Jean Goldzink


1Under the aegis of the law-relation (L’Esprit des lois, I, 1), “principles” play a fundamental role in the economy of L’Esprit des lois. This major concept of Montesquieu’s political philosophy is not defined in the Persian Letters, nor in Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence, nor in Réflexions sur la monarchie universelle en Europe. This is easy to see by reading for example the two letters of the Persian Letters on the “sentiment of honor” (87 [89]-88 [90]). It is there posited that the universal “desire for glory increases with the freedom of the subjects and diminishes with it”, and thus that the French loved it much more than the Persians did. “But the sanctuary of honor, reputation and virtue, seems to be established in republics and in the countries where the word ‘patrie’ can be spoken” (“Mais le sanctuaire de l’honneur, de la réputation et de la vertu, semble être établi dans les républiques et dans les pays où l’on peut prononcer le mot de patrie”, LP, 87 [89]). As for letter 88 (90), it analyzes the piquant paradoxes, and practically enigmatic for a Persian, of the “point of honor” proper to the French nobility. One can consider that it was for want of a “principle” in the sense of L’Esprit des lois that it is so delicate to interpret the political scope of the satire of French mores in the Persian Letters. For the defense of the principle, vital for any society, often obliges one to tolerate politically, in the name of the good, what morality and religion would condemn in the name of the best. Now is the satire of France, in the Persian Letters, done under the inspiration of politics, which thinks by connections, or morality, which judges by values?

Principle and nature

2To think about principle, you have to relate it to “government”, in other words to the type of political power established or to be established. Every government is defined by its “nature” and preserves itself by its “principle”: “There is this difference between the nature of the government and its principle: its nature is what makes it what it is, and its principle what makes it act. One is its particular structure, and the other the human passions that make it work” (“Il y a cette différence entre la nature du gouvernement et son principe, que sa nature est ce qui le fait être tel, et son principe ce qui le fait agir. L’une est sa structure particulière, et l’autre les passions humaines qui le font mouvoir”, EL, III, 1). Since there are three fundamental types of governments – republican, monarchical, despotic – (EL, II), there are three principles, or passions, that are in agreement with their “nature”, that is to the mode of distribution and exercise of power.

3To the republic (democracy or aristocracy), which shares the “sovereign power” among all or several, corresponds “virtue”. But democracy requires of its citizens much more virtue, in the sense of sufficient love of country and its laws to sacrifice personal interest to them, than aristocracy. This difference stems from the nature of the two governments: “The people, which is with respect to the nobles what subjects are with respect to the monarch, is contained by their laws. They thus require less virtue than the people of a democracy. But how will the nobles be contained? Those who are to apply the laws against their colleagues will sense at once that they are acting against themselves. So it is necessary that there be virtue in that body, by the nature of the constitution” (EL, III, 4). Virtue, in a republic, flows necessarily, mechanically, from a structural, original constraint – the obligation, for all or part of the citizens, to be at once subject and sovereign, source, executor and object of the law. The aristocracy consequently has more “force” than democracy, in the exact measure that the body of nobles “represses the people”, obliges it, by fear, to respect the laws that are imposed upon it. But the democratic problem rests in the aristocratic fraction that must repress itself, and can only do so in two ways: “either by great virtue, which makes the nobles find themselves in some manner equal to their people […]; or by a lesser virtue, which is a certain moderation that makes the nobles at least equal to themselves” (“ou par une grande vertu, qui fait que les nobles se trouvent en quelque façon égaux à leur peuple […] ; ou par une vertu moindre, qui est une certaine modération qui rend les nobles au moins égaux à eux-mêmes”, ibid.). Montesquieu then laconically concludes that “moderation is thus the soul of these [aristocratic] governments” (“la modération est donc l’âme de ces gouvernements”). Why? No doubt because that “lesser virtue” – equality among nobles – is the most likely, the most natural, the most in accord with the nature of aristocratic things. In the strict sense, we should then say that “virtue” defines the democratic passion, and “moderation” the aristocratic passion. But by moderation, we see we must understand a less exigent virtue, an equality restricted to the body of nobles. And Montesquieu judges that “the more an aristocracy approaches democracy, the more perfect it will be; and it will become less so to the degree it approaches monarchy” (“plus une aristocratie approchera de la démocratie, plus elle sera parfaite ; et elle le deviendra moins à mesure qu’elle approchera de la monarchie”, II, 3). For him moderation incontestably belongs to the world of “virtue”, for the very reason that distinguishes a republic from a monarchy, the plural exercise of power. It is indeed from the nature of the government, and in this case of the difficulty intrinsic to the republican system, that the principle of the republic, in its two modalities, democratic and aristocratic, is derived.

