Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Charles De Montesquieu, formally Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu

French Social Commentator and Enlightenment Political Thinker

"There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice."

"The sublimity of administration consists in knowing the proper degree of power that should be exerted on different occasions."

"If one only wished to be happy, this could be easily accomplished; but we wish to be happier than other people, and this is always difficult, for we believe others to be happier than they are."

"The love of democracy is that of equality."

"It is always the adventurous who accomplish great things."

"Despotism is a plan alone, without law and without rule, leads all its will and caprices."

"Given the need for virtue in a republic and the monarchy of honor, he takes the fear in a despotic government; virtue there is no need and honor it would be dangerous."

"To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them."

"The less men think, the more they talk."

"No kingdom has shed more blood than the kingdom of Christ."

"Useless laws weaken [debilitate] necessary laws."

"A nation may lose its liberties in a day and not miss them in a century."

"Friendship is an arrangement by which we undertake to exchange small favors for big ones."

"False happiness renders men stern and proud, and that happiness is never communicated. True happiness renders them kind and sensible, and that happiness is always shared."

"The severity of the laws prevents their execution."

"In the infancy of societies, the chiefs of state shape its institutions; later the institutions shape the chiefs of state."

"Virtue has need of limits."

"There is no nation so powerful, as the one that obeys its laws not from principals of fear or reason, but from passion."

"Solemnity is the shield of idiots."

"Countries are well cultivated, not as they are fertile, but as they are free."

"An absolute ruler is an undesireable leader."

"Not to be loved is a misfortune, but it is an insult to be loved no longer."

"I can assure you that no kingdom has ever had as many civil wars as the kingdom of Christ."

"Religious wars are not caused by the fact that there is more than one religion, but by the spirit of intolerance...the spread of which can only be regarded as the total eclipse of human reason."

"There is only one thing that can form a bond between men, and that is gratitude... we cannot give someone else greater power over us than we have ourselves."

"Slavery, properly so called, is the establishment of a right which gives to one man such a power over another as renders him absolute master of his life and fortune. The state of slavery is in its own nature bad. It is neither useful to the master nor to the slave; not to the slave, because he can do nothing through a motive of virtue; nor to the master, because by having an unlimited authority over his slaves he insensibly accustoms himself to the want of all moral virtues, and thence becomes fierce, hasty, severe, choleric, voluptuous, and cruel. ... where it is of the utmost importance that human nature should not be debased or dispirited, there ought to be no slavery. In democracies, where they are all upon equality; and in aristocracies, where the laws ought to use their utmost endeavors to procure as great an equality as the nature of the government will permit, slavery is contrary to the spirit of the constitution: it only contributes to give a power and luxury to the citizens which they ought not to have."

"There is no word that has admitted of more various significations, and has made more different impressions on human minds, than that of Liberty. Some have taken it for a facility of deposing a person on whom they had conferred a tyrannical authority; others for the power of choosing a person whom they are obliged to obey; others for the right of bearing arms, and of being thereby enabled to use violence, others in fine for the privilege of being governed by a native of their own country or by their own laws. Some have annexed this name to one form of government, in exclusion of others: Those who had a republican taste, applied it to this government; those who liked a monarchical state, gave it to monarchies. Thus they all have applied the name of liberty to the government most conformable to their own customs and inclinations: and as in a republic people have not so constant and so present a view of the instruments of the evils they complain of, and likewise as the laws seem there to speak more, and the executors of the laws less, it is generally attributed to republics, and denied to monarchies. In fine as in democracies the people seem to do very near whatever they please, liberty has been placed in this sort of government, and the power of the people has been confounded with their liberty."

"The success of most things depends upon knowing how long it will take to succeed."

"An empire founded by war has to maintain itself by war."

"Luxury ruins republics; poverty, monarchies. "

"You have to study a great deal to know a little."

"It is not the young people that degenerate; they are not spoiled till those of mature age are already sunk into corruption."

"There is no one, says another, whom fortune does not visit once in his life; but when she does not find him ready to receive her, she walks in at the door, and flies out at the window."

"Luxury is therefore absolutely necessary in monarchies; as it is also in despotic states, In the former, it is the use of liberty, in the latter, it is the abuse of servitude... Hence arrives a very natural reflection. Republics end with luxury; monarchies with poverty."

"The spirit of moderation should also be the spirit of the lawgiver."

"In republican governments, men are all equal; equal they are also in despotic governments: in the former, because they are everything; in the latter, because they are nothing."

"As distant as heaven is from the earth, so is the true spirit of equality from that of extreme equality... In a true state of nature, indeed, all men are born equal, but they cannot continue in this equality. Society makes them lose it, and they recover it only by the protection of laws."

"There are only two cases in which war is just: first, in order to resist the aggression of an enemy, and second, in order to help an ally who has been attacked."

"But constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as it will go."

"The government of Rome was admirable. From its birth, abuses of power could always be corrected by its constitution, whether by means of the spirit of the people, the strength of the senate, or the authority of certain magistrates."

"Just as the old Romans strengthened their empire by permitting every kind of religion in it, so was it subsequently reduced to nothing by amputating, one after the other, the sects which were not dominant."

"The deterioration of a government begins almost always by the decay of its principles."

"No tyranny is more cruel than the one practiced in the shadow of the laws and under color of justice — when, so to speak, one proceeds to drown the unfortunate on the very plank by which they had saved themselves. And since a tyrant never lacks instruments for his tyranny, Tiberius always found judges ready to condemn as many people as he might suspect."

"A wise republic should hazard nothing that exposes it to either good or bad fortune. The only good to which it should aspire is the perpetuation of its condition… Rome was made for expansion, and its laws were admirable for this purpose… It lost its liberty because it completed the work it wrought too soon."

"When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner."

"Political liberty is to be found only in moderate governments. "

"It is wearying, in the history of the emperors, to see the infinite number of men they put to death for the purpose of confiscating their wealth."

"The harshest tyranny is that which acts under the protection of legality and the banner of justice."

"I have always observed that to succeed in the world a person must seem simple, yet wise."

"The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy."