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The Sources of Wealth and Future of the Constitution in The Spirit of the Laws: The Implicit Contrast Between Eighteenth-Century England and the Late Roman Republic

Les sources de la richesse et l'avenir de la constitution dans l'Esprit des lois: Le contrast implicite entre l'Angleterre du dix-huitème siècle et la République romaine tardive
Ryo Sadamori

Résumés

Le livre XI, chapitre 6, intitulé 'De la constitution d'Angleterre' est le chapitre le plus célèbre de L'Esprit des lois de Montesquieu (1748), et a été une source d'inspiration importante pour les constitutions modernes, auquel leurs auteurs se sont souvent référés. Cependant, en raison de l'attention portée par les chercheurs aux institutions politiques décrites dans cet ouvrage, l'analyse économique de Montesquieu a été malheurement négligée. Afin de corriger cet oubli, l'article élucidera la signification essentielle de la comparaison faite par Montesquieu entre la constitution de l'Angleterre moderne et celle de la Rome antique dans le livre XI de L'Esprit des lois, c'est-à-dire la relation inextricable entre les institutions militaires et politiques, d'une part, et le transfert et la distribution des richesses, d'autre part. Pour démontrer ce point, l'article se concentrera sur les autres textes de Montesquieu, écrits au moment de la publication de L'Esprit des lois : l'édition révisée en 1748 des Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence (1734), par exemple, comportait des ajouts substantiels par rapport à la première édition, dont une grande partie était centrée sur les sources et la répartition des richesses dans la Rome antique. Deuxièmement, une lettre à William Domville, un ami de Montesquieu en Angleterre, rédigée en 1749, mais jamais envoyée, oppose le despotisme militaire de la Rome républicaine tardive à la liberté de l'Angleterre du XVIIIe siècle, attribuant une grande partie des différences aux sources de richesse des deux nations. En se référant à ces deux écrits, on peut comprendre que contrairement au système politique de la Rome républicaine, qui s'est finalement transformé en un despotisme militaire, Montesquieu estime que la principale raison pour laquelle les Anglais ont su maintenir leurs liberté et constitution réside dans la manière dont ils ont acquis des richesses. La richesse des Romains provenait du pillage et de l'imposition des nations conquises, et l'extrême inégalité des richesses qui en résultait a provoqué l'effondrement de leur régime républicain. Les Anglais, quant à eux, trouvaient leurs sources de richesse dans l'industrie et le commerce, sans s'appuyer sur la force militaire, et en accumulant profits sur le long terme, ils ont créé une 'classe moyenne' qui est devenue porteuse à la fois de la liberté politique et de respect de l'état de droit dans ce pays. Cet article révèle ainsi le contexte plus large dans lequel les vues de Montesquieu sur l'économie politique dans L'Esprit des lois doivent être considérées, à savoir que la distribution du pouvoir politique et la distribution des richesses sont indissociables.

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Notes de l’auteur

This paper is based on the fifth chapter of Sadamori (2021), where I questioned in which sense the idea of “government of law” in Montesquieu could be qualified as “republican,” with particular reference to the term “res publica” as opposed, not to “regium” but “tiranide,” as elucidated in the interpretation of Roman history in Moatti (2018).

Texte intégral

I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers and editors from Revue d’études benthamiennnes for their helpful comments on the early draft of this article. This research is funded by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 23K01325.

Introduction

  • 1 Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, translated by A. M. Cohler, B. C. Miller and H. S. Stone (Camb (...)

1The central theme of The Spirit of the Laws is the 'relations (rapports)' that laws of a region have with such diverse elements as the constitution, mores, commerce, climate, and religion.1 Montesquieu’s magnum opus discusses these 'relations' comprehensively, with ancient Rome rather than England or the French monarchy as the focal point. This paper explores how Montesquieu’s deepening interpretation of Roman history—particularly in the realm of economic analysis—from Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline (henceforth referred to as 'Considerations'), published in 1734, to The Spirit of the Laws, published in 1748, informs his understanding of modern England.