Monarchical honor

4What principle can be drawn from the nature of the monarchical government, defined as “one where a single man governs with fundamental laws” (“celui où un seul gouverne par des lois fondamentales”), in other words by “intermediary powers, subordinate and dependent”? (II, 4). The sole mode for sharing power in numbers does not indeed suffice to specify the monarchy in such a way as to distinguish its nature from that of despotism. So another criterion is added, its regulated exercise by laws and intermediary bodies (nobility, parlement, clergy). Such a structure (“nature”) implies that “it does not require much probity” to maintain it, “the force of the laws” being sufficient. “For it is clear that in a monarchy, where the one who applies the laws judges himself to be above the laws, less virtue is required than in a popular government” (“Car il est clair que dans une monarchie, où celui qui fait exécuter les lois se juge au-dessus des lois, on a besoin de moins de vertu que dans un gouvernement populaire”, III, 3). One must go farther still, and pronounce this radical law: “In monarchies, politics accomplishes great things with as little virtue as it can […]. The state subsists independently of love of untry, desire for true glory, self-denial, sacrifice of one’s dearest interests […]. The laws are there in lieu of all these virtues, of which there is no need; the state waives them for you” (“Dans les monarchies, la politique fait faire les grandes choses avec le moins de vertu qu’elle peut […] L’État subsiste indépendamment de l’amour pour la patrie, du désir de la vraie gloire, du renoncement à soi-même, du sacrifice de ses plus chers intérêts […]. Les lois y tiennent la place de toutes ces vertus, dont on n’a aucun besoin ; l’État vous en dispense”, III, 5). What is true for the people in an aristocracy is valid also in a monarchy for all the subjects. But if the monarchy, by its nature, does without heroic republican virtues, it cannot do without a principle, a spring of passion which, backed up by the force of the laws, can “lead to the government’s end as virtue itself” (“conduire au but du gouvernement comme la vertu même”). What this is is “honor, in other words the prejudice of every person and every station” (III, 6). Each person tends to the common good, thinking he is tending to his individual interests” (“Chacun va au bien commun, croyant aller à ses intérêts particuliers”, III, 7). No longer participating in power, monarchical subjects have nothing to sacrifice, and thus are not dependent on virtue. Their passion is attached to distinction of rank and prerogatives, to the privileges that define the nature of the government, where no one ever thinks of the state but of the imperious prejudices of a “philosophically false honor”, only of the “noise” of acts (ibid.). It is the extraordinary paradox of a type of government unknown to the Ancients, who according to Montesquieu did not know true nobility, an institution born out of the barbaric conquests: “in well-run monarchies, everyone will be a more or less good citizen, and one will rarely find anyone who is a good man” (“dans les monarchies bien réglées, tout le monde sera à peu près bon citoyen, et on trouvera rarement quelqu’un qui soit homme de bien”), in other words capable of “loving the state less for himself than for itself” (“aimer l’État moins pour soi que pour lui-même”, III, 6). Honor resolves effortlessly the central contradiction of the republic, the opposition between public interest and private interest. It joins the good of the state and egoism or pride.

