortune and slavery.
Since therefore all Rome's most illustrious citizens lived in the fields
and tilled the earth, men grew used to seeking there alone the mainstays
of the republic. This condition, being that of the best patricians, was
honoured by all men; the simple and laborious life of the villager was
preferred to the slothful and idle life of the bourgeoisie of
Rome; and he who, in the town, would have been but a wretched proletarian,
became, as a labourer in the fields, a respected citizen. Not without
reason, says Varro, did our great-souled ancestors establish in the
village the nursery of the sturdy and valiant men who defended them in
time of war and provided for their sustenance in time of peace. Pliny
states positively that the country tribes were honoured because of the men
of whom they were composed; while cowards men wished to dishonour were
transferred, as a public disgrace, to the town tribes. The Sabine Appius
Claudius, when he had come to settle in Rome, was loaded with honours and
enrolled in a rural tribe, which subsequently took his family name.
Lastly, freedmen always entered the urban, arid never the rural, tribes:
nor is there a single example, throughout the Republic, of a freedman,
though he had become a citizen, reaching any magistracy.
This was an excellent rule; but it was carried so far that in the end it
led to a change and certainly to an abuse in the political system.
First the censors, after having for a long time claimed the right of
transferring citizens arbitrarily from one tribe to another, allowed most
persons to enrol themselves in whatever tribe they pleased. This
permission certainly did no good, and further robbed the censorship of one
of its greatest resources. Moreover, as the great and powerful all got
themselves enrolled in the country tribes, while the freedmen who had
become citizens remained with the populace in the town tribes, both soon
ceased to have any local or territorial meaning, and all were so confused
that the members of one could not be told from those of another except by
the registers; so that the idea of the word tribe became personal
instead of real, or rather came to be little more than a chimera.
It happened in addition that the town tribes, being more on the spot,
were often the stronger in the comitia and sold the State to those who
stooped to buy the votes of the rabble composing them.
As the founder had set up ten curiæ in each tribe, the
whole Roman people, which was then contained within the walls, consisted
of thirty curiæ, each with its temples, its gods, its
officers, its priests and its festivals, which were called compitalia
and corresponded to the paganalia, held in later times by the
When Servius made his new division, as the thirty curiæ
could not be shared equally between his four tribes, and as he was
unwilling to interfere with them, they became a further division of the
inhabitants of Rome, quite independent of the tribes: but in the case of
the rural tribes and their members there was no question of curiæ,
as the tribes had then become a purely civil institution, and, a new
system of levying troops having been introduced, the military divisions of
Romulus were superfluous. Thus, although every citizen was enrolled in a
tribe, there were very many who were not members of a curia.
Servius made yet a third division, quite distinct from the two we have
mentioned, which became, in its effects, the most important of all. He
distributed the whole Roman people into six classes, distinguished neither
by place nor by person, but by wealth; the first classes included the
rich, the last the poor, and those between persons of moderate means.
These six classes were subdivided into one hundred and ninety-three other
bodies, called centuries, which were so divided that the first class alone
comprised more than half of them, while the last comprised only one. Thus
the class that had the smallest number of members had the largest number
of centuries, and the whole of the last class only counted as a single
subdivision, although it alone included more than half the inhabitants of
In order that the people might have the less insight into the results of
this arrangement, Servius tried to give it a military tone: in the second
class he inserted two centuries of armourers, and in the fourth two of
makers of instruments of war: in each class, except the last, he
distinguished young and old, that is, those who were under an obligation
to bear arms and those whose age gave them legal exemption. It was this
distinction, rather than that of wealth, which required frequent
repetition of the census or counting. Lastly, he ordered that the assembly
should be held in the Campus Martius, and that all who were of age to
serve should come there armed.
The reason for his not making in the last class also the division of
young and old was that the populace, of whom it was composed, was not
given the right to bear arms for its country: a man had to possess a
hearth to acquire the right to defend it, and of all the troops of beggars
who to-day lend lustre to the armies of kings, there is perhaps not one
who would not have been driven with scorn out of a Roman cohort, at a time
when soldiers were the defenders of liberty.
In this last class, however, proletarians were distinguished
from capite censi. The former, not quite reduced to nothing, at
least gave the State citizens, and sometimes, when the need was pressing,
even soldiers. Those who had nothing at all, and could be numbered only by
counting heads, were regarded as of absolutely no account, and Marius was
the first who stooped to enrol them.
Without deciding now whether this third arrangement was good or bad in
itself, I think I may assert that it could have been made practicable only
by the simple morals, the disinterestedness, the liking for agriculture
and the scorn for commerce and for love of gain which characterised the
early Romans. Where is the modern people among whom consuming greed,
unrest, intrigue, continual removals, and perpetual changes of fortune,
could let such a system last for twenty years without turning the State
upside down? We must indeed observe that morality and the censorship,
being stronger than this institution, corrected its defects at Rome, and
that the rich man found himself degraded to the class of the poor for
making too much display of his riches.