  • 2 Lowenthal, David, 'Introduction' in Montesquieu, 1965 [1734].
  • 3 Montesquieu, Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence suivi de (...)
  • 4 Ehrard, Jean, L’Esprit des mots – Montesquieu en lui-même et parmi les siens (Genève : Droz, 1998) (...)
  • 5 Montesquieu, Considérations, p. 341; this quote is translated by the author.

2Previous studies on Montesquieu’s interpretation of Roman history focused primarily on Considerations, with insufficient attention being paid to the differences in his interpretation of Roman history in Considerations and The Spirit of the Laws. Thus, on the one hand, D. Lowenthal suggests that Montesquieu’s true intentions regarding polity are better revealed by his full approval of military expansionism in Republican Rome in Considerations.2 However, this interpretation is inconsistent with Montesquieu’s judgment of the untenable nature of large-scale military conquests in modern Europe like those made by ancient Rome. This view was already expressed in his Reflections on the Universal Monarchy in Europe,3 which was printed at the same time as Considerations but never published for fear of censorship of statements that could be considered criticisms of Louis XIV, thus providing a prototype for his later commercial peace theory in The Spirit of the Laws. Conversely, as J. Ehrard points out, considering Montesquieu’s criticism of Louis XIV’s despotic tendencies and ambitions for military domination in Europe, the subject of Considerations appears to be imperial Rome.4 However, concerning his original intention in writing Considerations, Montesquieu prepared the following passage for the preface, although it was not included in the published version: 'I had at first thought of writing only a few pages on the establishment of the monarchy among the Romans, but the greatness of the subject won me over, I went back imperceptibly to the first times of the republic, and I descended to the decadence of the empire.'5 We may thus assume that Montesquieu’s interest since Considerations had been the causes that gave rise to the monarchical structure of the government in the late Roman Republic. For this purpose, The Spirit of the Laws concentrated on Roman history from the beginning to the end of the Roman Republic, rather than on the imperial period.

  • 6 Gilmore, Nathaniel K., 'Montesquieu’s Considerations on the State of Europe' in Journal of the Hist (...)
  • 7 Postigliola, Alberto, 'Une république parfaite: Roma, i poteri, le libertà tra la Considérations e (...)

3N. Gilmore’s (2020) work is one of the few to have focused on the close relationship between Considerations and The Spirit of the Laws. Gilmore considers these works 'partners', contrasting a 'violent, pessimistic history of Rome' in Considerations with the 'optimistic history of commerce' of modern times in Book XXI of The Spirit of the Laws.6 While sharing Gilmore’s general framework, this paper focuses not on the complementary relationship between these two works but rather on their differences, namely, the fact that Montesquieu developed his economic analysis between the first edition of Considerations, published in 1734, and The Spirit of the Laws, published in 1748.7 This analysis not only reveals that Montesquieu contrasted ancient Rome with modern commercial society but also that his axis of comparison between ancient Rome and modern England changed between 1734 and 1748.

  • 8 F. Millar argues that the notion of 'republican Rome' dominant in the history of ideas and historio (...)

4In Considerations, Montesquieu believed, as did Machiavelli in Discourses on Livy, that internal conflict in the early Roman Republic was the cause of liberty as well as the government of law; he subsequently conceived of common features between the early Roman Republic and modern England. In contrast, in The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu recognized that the emergence of a middle class associated with commercial activity brought about English liberty and the government of law, and he contrasted England with the extreme inequality of wealth and military despotism at the end of the Roman Republic. In this respect, contrasting Montesquieu’s interpretation of Roman history with Machiavelli’s helps us locate the issues Montesquieu addressed as his economic analysis developed between these works.8

  • 9 Machiavelli, N., Discourses on Livy, pp. 312-313; pp. 167-168.
  • 10 Montesquieu, Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline, transla (...)
  • 11 See Roberto, Umberto, 'Diritto e storia: Roma antica nell’Esprit des lois' in Leggere L’Esprot des (...)