5We can consequently define honor as the equally-shared passion for inequality, inherent in the nature of monarchy, inequality between bodies and persons which has become the reason for living of each and all, whence the state draws strength and life without really requiring anything of its subjects. Good citizens without knowing or wishing to be so, it is because they are not concerned about the state that they serve it, guided by an invisible hand that is not that of the market, but of principle.

Despotic fear

6From the brief initial definition of the nature of the three fundamental governments, Montesquieu opposed despotism to monarchy: “[…] whereas in despotism, a single man, with no law or rule, takes everything by his will and by his caprices” (“[…] au lieu que, dans le despotique, un seul, sans loi et sans règle, entraîne tout par sa volonté et par ses caprices”, II, 1). From this characterization flow the constitution of passion of the despot and the radical delegation of power: “One man whose five senses constantly tell him he is everything, and that others are nothing, is naturally lazy, ignorant, sensual. He thus abandons business” (“Un homme à qui ses cinq sens disent sans cesse qu’il est tout, et que les autres ne sont rien, est naturellement paresseux, ignorant, voluptueux. Il abandonne donc les affaires”, III, 5). Are we to derive the principle, a collective passion, from these sterile drives of the despot? Not exactly. Montesquieu begins with the general principle of fear, of the “fundamental law” that forces the abandonment of business: “People capable of judging themselves highly would be in a position to make revolutions. Thus fear has to dishearten everyone’s courage, and snuff out the last symptom of ambition” (“Des gens capables de s’estimer beaucoup eux-mêmes seraient en état d’y faire des révolutions. Il faut donc que la crainte y abatte tous les courages, et y éteigne jusqu’au moindre sentiment d’ambition”, III, 9). Since despotism governs without laws or rules and gives up all the power without retaining anything in hand, if the prince “cannot destroy immediately those who have the highest place, all is lost” (ibid.). Fear therefore aims first at the grandees, much more than at the people: “the head of the last subject [must be] safe, and that of the bachas always exposed” (“il faut […] que la tête du dernier sujet soit en sûreté, et celle des bachas toujours exposée”, ibid.). Fear is a principle of government in proportion to the despot’s lack of aptitude for governing. That is the sole remedy to the entire delegation of power. Remedy on the despot’s side, and remedy on the people’s side: if fear weakens among the grandees, “all is lost […], the people no longer has anything to protect it” (“tout est perdu […], le peuple n’a plus de protecteur”, ibid.). This is of course not so much a rational calculation of the effects and causes as a sort of mechanical law of conservation, blind, inherent in the nature of things. Man becomes more like a domestic animal: “The lot of men, as of chattel, is instinct, obedience, punishment” (“Le partage des hommes, comme des bêtes, y est l’instinct, l’obéissance, le châtiment”, III, 10) and even of the inanimate object: “the prince’s will, once known, must have its effect as infallibly as a ball thrown at another must have its effect” (“la volonté du prince, une fois connue, doit avoir aussi infailliblement son effet qu’une boule jetée contre une autre doit avoir le sien”, ibid.).

7Over against terrorized obedience, it is impossible to invoke the slightest natural feeling. The only recourse against fear is, sometimes, on the side of religion: “The father will be abandoned, even killed, if the prince so orders: but they will not drink wine, if he wants them to and so commands” (“On abandonnera son père, on le tuera même, si le prince l’ordonne : mais on ne boira pas du vin, s’il le veut et s’il l’ordonne”, ibid.). For religion (or, failing that, as in China, the code of manners) in despotism serves as a legal repository, entrusted in monarchies to intermediary bodies (II, 4), whence an opposition of great scope between the despotic principle and the others. All are collective passions indispensable to the preservation and action of governments, but only fear is incapable of restraining the power it supports like the other principles. “In monarchical and moderate states, power is limited by the motivational force; I mean honor, which reigns, like a monarch, over the prince and the people” (“Dans les États monarchiques et modérés, la puissance est bornée par ce qui en est le ressort ; je veux dire l’honneur, qui règne, comme un monarque, sur le prince et sur le peuple”, III, 10). A spiritual and conservational power, which models men on the measure of the different natures of government, the principle, with the monstrous exception of despotism, thus also has a moderating function! Both a motivating force and restraint. But this second function is important enough so that despotism, as we have just seen, entrusts it to other authorities, when the principle fails.