From all this it is easy to understand why only five classes are almost
always mentioned, though there were really six. The sixth, as it furnished
neither soldiers to the army nor votes in the Campus Martius,36
and was almost without function in the State, was seldom regarded as of
These were the various ways in which the Roman people was divided. Let
us now see the effect on the assemblies. When lawfully summoned, these
were called comitia: they were usually held in the public square
at Rome or in the Campus Martius, and were distinguished as comitia
curiata, comitia centuriata, and comitia tributa, according to
the form under which they were convoked. The comitia curiata were
founded by Romulus; the centuriata by Servius; and the tributa
by the tribunes of the people. No law received its sanction and no
magistrate was elected, save in the comitia; and as every citizen was
enrolled in a curia, a century, or a tribe, it follows that no
citizen was excluded from the right of voting, and that the Roman people
was truly sovereign both de jure and de facto.
For the comitia to be lawfully assembled, and for their acts to have the
force of law, three conditions were necessary. First, the body or
magistrate convoking them had to possess the necessary authority;
secondly, the assembly had to be held on a day allowed by law; and
thirdly, the auguries had to be favourable.
The reason for the first regulation needs no explanation; the second is
a matter of policy. Thus, the comitia might not be held on festivals or
market-days, when the country-folk, coming to Rome on business, had not
time to spend the day in the public square. By means of the third, the
senate held in check the proud and restive people, and meetly restrained
the ardour of seditious tribunes, who, however, found more than one way of
escaping this hindrance.
Laws and the election of rulers were not the only questions submitted to
the judgment of the comitia: as the Roman people had taken on itself the
most important functions of government, it may be said that the lot of
Europe was regulated in its assemblies. The variety of their objects gave
rise to the various forms these took, according to the matters on which
they had to pronounce.
In order to judge of these various forms, it is enough to compare them.
Romulus, when he set up curia, had in view the checking of the
senate by the people, and of the people by the senate, while maintaining
his ascendancy over both alike. He therefore gave the people, by means of
this assembly, all the authority of numbers to balance that of power and
riches, which he left to the patricians. But, after the spirit of
monarchy, he left all the same a greater advantage to the patricians in
the influence of their clients on the majority of votes. This excellent
institution of patron and client was a masterpiece of statesmanship and
humanity without which the patriciate, being flagrantly in contradiction
to the republican spirit, could not have survived. Rome alone has the
honour of having given to the world this great example, which never led to
any abuse, and yet has never been followed.
As the assemblies by curiæ persisted under the kings till
the time of Servius, and the reign of the later Tarquin was not regarded
as legitimate, royal laws were called generally leges curiatæ.
Under the Republic, the curiæ, still confined to the four
urban tribes, and including only the populace of Rome, suited neither the
senate, which led the patricians, nor the tribunes, who, though plebeians,
were at the head of the well-to-do citizens. They therefore fell into
disrepute, and their degradation was such, that thirty lictors used to
assemble and do what the comitia curiata should have done.
The division by centuries was so favourable to the aristocracy that it
is hard to see at first how the senate ever failed to carry the day in the
comitia bearing their name, by which the consuls, the censors and the
other curule magistrates were elected. Indeed, of the hundred and
ninety-three centuries into which the six classes of the whole Roman
people were divided, the first class contained ninety-eight; and, as
voting went solely by centuries, this class alone had a majority over all
the rest. When all these centuries were in agreement, the rest of the
votes were not even taken; the decision of the smallest number passed for
that of the multitude, and it may be said that, in the comitia
centuriata, decisions were regulated far more by depth of purses than
by the number of votes.
But this extreme authority was modified in two ways. First, the tribunes
as a rule, and always a great number of plebeians, belonged to the class
of the rich, and so counterbalanced the influence of the patricians in the
The second way was this. Instead of causing the centuries to vote
throughout in order, which would have meant beginning always with the
first, the Romans always chose one by lot which proceeded alone to the
election; after this all the centuries were summoned another day according
to their rank, and the same election was repeated, and as a rule
confirmed. Thus the authority of example was taken away from rank, and
given to the lot on a democratic principle.
From this custom resulted a further advantage. The citizens from the
country had time, between the two elections, to inform themselves of the
merits of the candidate who had been provisionally nominated, and did not
have to vote without knowledge of the case. But, under the pretext of
hastening matters, the abolition of this custom was achieved, and both
elections were held on the same day.
The comitia tributa were properly the council of the Roman
people. They were convoked by the tribunes alone; at them the tribunes
were elected and passed their plebiscita. The senate not only had no
standing in them, but even no right to be present; and the senators, being
forced to obey laws on which they could not vote, were in this respect
less free than the meanest citizens. This injustice was altogether
ill-conceived, and was alone enough to invalidate the decrees of a body to
which all its members were not admitted. Had all the patricians attended
the comitia by virtue of the right they had as citizens, they would not,
as mere private individuals, have had any considerable influence on a vote
reckoned by counting heads, where the meanest proletarian was as good as
the princeps senatus.
It may be seen, therefore, that besides the order which was achieved by
these various ways of distributing so great a people and taking its votes,
the various methods were not reducible to forms indifferent in themselves,
but the results of each were relative to the objects which caused it to be
Without going here into further details, we may gather from what has
been said above that the comitia tributa were the most favourable
to popular government, and the comitia centuriata to aristocracy.
The comitia curiata, in which the populace of Rome formed the
majority, being fitted only to further tyranny and evil designs, naturally
fell into disrepute, and even seditious persons abstained from using a
method which too clearly revealed their projects. It is indisputable that
the whole majesty of the Roman people lay solely in the comitia
centuriata, which alone included all; for the comitia curiata
excluded the rural tribes, and the comitia tributa the senate and
As for the method of taking the vote, it was among the ancient Romans as
simple as their morals, although not so simple as at Sparta. Each man
declared his vote aloud, and a clerk duly wrote it down; the majority in
each tribe determined the vote of the tribe, the majority of the tribes
that of the people, and so with curiæ and centuries. This
custom was good as long as honesty was triumphant among the citizens, and
each man was ashamed to vote publicly in favour of an unjust proposal or
an unworthy subject; but, when the people grew corrupt and votes were
bought, it was fitting that voting should be secret in order that
purchasers might be restrained by mistrust, and rogues be given the means
of not being traitors.
I know that Cicero attacks this change, and attributes partly to it the
ruin of the Republic. But though I feel the weight Cicero's authority must
carry on such a point, I cannot agree with him; I hold, on the contrary,
that, for want of enough such changes, the destruction of the State must
be hastened. Just as the regimen of health does not suit the sick, we
should not wish to govern a people that has been corrupted by the laws
that a good people requires. There is no better proof of this rule than
the long life of the Republic of Venice, of which the shadow still exists,
solely because its laws are suitable only for men who are wicked.
The citizens were provided, therefore, with tablets by means of which
each man could vote without any one knowing how he voted: new methods were
also introduced for collecting the tablets, for counting voices, for
comparing numbers, etc.; but all these precautions did not prevent the
good faith of the officers charged with these functions37
from being often suspect. Finally, to prevent intrigues and trafficking in
votes, edicts were issued; but their very number proves how useless they
Towards the close of the Republic, it was often necessary to have
recourse to extraordinary expedients in order to supplement the inadequacy
of the laws. Sometimes miracles were supposed; but this method, while it
might impose on the people, could not impose on those who governed.
Sometimes an assembly was hastily called together, before the candidates
had time to form their factions: sometimes a whole sitting was occupied
with talk, when it was seen that the people had been won over and was on
the point of taking up a wrong position. But in the end ambition eluded
all attempts to check it; and the most incredible fact of all is that, in
the midst of all these abuses, the vast people, thanks to its ancient
regulations, never ceased to elect magistrates, to pass laws, to judge
cases, and to carry through business both public and private, almost as
easily as the senate itself could have done.
5. THE TRIBUNATE
WHEN an exact proportion
cannot be established between the constituent parts of the State, or when
causes that cannot be removed continually alter the relation of one part
to another, recourse is had to the institution of a peculiar magistracy
that enters into no corporate unity with the rest. This restores to each
term its right relation to the others, and provides a link or middle term
between either prince and people, or prince and Sovereign, or, if
necessary, both at once.
This body, which I shall call the tribunate, is the preserver of
the laws and of the legislative power. It serves sometimes to protect the
Sovereign against the government, as the tribunes of the people did at
Rome; sometimes to uphold the government against the people, as the
Council of Ten now does at Venice; and sometimes to maintain the balance
between the two, as the Ephors did at Sparta.
The tribunate is not a constituent part of the city, and should have no
share in either legislative or executive power; but this very fact makes
its own power the greater: for, while it can do nothing, it can prevent
anything from being done. It is more sacred and more revered, as the
defender of the laws, than the prince who executes them, or than the
Sovereign which ordains them. This was seen very clearly at Rome, when the
proud patricians, for all their scorn of the people, were forced to bow
before one of its officers, who had neither auspices nor jurisdiction.
The tribunate, wisely tempered, is the strongest support a good
constitution can have; but if its strength is ever so little excessive, it
upsets the whole State. Weakness, on the other hand, is not natural to it:
provided it is something, it is never less than it should be.
It degenerates into tyranny when it usurps the executive power, which it
should confine itself to restraining, and when it tries to dispense with
the laws, which it should confine itself to protecting. The immense power
of the Ephors, harmless as long as Sparta preserved its morality, hastened
corruption when once it had begun. The blood of Agis, slaughtered by these
tyrants, was avenged by his successor; the crime and the punishment of the
Ephors alike hastened the destruction of the republic, and after Cleomenes
Sparta ceased to be of any account. Rome perished in the same way: the
excessive power of the tribunes, which they had usurped by degrees,
finally served, with the help of laws made to secure liberty, as a
safeguard for the emperors who destroyed it. As for the Venetian Council
of Ten, it is a tribunal of blood, an object of horror to patricians and
people alike; and, so far from giving a lofty protection to the laws, it
does nothing, now they have become degraded, but strike in the darkness
blows of which no one dare take note.
The tribunate, like the government, grows weak as the number of its
members increases. When the tribunes of the Roman people, who first
numbered only two, and then five, wished to double that number, the senate
let them do so, in the confidence that it could use one to check another,
as indeed it afterwards freely did.
The best method of preventing usurpations by so formidable a body,
though no government has yet made use of it, would be not to make it
permanent, but to regulate the periods during which it should remain in
abeyance. These intervals, which should not be long enough to give abuses
time to grow strong, may be so fixed by law that they can easily be
shortened at need by extraordinary commissions.
This method seems to me to have no disadvantages, because, as I have
said, the tribunate, which forms no part of the constitution, can be
removed without the constitution being affected. It seems to be also
efficacious, because a newly restored magistrate starts not with the power
his predecessor exercised, but with that which the law allows him.