5In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu above all observes that Rome acquired wealth not through trade but by plundering and taxing conquered nations; his attention to the sources of wealth in the Roman Republic is inevitably linked to concerns about its distribution. Like Machiavelli, who understood that the private distribution of booty by military commanders formed 'partisanship (partigiani)', prioritizing individual interests over the public interest,9 Montesquieu remarked, in the first chapter of the first edition of Considerations, on the siege of Veii as 'a kind of revolution' when the prolongation of the wars became possible by the establishment of pay for soldiers.10 However, while Machiavelli did not further develop a specific analysis of the history of pay for soldiers, Montesquieu added significantly to this in the 1748 edition of Considerations. Extending this, in The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu analyzes the history of the transfer of movable property and land as one of the important causes of the transformation of the Roman Republic into an empire.11

6A clue to understanding the link between political power theory and economic analysis, which is not evident in The Spirit of the Laws, is the draft letter Montesquieu prepared for his English friend, William Domville, after the publication of this masterpiece, in which he wrote:

  • 12 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Henry C. Clark (Indianapo (...)

It is your (English) wealth that causes your corruption. Do not compare your wealth with that of Rome or with that of your neighbors! But compare the sources of your wealth with the sources of Rome’s wealth and the sources of your neighbors’ wealth.12

  • 13 Larrère, Catherine, 'Montesquieu et l’histoire du commerce' in Le temps de Montesquieu édité par Mi (...)
  • 14 On the point that Montesquieu himself oscillated under the tension between the antagonism among sta (...)

7Thus, Montesquieu contrasts the military conquests of ancient Rome with the commerce of modern England, though without positing a simple, dichotomous scheme of ancient virtuous imperialism and modern peaceful commerce.13 Indeed, what The Spirit of the Laws analyzes in detail is the historical context in which Rome maintained the government of law in the early years of the republican period, only to lose it toward its end. Moreover, in this draft letter, Montesquieu explains the historical origin of the commerce and liberty of the English in contrast with the late Roman Republic, even suggesting conditions under which the English might maintain their 'liberty' in the future.14 To demonstrate this, The Spirit of the Laws focuses on the sources of Roman wealth and explains the profound effect of wealth from military conquests on the transformation of the constitution. The originality of The Spirit of the Laws lies in the fact that this analysis of ancient Rome, combining political power theory and economic analysis, is reflected in the analysis of modern society. Therefore, this study seeks to clarify the significance of the implicit contrast between modern England and the late Roman Republic in The Spirit of the Laws.

The Relationship Between the Theory of the Constitution and Economic Analysis

Military Expansion and the Sources of Wealth in the Roman Republic

  • 15 SL XI-5; Myers, Richard, 'Montesquieu on the Causes of Roman Greatness' in History of Political Tho (...)
  • 16 SL XI-17.
  • 17 SL XI-17.
  • 18 SL XI-13.

8In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu, on the one hand, idealizes England, stating that its constitution has 'political liberty' as its 'direct object' in Book XI, Chapter 5, titled 'On the Purpose of Various States'. On the other, he points out that the 'purpose' inherent in ancient Rome was military 'expansion'.15 While the English Constitution distributed legislative, executive, and judicial powers to function as a system of checks and balances, the Roman Constitution was not primarily designed to prevent abuse of power. In Republican Rome, limited government was de facto maintained because the nobility and plebeians had to cooperate so long as Rome continued to pursue military expansion. After the expulsion of the king in 509 BC and the subsequent foundation of the Republican regime, the plebeians greatly increased their legislative power, especially with the establishment of tribunes. However, the Senate continued to retain executive power over public funds, the imposition of taxes, and military and diplomatic affairs.16 In war, the nobility needed the 'heroic courage' of the plebeians, and the plebeians needed the 'consummate wisdom' of the nobility.17 In this context, the conflict between the nobility and plebeians served as a 'noble emulation' between the defenders of a declining constitution and those seeking a better constitution.18 Rome’s military expansion aimed at world domination, and Rome constantly usurped other nations to pay the expenses necessary to conduct wars. To explain the nature of this wealth acquired from military expansion, Montesquieu analyzes the history of the interest rate in Book XXII, Chapter 22, titled 'On the Loan by Contract and on Usury among the Romans', as indicating changes in the structure of internal conflict in the Roman Republic.