Principle and corruption

8Having posited these two fundamental concepts – the nature and principle of government – in books II and III, Montesquieu proceeds to distinguish various types of law relations that derive therefrom: laws of education (IV), laws of succession and distribution of property, of functions (V), civil and criminal laws (VI), sumptuary laws (VII), before taking on in book VIII the question, crucial in classical political philosophy, of corruption. In each of these books (IV to VIII), the general title emphasizes the pre-eminence of the principle over nature (for example: “That the laws of education should be relative to the principles of the government”; “Of the corruption of the principles of the three governments” [“Que les lois de l’éducation doivent être relatives aux principes du gouvernement”/“De la corruption des principes des trois gouvernements”]). But it is appropriate not to forget that nature and principle are connected, since the principle flows naturally from the nature, supports it, motivates it, furnishes to it the men it needs, before undertaking to destroy it. “The corruption of each government begins almost always with that of its principles”: this lapidary law is the whole subject of chapter 1 of book VIII. It is obviously because the passions are more labile than the structures. A motivation of the political, sometimes its moderating restraint, source of life and passionate energy, alone able to explain obedience to the laws and the conservation of societies, the principle is thus also the primary agent of the collective metamorphoses that can lead to despotic petrification.

9Montesquieu now examines in turn, from the angle of principle, the corruption of democracy, aristocracy, monarchy, and finally despotism, the site of the most surprising paradoxes. Democracy becomes corrupt when the people “loses the spirit of equality”, or when, assuming “the spirit of extreme equality”, it fatally abuses it (VIII, 2). In fact, Montesquieu concentrates on this second hypothesis, which touches on the great difficulty of this government, since democratic virtue consists of being both sovereign and subject, “obeying and commanding one’s equals” (VIII, 3). As soon as the people “wants to do everything itself”, democracy tends toward “the despotism of a single man”, while the spirit of inequality pushes it towards aristocracy or the “government by a single man” (VIII, 2). Extreme liberty, or anarchy, is no more viable than servitude, for the only true equality is found in “regulated democracy”, where one has “only equals for masters” (VIII, 3). Democracy can then open onto aristocracy, the government of a single man, despotism, from a double temptation inscribed in the logic of its nature and its principle. The principle, because it is an urge, has the force to contradict the nature from which it emanates and which it is supposed to preserve, by unleashing a process of transformation regulated by the structure of the field. By its principle, the political, without ceasing to belong to rationality, encounters the perils of temporality. But at bottom, less is risked, apparently, by the excess of inequality than by its opposite! As for aristocracy, it “becomes corrupt when the power of the nobles becomes arbitrary” (“se corrompt lorsque le pouvoir des nobles devient arbitraire”, VIII, 5).