6. THE DICTATORSHIP
THE inflexibility of the
laws, which prevents them from adapting themselves to circumstances, may,
in certain cases, render them disastrous, and make them bring about, at a
time of crisis, the ruin of the State. The order and slowness of the forms
they enjoin require a space of time which circumstances sometimes
withhold. A thousand cases against which the legislator has made no
provision may present themselves, and it is a highly necessary part of
foresight to be conscious that everything cannot be foreseen.
It is wrong therefore to wish to make political institutions so strong
as to render it impossible to suspend their operation. Even Sparta allowed
its laws to lapse.
However, none but the greatest dangers can counterbalance that of
changing the public order, and the sacred power of the laws should never
be arrested save when the existence of the country is at stake. In these
rare and obvious cases, provision is made for the public security by a
particular act entrusting it to him who is most worthy. This commitment
may be carried out in either of two ways, according to the nature of the
If increasing the activity of the government is a sufficient remedy,
power is concentrated in the hands of one or two of its members: in this
case the change is not in the authority of the laws, but only in the form
of administering them. If, on the other hand, the peril is of such a kind
that the paraphernalia of the laws are an obstacle to their preservation,
the method is to nominate a supreme ruler, who shall silence all the laws
and suspend for a moment the sovereign authority. In such a case, there is
no doubt about the general will, and it is clear that the people's first
intention is that the State shall not perish. Thus the suspension of the
legislative authority is in no sense its abolition; the magistrate who
silences it cannot make it speak; he dominates it, but cannot represent
it. He can do anything, except make laws.
The first method was used by the Roman senate when, in a consecrated
formula, it charged the consuls to provide for the safety of the Republic.
The second was employed when one of the two consuls nominated a dictator:38
a custom Rome borrowed from Alba.
During the first period of the Republic, recourse was very often had to
the dictatorship, because the State had not yet a firm enough basis to be
able to maintain itself by the strength of its constitution alone. As the
state of morality then made superfluous many of the precautions which
would have been necessary at other times, there was no fear that a
dictator would abuse his authority, or try to keep it beyond his term of
office. On the contrary, so much power appeared to be burdensome to him
who was clothed with it, and he made all speed to lay it down, as if
taking the place of the laws had been too troublesome and too perilous a
position to retain.
It is therefore the danger not of its abuse, but of its cheapening, that
makes me attack the indiscreet use of this supreme magistracy in the
earliest times. For as long as it was freely employed at elections,
dedications and purely formal functions, there was danger of its becoming
less formidable in time of need, and of men growing accustomed to
regarding as empty a title that was used only on occasions of empty
Towards the end of the Republic, the Romans, having grown more
circumspect, were as unreasonably sparing in the use of the dictatorship
as they had formerly been lavish. It is easy to see that their fears were
without foundation, that the weakness of the capital secured it against
the magistrates who were in its midst; that a dictator might, in certain
cases, defend the public liberty, but could never endanger it; and that
the chains of Rome would be forged, not in Rome itself, but in her armies.
The weak resistance offered by Marius to Sulla, and by Pompey to Cæsar,
clearly showed what was to be expected from authority at home against
force from abroad.
This misconception led the Romans to make great mistakes; such, for
example, as the failure to nominate a dictator in the Catilinarian
conspiracy. For, as only the city itself, with at most some province in
Italy, was concerned, the unlimited authority the laws gave to the
dictator would have enabled him to make short work of the conspiracy,
which was, in fact, stifled only by a combination of lucky chances human
prudence had no right to expect.
Instead, the senate contented itself with entrusting its whole power to
the consuls, so that Cicero, in order to take effective action, was
compelled on a capital point to exceed his powers; and if, in the first
transports of joy, his conduct was approved, he was justly called, later
on, to account for the blood of citizens spilt in violation of the laws.
Such a reproach could never have been levelled at a dictator. But the
consul's eloquence carried the day; and he himself, Roman though he was,
loved his own glory better than his country, and sought, not so much the
most lawful and secure means of saving the State, as to get for himself
the whole honour of having done so.39
He was therefore justly honoured as the liberator of Rome, and also justly
punished as a law-breaker. However brilliant his recall may have been, it
was undoubtedly an act of pardon.
However this important trust be conferred, it is important that its
duration should be fixed at a very brief period, incapable of being ever
prolonged. In the crises which lead to its adoption, the State is either
soon lost, or soon saved; and, the present need passed, the dictatorship
becomes either tyrannical or idle. At Rome, where dictators held office
for six months only, most of them abdicated before their time was up. If
their term had been longer, they might well have tried to prolong it still
further, as the decemvirs did when chosen for a year. The dictator had
only time to provide against the need that had caused him to be chosen; he
had none to think of further projects.
7. THE CENSORSHIP
AS the law is the
declaration of the general will, the censorship is the declaration of the
public judgment: public opinion is the form of law which the censor
administers, and, like the prince, only applies to particular cases.
The censorial tribunal, so far from being the arbiter of the people's
opinion, only declares it, and, as soon as the two part company, its
decisions are null and void.
It is useless to distinguish the morality of a nation from the objects
of its esteem; both depend on the same principle and are necessarily
indistinguishable. There is no people on earth the choice of whose
pleasures is not decided by opinion rather than nature. Right men's
opinions, and their morality will purge itself. Men always love what is
good or what they find good; it is in judging what is good that they go
wrong. This judgment, therefore, is what must be regulated. He who judges
of morality judges of honour; and he who judges of honour finds his law in
The opinions of a people are derived from its constitution; although the
law does not regulate morality, it is legislation that gives it birth.