  • 19 SL XXII-22, als.1-3.
  • 20 Cf. SL XI-19, V-8.
  • 21 SL XXII-22, al.5.
  • 22 SL V-3.
  • 23 The Spirit of the Laws gives the years in which various events took place in the Roman calendar in (...)

9According to Montesquieu, because they participated in wars at their own expense, Roman citizens borrowed at high interest under the assumption that they would make more profit than the interest payment. In Rome, where laws to regulate the usury did not exist, high interest rates of 'ordinarily 12 percent per year' persisted because citizens could always expect to reap the benefits from plundering conquered nations.19 In the early years of Republican Rome, lenders demanded higher interest rates for the glory of the state, rather than to accumulate personal wealth. In addition, based on the census system, wealthier nobles assumed more military and tax obligations in exchange for greater political authority.20 'At the time when senate defended so consistently the cause of usury, the Romans’ love of poverty, of frugality, and of mediocrity in fortunes was at its peak; but the constitution was such that the principal citizens bore all the burdens of the state and the common people paid nothing'.21 As long as Roman citizens practiced frugality, the wealth gained from conquests was distributed among the people. The surplus was either kept in the public treasury or consumed in a triumphant celebration of the nation’s glory: 'Wealth gives a power that a citizen cannot use for himself, for he would not be equal'.22 However, in 'the Roman year 398 [356 BC]',23 the interest rate was reduced to 1 percent per year by 'the first one [law] the Romans made to fix the rate of interest'. Furthermore, in 'the Roman year 413 [341 BC]', lending to Roman citizens at high interest was prohibited. While, in Book XXII, Chapter 22, Montesquieu does not specify the reasons for the prohibition of usury in Rome, these become clearer from his additions to the 1748 edition of Considerations.

  • 24 CR, chap.1.
  • 25 CR chap.1; when discussing Montesquieu’s interpretation of Roman history, J. G. A. Pocock quotes th (...)

10Already in the first edition of Considerations, published in 1734, Montesquieu, like Machiavelli, noted that the establishment of salaries for soldiers during the siege of Veii, which lasted from 406 to 396 BC, made long-term war possible: 'When the senate had the means of paying the soldiers, the siege of Veii was undertaken. It lasted ten years. The Romans employed a new art and a new way of waging war. […] In short, the taking of Veii was a kind of revolution'.24 Then, two paragraphs after this passage, in the 1748 edition of Considerations, Montesquieu added the following: 'With the establishment of military pay, the senate no longer distributed the lands of conquered peoples to the soldiers. It imposed other conditions on these peoples; it required them, for example, to furnish the army with its pay for a certain time, and to give it grain and clothing.'25 In other words, after the establishment of pay for soldiers, citizens no longer needed to borrow money to participate in war. Furthermore, in the 1748 edition of Considerations, Montesquieu made significant additions to Chapter 16, 'The Condition of Empire from Antoninus to Probus', regarding the history of pay for soldiers in the period between the siege of Veii in the early Roman Republic and the imperial period, which had not been discussed by Machiavelli.

  • 26 CR chap.16.
  • 27 SL XI-17.
  • 28 SL XI-17.

11This addition on the history of pay for soldiers explains the growing dependence of soldiers on their military commanders. However, Montesquieu did not intend to explain the transformation of the Roman Republic into a monarchy solely based on the history of soldiers’ pay systems.26 Instead, in The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu discusses the sources of Roman wealth throughout the republican period. To explain the change in the Roman Constitution within a larger historical context, Montesquieu analyzes the transfer of wealth in ancient Rome, including land and movable property, especially in Book XXVII on the law of inheritance and in Book XXII on the history of the rate of interest. The role of soldiers’ pay is explained as only a part of this overall picture, even though it became the means by which military commanders such as Marius, Caesar, and later emperors would gain power. By tracing the development of this economic analysis from Considerations to The Spirit of the Laws, it becomes clear that the nature of Roman warfare changed after Rome’s conquest of the Italian peninsula. In the early republican period, Roman citizens aimed to achieve glory rather than wealth. However, Montesquieu observes that after uniting the Italian peninsula, Romans gradually lost the 'virtue' that had been the moral basis of their Republic. Roman citizens, 'in the drunkenness of their prosperity',27 acquired executive power that they had once entrusted to the Senate for the glory of the state. Specifically, in 'the Roman year 444 [310 B.C.], they themselves created tribunes in the legions who had until then been named by the generals, and sometime before the first Punic War, they ruled that they alone would have the right to declare war'.28

  • 29 SL XXII-12.
  • 30 SL XI-12.
  • 31 SL IV-6.
  • 32 SL XXII-12.
  • 33 SL IV-5.

12What Montesquieu then questions is the effect of the introduction of money on political society. As confirmed in Book XXII, Chapter 12 of The Spirit of the Laws, titled 'The Circumstances in which the Romans performed their Operation on Money', silver denarii were not introduced to Rome until after the Pyrrhic War, which ended in 275 BC,29 that is, 'shortly before the First Punic War'30 that began in 264 BC. The effect of 'money (argent)' is 'to fatten the fortune of men beyond the limits nature has set for it, to teach men to preserve vainly what has been amassed vainly, to multiply desires infinitely and to supplement nature, which has given us very limited means to excite our passions and to corrupt one another'.31 Compared with copper, silver money made it easier for citizens to privately accumulate acquired wealth: 'The peace that ended the First Punic War had left the Romans masters of Sicily. They soon entered Sardinia: they began to know Spain: the stock of silver continued to increase in Spain'.32 In an era in which individual citizens could more easily accumulate wealth, wars gradually came to concern the pursuit of individual interests more than the glory of the republic. As citizens began to lose their 'love of poverty, of frugality, and of mediocrity in fortunes', they lost at the same time their 'love of the laws and homeland'33 that demanded that the public interest always take precedence over private interests. According to Montesquieu, although various laws prohibited usury after 341 BC, illegal and de facto usury persisted because the benefits of looting conquered nations and collecting taxes from Roman provinces outweighed the risk of circumventing these laws.

  • 34 SL XXII-22, als.10-11.
  • 35 SL XI-19.
  • 36 Montesquieu, Défense de L’Esprit des lois in De L’Esprit des lois édité par Robert Derathé, vol. 2 (...)

13In the Roman Republic, where taxes were collected for war needs, the taxes imposed on the conquered Roman provinces increased, and fewer Roman citizens were liable for taxation. Therefore, to consider the transfer of wealth in Rome during the period after the spread of conquest outside the Italian peninsula, it is necessary to look at transactions not only within urban Rome but also between Rome and its provinces. After tracing the history of interest rates within Rome, Montesquieu, in the same Book XXII, Chapter 22 discusses the suffering of the Roman provinces from usury as follows: 'I leave the town to glance briefly at the provinces. / I have said elsewhere [Book XI chap.19] that the Roman provinces were devastated by a despotic and harsh government. That is not all; they were further devastated by frightful usuries.'34 When Montesquieu discusses this 'despotic and harsh government' in the Roman provinces in Book XI, Chapter 19, he aims to explain 'why the force of the provinces added nothing to the force of the [Roman] republic and, on the contrary, only weakened it'.35 The history of interest rates explains the transfer of wealth not only within the city of Rome but also between the city and its provinces and how this transfer of wealth influenced the change in the Roman Constitution. As Montesquieu states in response to clerical criticism of The Spirit of the Laws, the subject of 'the chapters on lending at interest loans and on usury among the Romans' is 'probably the most important in their [Romans’] history' and has 'much to do with the constitution'.36 Indeed, in The Spirit of the Laws, the distribution of wealth is inextricably linked to the distribution of political power.

  • 37 SL XXII-22, al.17.

14Montesquieu interpreted the prohibition of lending at interest among Roman citizens as a source of legal circumvention because creditors extended loans in the name of an ally or Latin who was not at that time subject to Roman civil law. Observing the frustration of the people, who had no share in this law circumvention, Marcus Sempronius, their tribune, extended the scope of that prohibition to their allies and the Latins in 'the Roman year 561 [193BC]'. Furthermore, the Gabinian law, passed in 'the Roman year 615 [139 BC]', extended this prohibition to the Roman provinces; its purpose was to check corruption in voting, 'for usury always increased at the time of elections because silver was needed in order to win votes'.37 For Montesquieu, the high interest that persisted in this period in defiance of the Gabinian law testified to the arrival of an era in which lenders became rapacious and the wealth acquired from the governments of Roman provinces became directly linked to political influence. Regarding the necessity of enacting the Gabinian law and the motives behind its circumvention, Montesquieu stated the following:

  • 38 SL XXII-22, al.18. In a note to this passage, Montesquieu refers to a letter to Atticus of Cicero, (...)

The Gabinian Law prohibited loans with interest between the people of the provinces and Roman citizens, and since the latter had, at that time, all the silver in the world in their hands, they had to be tempted by high rates of usury so that in the eyes of the avaricious the danger of losing the debt would disappear. And, as in Rome there were powerful people who intimidated the magistrates and silenced the laws, they were bolder in lending and bolder in requiring high rates of usury. Because of this, the provinces were ravaged one by one by those who had credit in Rome, and as each governor made his edict on entering his province, setting the rate of usury that suited him, avarice assisted legislation, and legislation assisted avarice.38

  • 39 SL XI-19.
  • 40 SL XIII-19.

15As regard the city of Rome in the late republican period, creditors were often 'knights, who were tax-collectors for the republic'.39 Roman citizens acquired 'all the silver in the world' through conquest, from which the knightly class benefited most. This wealth became a hotbed of corruption in Roman elections. Powerful figures thirsting for political power relied on the knightly class for funds to buy votes: 'Since the one who has silver is always the master of the one without, the tax farmer is despotic over even the prince; he is not a legislator, but he forces him to give laws'.40

  • 41 SL XI-19.
  • 42 SL V-8.
  • 43 SL XXII-22, al.19.
  • 44 SL XXII-22, al.19.
  • 45 SL XI-18, al.19.

16The Roman Republic sent the governors to the provinces, giving them full executive, legislative, and judicial powers41; therefore, the knights could levy taxes in the provinces like 'princes of despotic states, who confiscate the goods of whomever they please'.42 Additionally, the knights profited from loans with 12 percent interest rates per annum or even higher; these were loans that the subject nations in the provinces needed to pay the taxes imposed by Rome. Simply put, as the knights helped administer the provinces, they deprived the provinces of their wealth through high interest on these loans. Consequently, 'the ravage of the armies, the rapaciousness of the magistrates, the extortions of men of business, and the bad usages that were continually established'43 infested the provinces. Provincial government became a means of personal enrichment for knights, resulting in extreme inequality of wealth between Rome and the provinces, and even within the city of Rome itself. '[O]ne had never been as rich or as poor'.44 As The Spirit of the Laws demonstrates, the knights thus became 'the richest men'45 by the time of the Gracchi brothers; this explains the sources of Roman wealth and the historical circumstances in which this extreme inequality of wealth occurred.

Logical Structure of The Spirit of the Laws and a Draft Letter to Domville

17As mentioned above, in The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu reveals the sources of wealth in Rome by analyzing the history of interest rates and compares the sources of wealth in eighteenth-century England and Rome in the late, rather than early, republican period. This comparative perspective is not self-evident when reading The Spirit of the Law. However, as this section shows, Montesquieu’s draft letter to his English friend Domville after the publication of this work clarifies this point.