10Monarchical corruption is homologous to that of democracies, “when the prerogatives of the bodies or privileges of the cities are slowly taken away”, to go towards “the despotism of a single man” (VIII, 6). In the three cases, therefore, corruption comes from an excess of sovereign power, though Montesquieu does not attempt to theorize this temptation by unifying it. But we know where it was ultimately heading: despotism (of all, of several, of just one). If despotism is the end of the corruption of other political forms, is that to say that it itself escapes from the process of transformation and degradation? Apparently not, since chapter 10 deals with the corruption of its principle. But it is in order to posit right away a magnificent paradox: “The principle of despotic government is constantly being corrupted, because it is corrupt by its nature” (“Le principe du gouvernement despotique se corrompt sans cesse, parce qu’il est corrompu par sa nature”). It “perishes from its inner vice” (“périt par son vice intérieur”), when other regimes “perish because particular accidents violate their principle” (“périssent, parce que des accidents particuliers en violent le principe”). This is not the principle that preserves nature, it is “accidental causes”, “circumstances drawn from the climate, the religion, the situation or the genius of the people” (“des circonstances tirées du climat, de la religion, de la situation ou du génie du peuple”), by forcing it “to follow some order, and to suffer some rule” (“à suivre quelque ordre, et à souffrir quelque règle”). The corruption of the despotic principle thus consists in preserving it despite itself, by restraining its mortal and perpetual and intrinsic corruption! Abandoned to its own power, fear would destroy the public order, would obliterate itself in the excess of its deadly force. The immobile immortality of Asian despotism is owing to causes exterior to its nature and its principle, but which bear on cosmic necessities, God being a principle of order and conservation (I, 1). In short, despotism is never absolutely in conformity with its nature and principle, because, without losing its natural “ferocity” (VIII, 10), it has to preserve human societies, assure the survival of the species. It can achieve that only by a logic of supplement, of compensation. What the “inner vice” of the despotic principle, its permanent corruption, forbids, is obtained by other “relations” – the climate, religion, manners, seraglio, etc. In other words, despotism survives its own principle thanks to… the spirit of law, that logic of relations the source of which is in God, the “primary reason” (I, 1).

11Let us summarize the table of corruption of principles: either it causes the passage from one moderate form to another (democracy, aristocracy, monarchy), or it leads to various despotic models. In this case, the corruption of a healthy principle results in an essentially corrupt principle, which can preserve itself as political principle only by encountering obstacles to its incessant natural corruption, which spring from other spheres of the social or physical order. Not only is the despotic principle, unlike the others, not a restraint, but it tends to fail as a motivating force. At bottom, despotic passion is a death urge that turns against the object of all states, “which is to maintain themselves” (XI, 5).

Physics of the principle

12Now, That human passion that aspires indefatigably to the annihilation of all political organization takes root in nature. This new perspective opens on the threshold of part three, in a sentence-chapter: “If it is true that the character of the mind and the passions of the heart are extremely different in various climates, the laws should be relative both to the difference of these passions, and to the difference of these characters” (“S’il est vrai que le caractère de l’esprit et les passions du cœur soient extrêmement différents dans les divers climats, les lois doivent être relatives et à la différence de ces passions, et à la différence de ces caractères”, XIV, 1). From North to South, from cold to warm, physical nature makes different men, because man is first of all a corporal being (XIV, 2). If “servitude always begins with sleep” (XIV, 13), how could Orientals not be predisposed to it? They live in “countries where the excessive heat enervates and overwhelms, repose is so delightful and movement so hard” (“pays, où la chaleur excessive énerve et accable, [où] le repos est si délicieux et le mouvement si pénible”, XIV, 5), that “the fatigue will pass into the mind itself; no curiosity, no noble enterprise, no generous sentiment” (“l’abattement passera à l’esprit même ; aucune curiosité, aucune noble entreprise, aucun sentiment généreux”, XIV, 2). Weakness of organs, lethargy of mind and body, and force of impressions explain “the immutability” of institutions in the Orient (XIV, 4). Conversely, the “impatience” of the English accords with free institutions (XIV, 13). The victory of the barbarians over the Romans, which resulted in modern Europe and true monarchy, is first an effect of climate (XIV, 3). In Asia, on the contrary, the numerous conquests from the cold were never able to bring freedom, and consequently metamorphose passions and principles, for want of gradual climatic transition between “warlike peoples, brave and active” and “effeminate peoples, lethargic, timid” (XVII, 3). So courage was not able, as in Europe, to oppose courage and forge a spirit of freedom. The almost changeless division between freedom and despotism on the surface of the earth (Montesquieu reserves the case of America, still undecidable), the gradation of regimes of the north of Europe, answer first to physical causes, which it falls to the legislator to measure well if he intends to counter or support them. Size and situation of territories (islands, swamps, plains, mountains), modes of subsistence, also enter into the composition of political systems, and thus of the principles that make them work (XVIII).

Principle and general spirit

13The first part of L’Esprit des lois (books I to VIII) continues from book III to book VIII, to inscribe principle in its titles; their purpose is to examine immediately the laws in direct relationship to the central concept posited in book III. It then disappears, in the second and third parts, to the benefit of other relations (between the laws and offensive and defensive forces, between the laws and the constitution, the penal sanctions, the climate, etc.). Of course, the efficacy of the nature/principle pair does not cease for that reason to act on the analysis, modeled by the three fundamental political types. But it is certain that in the reader’s eyes, two new notions occupy the foreground, “political freedom” (XI-XIII) and “climate” (XIV to XVII). The principal term returns however in force at the end of part three, in book XIX, which deals according to its title with “laws in the relation they have with the principles that form a nation’s general spirit, mores and manners” (“des lois dans le rapport qu’elles ont avec les principes qui forment l’esprit général, les mœurs et les manières d’une nation”). We will first note the use of the plural. The general spirit of a nations results from various “principles”, whereas the principle defined in book III characterizes a passion proper to the essence of a pure political type, covering several nations through time and space, without confusing itself with any other. Next we will note that the “principles” collaborate in the formation of a concrete, specitic and national “general spirit”, which occupies in each nation the position of the principle in the ideal typical trilogy (republic, monarchy, despotism).

14Book XIX thus does not mean principles in the sense of the first part, as chapter IV confirms, where the general spirit is defined: “Several things govern men: climate, religion, laws, government maxims, examples of past things, mores, manners, whence are formed a resultant general spirit”. The principle in the sense of book III flowed directly and naturally from the “nature” of the government brought back to its most factual, simplest, most essential, immediately accessible definition, according to Montesquieu, to the least educated common sense (II, 1). The principles of the general spirit, forming a complex system, designate the heterogeneous but active factors which enter into the composition of a singular national spirit because they weigh on all men. But how does one pass from the multiple to the one, from the heterogeneous to the homogeneous, from principles to spirit? By a logic of dominance, which the initial notion of the principle did not have, by definition, to raise: “As in each nation, one of these causes acts more forcefully, the others yield by that amount. Nature and climate almost alone dominate among the savages; manners govern the Chinese; laws tyrannize Japan; mores used to set the tone in Lacedaemon; the maxims of government and ancient mores set it in Rome” (“À mesure que, dans chaque nation, une de ces causes agit avec plus de force, les autres lui cèdent d’autant. La nature et le climat dominent presque seuls sur les sauvages ; les manières gouvernent les Chinois ; les lois tyrannisent le Japon ; les mœurs donnaient autrefois le ton dans Lacédémone ; les maximes du gouvernement et les mœurs anciennes le donnaient dans Rome”, XIX, 4). “Principles” consequently signify here the causes, factors, relations participating in the formation of a general spirit which is not related to a type of government, but to a people, at the end of a process where one or perhaps two principles repress the others.

15Without prior understanding of the type – by the distinction of the nature and principle of government – the knowledge of the social facts would elude reason. But reason cannot completely capture History without taking account of the national specificities, through the concept of general spirit. So one could not consider the general spirit as the national homologue, or the singular specification, of the principle of government, since both designate collective passions that preserve and make a political organization to act. But this formulation ought not make us believe in a spontaneous correspondence between principle and general spirit. “It is for the legislator to follow the spirit of the nation, when it is not contrary to the principles of the government; for we do nothing better than what we do freely, and following our natural genius” (“C’est au législateur à suivre l’esprit de la nation, lorsqu’il n’est pas contraire aux principes du gouvernement ; car nous ne faisons rien de mieux que ce que nous faisons librement, et en suivant notre génie naturel”, XIX, 5). If the mores do not collide with the principle of government, “let them leave us as we are”, with our qualities and our flaws, for “one must not try to correct everything” at the risk of spoiling everything (XIX, 6). The principle of government thus does not lose its cardinal regulating function, which, if not understood or forgotten, risks leading to the corruption of the political system. But one must make do with the force of things, the immediate and disconcerting reality of the general spirit, which immediately distinguishes between an Athenian and a Lacedaemonian, an Englishman and a Frenchman.