When legislation grows weak, morality degenerates; but in such cases the
judgment of the censors will not do what the force of the laws has failed
From this it follows that the censorship may be useful for the
preservation of morality, but can never be so for its restoration. Set up
censors while the laws are vigorous; as soon as they have lost their
vigour, all hope is gone; no legitimate power can retain force when the
laws have lost it.
The censorship upholds morality by preventing opinion from growing
corrupt, by preserving its rectitude by means of wise applications, and
sometimes even by fixing it when it is still uncertain. The employment of
seconds in duels, which had been carried to wild extremes in the kingdom
of France, was done away with merely by these words in a royal edict: "As
for those who are cowards enough to call upon seconds." This
judgment, in anticipating that of the public, suddenly decided it. But
when edicts from the same source tried to pronounce duelling itself an act
of cowardice, as indeed it is, then, since common opinion does not regard
it as such, the public took no notice of a decision on a point on which
its mind was already made up.
I have stated elsewhere40 that as
public opinion is not subject to any constraint, there need be no trace of
it in the tribunal set up to represent it. It is impossible to admire too
much the art with which this resource, which we moderns have wholly lost,
was employed by the Romans, and still more by the Lacedæmonians.
A man of bad morals having made a good proposal in the Spartan Council,
the Ephors neglected it, and caused the same proposal to be made by a
virtuous citizen. What an honour for the one, and what a disgrace for the
other, without praise or blame of either! Certain drunkards from Samos41
polluted the tribunal of the Ephors: the next day, a public edict gave
Samians permission to be filthy. An actual punishment would not have been
so severe as such an impunity. When Sparta has pronounced on what is or is
not right, Greece makes no appeal from her judgments.
8. CIVIL RELIGION
AT first men had no
kings save the gods, and no government save theocracy. They reasoned like
Caligula, and, at that period, reasoned aright. It takes a long time for
feeling so to change that men can make up their minds to take their equals
as masters, in the hope that they will profit by doing so.
From the mere fact that God was set over every political society, it
followed that there were as many gods as peoples. Two peoples that were
strangers the one to the other, and almost always enemies, could not long
recognise the same master: two armies giving battle could not obey the
same leader. National divisions thus led to polytheism, and this in turn
gave rise to theological and civil intolerance, which, as we shall see
hereafter, are by nature the same.
The fancy the Greeks had for rediscovering their gods among the
barbarians arose from the way they had of regarding themselves as the
natural Sovereigns of such peoples. But there is nothing so absurd as the
erudition which in our days identifies and confuses gods of different
nations. As if Moloch, Saturn, and Chronos could be the same god! As if
the Phoenician Baal, the Greek Zeus, and the Latin Jupiter could be the
same! As if there could still be anything common to imaginary beings with
If it is asked how in pagan times, where each State had its cult and its
gods, there were no wars of religion, I answer that it was precisely
because each State, having its own cult as well as its own government,
made no distinction between its gods and its laws. Political war was also
theological; the provinces of the gods were, so to speak, fixed by the
boundaries of nations. The god of one people had no right over another.
The gods of the pagans were not jealous gods; they shared among themselves
the empire of the world: even Moses and the Hebrews sometimes lent
themselves to this view by speaking of the God of Israel. It is true, they
regarded as powerless the gods of the Canaanites, a proscribed people
condemned to destruction, whose place they were to take; but remember how
they spoke of the divisions of the neighbouring peoples they were
forbidden to attack! "Is not the possession of what belongs to your
god Chamos lawfully your due?" said Jephthah to the Ammonites. "We
have the same title to the lands our conquering God has made his own."42
Here, I think, there is a recognition that the rights of Chamos and those
of the God of Israel are of the same nature.
But when the Jews, being subject to the Kings of Babylon, and,
subsequently, to those of Syria, still obstinately refused to recognise
any god save their own, their refusal was regarded as rebellion against
their conqueror, and drew down on them the persecutions we read of in
their history, which are without parallel till the coming of Christianity.43
Every religion, therefore, being attached solely to the laws of the
State which prescribed it, there was no way of converting a people except
by enslaving it, and there could be no missionaries save conquerors. The
obligation to change cults being the law to which the vanquished yielded,
it was necessary to be victorious before suggesting such a change. So far
from men fighting for the gods, the gods, as in Homer, fought for men;
each asked his god for victory, and repayed him with new altars. The
Romans, before taking a city, summoned its gods to quit it; and, in
leaving the Tarentines their outraged gods, they regarded them as subject
to their own and compelled to do them homage. They left the vanquished
their gods as they left them their laws. A wreath to the Jupiter of the
Capitol was often the only tribute they imposed.
Finally, when, along with their empire, the Romans had spread their cult
and their gods, and had themselves often adopted those of the vanquished,
by granting to both alike the rights of the city, the peoples of that vast
empire insensibly found themselves with multitudes of gods and cults,
everywhere almost the same; and thus paganism throughout the known world
finally came to be one and the same religion.
It was in these circumstances that Jesus came to set up on earth a
spiritual kingdom, which, by separating the theological from the political
system, made the State no longer one, and brought about the internal
divisions which have never ceased to trouble Christian peoples. As the new
idea of a kingdom of the other world could never have occurred to pagans,
they always looked on the Christians as really rebels, who, while feigning
to submit, were only waiting for the chance to make themselves independent
and their masters, and to usurp by guile the authority they pretended in
their weakness to respect. This was the cause of the persecutions.