  • 46 SL XI-6, al.68.
  • 47 Montesquieu, Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu édité par André Masson, vol. 3 (Paris : Nagel, 1955), (...)

18The exchange with Domville begins with the following statement near the end of Book XI, Chapter 6, titled 'On the Constitution of England' in The Spirit of the Law: 'Since all human things have an end, the state of which we are speaking will lose its liberty; it will perish. Rome, Lacedaemonia, and Carthage have surely perished. This state will perish when legislative power is more corrupt than executive power'.46 These ominous and prophetic words led Domville to send a letter dated June 4, 1749, to Montesquieu to inquire about his true intentions, posing the following question: 'Please allow me to ask you, Sir, who has given much thought to the causes of the decadence of nations, how this relaxation of mores (mœurs), this abandonment of first principles (premiers principes) will end'.47 Here, 'first principles' suggests that Domville interprets the 'principles' of governments presented in The Spirit of the Laws through the lens of the 'principles (principii)' in Machiavelli’s Discourses, implying the virtuous mores of the Roman Republic. Domville further says that, according to The Spirit of the Laws, the English have degenerated from liberty to licentiousness; they have lost the idea of the public good, and not only does the sinister fate of the wealthy and corrupt people of the past await them, but they have thrust themselves toward it. Domville then asks Montesquieu to what extent and in what way they can find alternatives to the ancient rules and whether it is difficult for the English to abandon them. Domville also confides that he does not precisely understand in what sense The Spirit of the Laws considers 'honor' a 'principle' of a monarchy. He does not dispute Montesquieu’s idea that the 'principle' of the government drives the nation as a whole but states that the most shameful economic 'interests' are the 'principle' of his country, England, where state assets are stolen by parliamentary representatives, and the law itself fails to fulfill its role of correcting their crimes due to cumbersome legal procedures and high associated costs. Thus, Domville complains about the corrupt conditions in England, urging Montesquieu to agree.

  • 48 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, p. 593.
  • 49 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, p. 593.
  • 50 SL I-3.
  • 51 SL I-3.

19Understanding that Domville was inquiring about the ominous future of the English government and the consequences of its corruption, and perhaps aware of Domville’s many misunderstandings of The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu, in a draft reply, responds as follows: 'I believe, Sir, that what will preserve your government is that in essence, the People have more virtue than those who represent them'.48 Montesquieu continues that even if the military officers, deputies, and officials appear corrupt, '[i]t is not like this with the entire body of the People, and I believe I have noticed that a certain spirit of liberty that is still alight and not ready to go out'.49 The composition of this draft letter corresponds to the logical structure of The Spirit of Laws, constituting a treatise on 'the spirit of the laws' of the English. In The Spirit of the Laws, “political right” is considered as 'laws concerning the relation between those who govern and those who are governed', whereas 'civil right' is considered as 'laws concerning the relation that all citizens have with one another'. Subsequently, following the Italian jurist Giovanni Vincenzo Gravina, Montesquieu defines the 'political state' as the 'union of all individual strength' and the 'civil state' as the 'union of all wills'.50 The relationship between the 'union of wills' reflected in the enactment of laws and the 'union of strength' required for their enforcement can be understood as determining the relationship between the ruler and the ruled. In terms of this relationship, Montesquieu explains the 'character (génie)' of the English in his draft letter to Domville: Indeed, Montesquieu admits that high salaries corrupt military officers in England and that the myriad means of amassing vast fortune in government corrupt deputies and officials, but insists that corruption relates only to the temporary results of parliamentary elections in a limited number of districts: 'One may nonetheless say that the middling sort are not [corrupt], and that the spirit of liberty still reigns among them'.51 Thus, Montesquieu, living under the French monarchy, viewed parliamentary elections in England as an innovative institutional medium wherein people’s mores, manners, and ways of life were reflected in the government’s functioning.