16Do we have to await book XIX to pass from the general (nature, principle) to the singular (the general spirit)? Not quite. As early as book XI, Montesquieu noted that “although all states have in general the same purpose, which is to maintain themselves, each state still has one that is particular to itself. Aggrandizement was Rome’s object; war that of Lacedaemon; religion that of the Judaic laws; trade that of Marseille” (“quoique tous les États aient en général un même objet, qui est de se maintenir, chaque État en a pourtant un qui lui est particulier. L’agrandissement était l’objet de Rome ; la guerre, celui de Lacédémone ; la religion, celui des lois judaïques ; le commerce, celui de Marseille”), glory that of monarchies, and as is known, political freedom that of the English Constitution (XI, 5). So the celebrity of the concept of principle and its eminent place at the beginning of the work ought not to obliterate Montesquieu’s effort in the direction of the “particular”, which finds its consecration in the concept of the general spirit, both close to and very different from the principle of government. We could say that the principle is a constructed concept, logically deduced, whereas the general spirit synthesizes more empirical traits, more immediately observable.

The defense of the principle

17The purely political definition of the principle of virtue could not fail to arouse objections. Is the author not thereby excluding the Christian, and even the moral, virtues, from most governments? How are we to understand his announcing this law: “That virtue is not the principle of monarchical governments” (III, 5)? Montesquieu responds not in the Défense de L’Esprit des lois but in the Clarifications on L’Esprit des lois (OC, t. VII, p. 115). “The word virtue, like most words in all languages, is taken in various ways […]. It is what precedes or follows the word that settles its meaning. Here the author has done more: he has given his definition several times. The objection was thus made because the work was read too hastily” (“Le mot de vertu, comme la plupart des mots de toutes les langues, est pris dans diverses acceptions […] C’est ce qui précède, ou ce qui suit ce mot, qui en fixe la signification. Ici l’auteur a fait plus : il a donné plusieurs fois sa définition. On n’a donc fait l’objection que parce qu’on a lu l’ouvrage avec trop de rapidité”).

18But the posthumous edition of 1757-1758 places before the preface a “Foreword by the author” which returns to the question with three points: (1) “I have thus called ‘political virtue’ love of country and equality”. (2) “In a word, honor is in the republic, though virtue is its mainspring, political virtue is in the monarchy, although honor is its mainspring” (“En un mot, l’honneur est dans la république, quoique la vertu en soit le ressort ; la vertu politique est dans la monarchie, quoique l’honneur en soit le ressort”). (3) “Finally, the good man who it is spoken of in book III, chapter 5, is not the good Christian man, but the good political man, […] who loves the laws of his country, and acts out of love of his country” (“Enfin, l’homme de bien dont il est question dans le livre III, chapitre 5, n’est pas l’homme de bien chrétien, mais l’homme de bien politique, […] qui aime les lois de son pays, et qui agit par l’amour des lois de son pays”).

19As for the preface, it recalls that the word “principles” has at least two meanings in L’Esprit des lois: a precise political meaning, which refers back to the three principles of government defined in book III, and a general meaning that includes and surpasses the first: “I have posited the principles, and I have seen the particular cases fit them as if by themselves, the histories of all nations be simply their consequences, and each individual law be tied to another law, or depend on a more general one.” (“J’ai posé les principes, et j’ai vu les cas particuliers s’y plier comme d’eux-mêmes, les histoires de toutes les nations n’en être que les suites, et chaque loi particulière liée avec une autre loi, ou dépendre d’une autre plus générale”.)

Bibliographical reference

Goldzink Jean , « Principles », translated by Philip Stewart, dans Dictionnaire Montesquieu [online], directed by Catherine Volpilhac-Auger, ENS Lyon, September 2013. URL :