What the pagans had feared took place. Then everything changed its
aspect: the humble Christians changed their language, and soon this
so-called kingdom of the other world turned, under a visible leader, into
the most violent of earthly despotisms.
However, as there have always been a prince and civil laws, this double
power and conflict of jurisdiction have made all good polity impossible in
Christian States; and men have never succeeded in finding out whether they
were bound to obey the master or the priest.
Several peoples, however, even in Europe and its neighbourhood, have
desired without success to preserve or restore the old system: but the
spirit of Christianity has everywhere prevailed. The sacred cult has
always remained or again become independent of the Sovereign, and there
has been no necessary link between it and the body of the State. Mahomet
held very sane views, and linked his political system well together; and,
as long as the form of his government continued under the caliphs who
succeeded him, that government was indeed one, and so far good. But the
Arabs, having grown prosperous, lettered, civilised, slack and cowardly,
were conquered by barbarians: the division between the two powers began
again; and, although it is less apparent among the Mahometans than among
the Christians, it none the less exists, especially in the sect of Ali,
and there are States, such as Persia, where it is continually making
Among us, the Kings of England have made themselves heads of the Church,
and the Czars have done the same: but this title has made them less its
masters than its ministers; they have gained not so much the right to
change it, as the power to maintain it: they are not its legislators, but
only its princes. Wherever the clergy is a corporate body,44
it is master and legislator in its own country. There are thus two powers,
two Sovereigns, in England and in Russia, as well as elsewhere.
Of all Christian writers, the philosopher Hobbes alone has seen the evil
and how to remedy it, and has dared to propose the reunion of the two
heads of the eagle, and the restoration throughout of political unity,
without which no State or government will ever be rightly constituted. But
he should have seen that the masterful spirit of Christianity is
incompatible with his system, and that the priestly interest would always
be stronger than that of the State. It is not so much what is false and
terrible in his political theory, as what is just and true, that has drawn
down hatred on it.45
I believe that if the study of history were developed from this point of
view, it would be easy to refute the contrary opinions of Bayle and
Warburton, one of whom holds that religion can be of no use to the body
politic, while the other, on the contrary, maintains that Christianity is
its strongest support. We should demonstrate to the former that no State
has ever been founded without a religious basis, and to the latter, that
the law of Christianity at bottom does more harm by weakening than good by
strengthening the constitution of the State. To make myself understood, I
have only to make a little more exact the too vague ideas of religion as
relating to this subject.
Religion, considered in relation to society, which is either general or
particular, may also be divided into two kinds: the religion of man, and
that of the citizen. The first, which has neither temples, nor altars, nor
rites, and is confined to the purely internal cult of the supreme God and
the eternal obligations of morality, is the religion of the Gospel pure
and simple, the true theism, what may be called natural divine right or
law. The other, which is codified in a single country, gives it its gods,
its own tutelary patrons; it has its dogmas, its rites, and its external
cult prescribed by law; outside the single nation that follows it, all the
world is in its sight infidel, foreign and barbarous; the duties and
rights of man extend for it only as far as its own altars. Of this kind
were all the religions of early peoples, which we may define as civil or
positive divine right or law.
There is a third sort of religion of a more singular kind, which gives
men two codes of legislation, two rulers, and two countries, renders them
subject to contradictory duties, and makes it impossible for them to be
faithful both to religion and to citizenship. Such are the religions of
the Lamas and of the Japanese, and such is Roman Christianity, which may
be called the religion of the priest. It leads to a sort of mixed and
anti-social code which has no name.
In their political aspect, all these three kinds of religion have their
defects. The third is so clearly bad, that it is waste of time to stop to
prove it such. All that destroys social unity is worthless; all
institutions that set man in contradiction to himself are worthless.
The second is good in that it unites the divine cult with love of the
laws, and, making country the object of the citizens' adoration, teaches
them that service done to the State is service done to its tutelary god.
It is a form of theocracy, in which there can be no pontiff save the
prince, and no priests save the magistrates. To die for one's country then
becomes martyrdom; violation of its laws, impiety; and to subject one who
is guilty to public execration is to condemn him to the anger of the gods:
On the other hand, it is bad in that, being founded on lies and error,
it deceives men, makes them credulous and superstitious, and drowns the
true cult of the Divinity in empty ceremonial. It is bad, again, when it
becomes tyrannous and exclusive, and makes a people bloodthirsty and
intolerant, so that it breathes fire and slaughter, and regards as a
sacred act the killing of every one who does not believe in its gods. The
result is to place such a people in a natural state of war with all
others, so that its security is deeply endangered.
There remains therefore the religion of man or Christianity — not
the Christianity of to-day, but that of the Gospel, which is entirely
different. By means of this holy, sublime, and real religion all men,
being children of one God, recognise one another as brothers, and the
society that unites them is not dissolved even at death.
But this religion, having no particular relation to the body politic,
leaves the laws in possession of the force they have in themselves without
making any addition to it; and thus one of the great bonds that unite
society considered in severally fails to operate. Nay, more, so far from
binding the hearts of the citizens to the State, it has the effect of
taking them away from all earthly things. I know of nothing more contrary
to the social spirit.
We are told that a people of true Christians would form the most perfect
society imaginable. I see in this supposition only one great difficulty:
that a society of true Christians would not be a society of men.
I say further that such a society, with all its perfection, would be
neither the strongest nor the most lasting: the very fact that it was
perfect would rob it of its bond of union; the flaw that would destroy it
would lie in its very perfection.
Every one would do his duty; the people would be law-abiding, the rulers
just and temperate; the magistrates upright and incorruptible; the
soldiers would scorn death; there would be neither vanity nor luxury. So
far, so good; but let us hear more.
Christianity as a religion is entirely spiritual, occupied solely with
heavenly things; the country of the Christian is not of this world. He
does his duty, indeed, but does it with profound indifference to the good
or ill success of his cares. Provided he has nothing to reproach himself
with, it matters little to him whether things go well or ill here on
earth. If the State is prosperous, he hardly dares to share in the public
happiness, for fear he may grow proud of his country's glory; if the State
is languishing, he blesses the hand of God that is hard upon His people.
For the State to be peaceable and for harmony to be maintained, all the
citizens without exception would have to be good Christians; if by ill hap
there should be a single self-seeker or hypocrite, a Catiline or a
Cromwell, for instance, he would certainly get the better of his pious
compatriots. Christian charity does not readily allow a man to think
hardly of his neighbours. As soon as, by some trick, he has discovered the
art of imposing on them and getting hold of a share in the public
authority, you have a man established in dignity; it is the will of God
that he be respected: very soon you have a power; it is God's will that it
be obeyed: and if the power is abused by him who wields it, it is the
scourge wherewith God punishes His children. There would be scruples about
driving out the usurper: public tranquillity would have to be disturbed,
violence would have to be employed, and blood spilt; all this accords ill
with Christian meekness; and after all, in this vale of sorrows, what does
it matter whether we are free men or serfs? The essential thing is to get
to heaven, and resignation is only an additional means of doing so.
If war breaks out with another State, the citizens march readily out to
battle; not one of them thinks of flight; they do their duty, but they
have no passion for victory; they know better how to die than how to
conquer. What does it matter whether they win or lose? Does not Providence
know better than they what is meet for them? Only think to what account a
proud, impetuous and passionate enemy could turn their stoicism! Set over
against them those generous peoples who were devoured by ardent love of
glory and of their country, imagine your Christian republic face to face
with Sparta or Rome: the pious Christians will be beaten, crushed and
destroyed, before they know where they are, or will owe their safety only
to the contempt their enemy will conceive for them. It was to my mind a
fine oath that was taken by the soldiers of Fabius, who swore, not to
conquer or die, but to come back victorious — and kept their oath.
Christians would never have taken such an oath; they would have looked on
it as tempting God.
But I am mistaken in speaking of a Christian republic; the terms are
mutually exclusive. Christianity preaches only servitude and dependence.
Its spirit is so favourable to tyranny that it always profits by such a
régime. True Christians are made to be slaves, and they
know it and do not much mind: this short life counts for too little in
I shall be told that Christian troops are excellent. I deny it. Show me
an instance. For my part, I know of no Christian troops. I shall be told
of the Crusades. Without disputing the valour of the Crusaders, I answer
that, so far from being Christians, they were the priests' soldiery,
citizens of the Church. They fought for their spiritual country, which the
Church had, somehow or other, made temporal. Well understood, this goes
back to paganism: as the Gospel sets up no national religion, a holy war
is impossible among Christians.
Under the pagan emperors, the Christian soldiers were brave; every
Christian writer affirms it, and I believe it: it was a case of honourable
emulation of the pagan troops. As soon as the emperors were Christian,
this emulation no longer existed, and, when the Cross had driven out the
eagle, Roman valour wholly disappeared.
But, setting aside political considerations, let us come back to what is
right, and settle our principles on this important point. The right which
the social compact gives the Sovereign over the subjects does not, we have
seen, exceed the limits of public expediency.46
The subjects then owe the Sovereign an account of their opinions only to
such an extent as they matter to the community. Now, it matters very much
to the community that each citizen should have a religion. That will make
him love his duty; but the dogmas of that religion concern the State and
its members only so far as they have reference to morality and to the
duties which he who professes them is bound to do to others. Each man may
have, over and above, what opinions he pleases, without it being the
Sovereign's business to take cognisance of them; for, as the Sovereign has
no authority in the other world, whatever the lot of its subjects may be
in the life to come, that is not its business, provided they are good
citizens in this life.
There is therefore a purely civil profession of faith of which the
Sovereign should fix the articles, not exactly as religious dogmas, but as
social sentiments without which a man cannot be a good citizen or a
faithful subject.47 While it can
compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the State whoever does
not believe them — it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an
anti-social being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of
sacrificing, at need, his life to his duty. If any one, after publicly
recognising these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him
be punished by death: he has committed the worst of all crimes, that of
lying before the law.
The dogmas of civil religion ought to be few, simple, and exactly
worded, without explanation or commentary. The existence of a mighty,
intelligent and beneficent Divinity, possessed of foresight and
providence, the life to come, the happiness of the just, the punishment of
the wicked, the sanctity of the social contract and the laws: these are
its positive dogmas. Its negative dogmas I confine to one, intolerance,
which is a part of the cults we have rejected.
Those who distinguish civil from theological intolerance are, to my
mind, mistaken. The two forms are inseparable. It is impossible to live at
peace with those we regard as damned; to love them would be to hate God
who punishes them: we positively must either reclaim or torment them.
Wherever theological intolerance is admitted, it must inevitably have some
civil effect;48 and as soon as it
has such an effect, the Sovereign is no longer Sovereign even in the
temporal sphere: thenceforce priests are the real masters, and kings only
Now that there is and can be no longer an exclusive national religion,
tolerance should be given to all religions that tolerate others, so long
as their dogmas contain nothing contrary to the duties of citizenship. But
whoever dares to say: Outside the Church is no salvation, ought to
be driven from the State, unless the State is the Church, and the prince
the pontiff. Such a dogma is good only in a theocratic government; in any
other, it is fatal. The reason for which Henry IV is said to have embraced
the Roman religion ought to make every honest man leave it, and still more
any prince who knows how to reason.
Now that I have laid down the true principles of political right, and
tried to give the State a basis of its own to rest on, I ought next to
strengthen it by its external relations, which would include the law of
nations, commerce, the right of war and conquest, public right, leagues,
negotiations, treaties, etc. But all this forms a new subject that is far
too vast for my narrow scope. I ought throughout to have kept to a more
34. This should of course be
understood as applying to a free State; for elsewhere family, goods, lack
of a refuge, necessity, or violence may detain a man in a country against
his will; and then his dwelling there no longer by itself implies his
consent to the contract or to its violation.
35. At Genoa, the word Liberty
may be read over the front of the prisons and on the chains of the
galley-slaves. This application of the device is good and just. It is
indeed only malefactors of all estates who prevent the citizen from being
free. In the country in which all such men were in the galleys, the most
perfect liberty would be enjoyed.
36. I say "in the Campus Martius"
because it was there that the comitia assembled by centuries; in
its two other forms the people assembled in the forum or
elsewhere; and then the capite censi had as much influence and
authority as the foremost citizens.
37. Custodes, diribitores,
38. The nomination was made secretly
by night, as if there were something shameful in setting a man above the
39. That is what he could not be sure
of, if he proposed a dictator; for he dared not nominate himself, and
could not be certain that his colleague would nominate him.
40. I merely call attention in this
chapter to a subject with which I have dealt at greater length in my Letter
to M. d'Alembert.
41. They were from another island,
which the delicacy of our language forbids me to name on this occasion.
42. Nonne ea quœ possidet
Chamos deus tuus, tibi jure debentur? (Judges, 11:24.) Such is the
text in the Vulgate. Father de Carrières translates: "Do you
not regard yourselves as having a right to what your god possesses?"
I do not know the force of the Hebrew text: but I perceive that, in the
Vulgate, Jephthah positively recognises the right of the god Chamos, and
that the French translator weakened this admission by inserting an "according
to you," which is not in the Latin.
43. It is quite clear that the
Phocian War, which was called "the Sacred War," was not a war of
religion. Its object was the punishment of acts of sacrilege, and not the
conquest of unbelievers.
44. It should be noted that the
clergy find their bond of union not so much in formal assemblies, as in
the communion of Churches. Communion and excommunication are the social
compact of the clergy, a compact which will always make them masters of
peoples and kings. All priests who communicate together are
fellow-citizens, even if they come from opposite ends of the earth. This
invention is a masterpiece of statesmanship: there is nothing like it
among pagan priests; who have therefore never formed a clerical corporate
45. See, for instance, in a letter
from Grotius to his brother (April 11, 1643), what that learned man found
to praise and to blame in the De Cive. It is true that, with a
bent for indulgence, he seems to pardon the writer the good for the sake
of the bad; but all men are not so forgiving.
46. "In the republic," says
the Marquis d'Argenson, "each man is perfectly free in what does not
harm others." This is the invariable limitation, which it is
impossible to define more exactly. I have not been able to deny myself the
pleasure of occasionally quoting from this manuscript, though it is
unknown to the public, in order to do honour to the memory of a good and
illustrious man, who had kept even in the Ministry the heart of a good
citizen, and views on the government of his country that were sane and
47. Cæsar, pleading for
Catiline, tried to establish the dogma that the soul is mortal: Cato and
Cicero, in refutation, did not waste time in philosophising. They were
content to show that Cæsar spoke like a bad citizen, and brought
forward a doctrine that would have a bad effect on the State. This, in
fact, and not a problem of theology, was what the Roman senate had to
48. Marriage, for instance, being a
civil contract, has civil effects without which society cannot even
subsist. Suppose a body of clergy should claim the sole right of
permitting this act, a right which every intolerant religion must of
necessity claim, is it not clear that in establishing the authority of the
Church in this respect, it will be destroying that of the prince, who will
have thenceforth only as many subjects as the clergy choose to allow him?
Being in a position to marry or not to marry people according to their
acceptance of such and such a doctrine, their admission or rejection of
such and such a formula, their greater or less piety, the Church alone, by
the exercise of prudence and firmness, will dispose of all inheritances,
offices and citizens, and even of the State itself, which could not
subsist if it were composed entirely of bastards? But, I shall be told,
there will be appeals on the ground of abuse, summonses and decrees; the
temporalities will be seized. How sad! The clergy, however little, I will
not say courage, but sense it has, will take no notice and go its way: it
will quietly allow appeals, summonses, decrees and seizures, and, in the
end, will remain the master. It is not, I think, a great sacrifice to give
up a part, when one is sure of securing all.
E3. Montesquieu, The Spirit of
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