  • 52 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, p. 595.

20As this draft letter to Domville explains, the English derived wealth from commerce and industry. A middle class was formed among the English that accumulated small profits over time from commercial activities based on the mutual needs of their trading partners. By contrast, the sources of Rome’s wealth included taxing and plundering subject nations. Subsequently, extreme inequalities of wealth emerged that excluded a middle class. Hence, Montesquieu exclaimed, 'There could not be middling people, as with you [the English], nor a spirit of liberty, as with you. There could only be a spirit of ambition, on the one hand, and a spirit of despair on the other—and consequently, no more liberty!'52 It seems that Montesquieu feels the need to indicate exactly which period of Rome he is referring to here; he mentions Cicero at the end of this draft and specifies that he is referring to Rome at the collapse of the Republic:

  • 53 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, p. 595.

Cicero, in speaking of the condition of the Republic, speaks of these middling people. 'Who is it that forms the good [political] party?' he says. 'Is it the country people and the merchants? It is those for whom all governments are equal from the moment they are tranquil'. This is not at all applicable to England’s government. And although the natural spirit of these professions inclines by its nature toward tranquility, as I said in my book in the Laws on the nature of terrain, nonetheless what Cicero says here is connected only to a particular disadvantage of Rome’s government, which I must discuss here.53

21Montesquieu asserts that in the late Roman Republic, where extreme wealth inequality prevailed, there could be no 'middling people' to be the bearers of a 'spirit of liberty' as in modern England. However, in the same draft, Montesquieu also refers to the knightly class as 'middling people', which was true until the time of the Gracchi brothers. By explaining how this knightly class became 'extremely rich', Montesquieu sees, in the corruption of this class, the cause of excessive wealth inequality and the loss of republican liberty.

  • 54 SL XI-19.
  • 55 SL V-5.
  • 56 Hulliung, Mark, Montesquieu and the Old Regime (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1976). H (...)

22As The Spirit of the Laws explains in more detail, it was the census, regarded as ‘the fundamental principle of the constitution',54 that helped maintain a 'middle class' in Republican Rome. This system contributed to limiting wealth inequality by stipulating the burden of taxation based on the amount of property. Under this condition, specific laws reduced inequality by imposing financial burdens on the rich and providing relief to the poor. 'Only wealth of middling size can give or suffer these kinds of adjustments, because, for men of immoderate fortunes, all power and honor not accorded them is regarded as an affront'.55 Unlike the 1734 edition of Considerations, in The Spirit of Laws in 1748, Montesquieu asked what degree of wealth inequality could be compatible with a republican regime by considering the functioning of the census in the Roman Republic. Insofar as Roman knights formed a middle class that supported the Constitution, their social existence was a necessary condition for the census to function. As previously mentioned, while accumulating private wealth through participation in provincial governments, the knightly class lost its public spirit and eventually relinquished its military duties. This historical context also explains why the census gradually became dysfunctional.56

23In fact, in Book XVIII, Chapter 1 of The Spirit of the Laws, titled 'How the Nature of the Terrain Influences the Laws', referred to in the draft letter to Domville, Montesquieu writes the following without mentioning the knights:

  • 57 SL XVIII-1 ; cf. Cicéron, M., Correspondance, p. 67.

The goodness of a country’s lands establishes dependence there naturally. The people in the countryside, who are the great part of the people, are not very careful of their liberty; they are too busy and too full of their individual matters of business. A countryside bursting with goods fears pillage, it fears an army. 'Who is it that forms the good [political] party?' Cicero asked Atticus. 'Is it the people in commerce and in the countryside? Not unless we imagine that the people for whom all governments are equal, provided they are tranquil [and] oppose monarchy'. Thus, government by one alone appears more frequently in fertile countries and government by many [appear more frequently] in the countries that are not, which is sometimes a compensation for them.57

  • 58 SL XVIII-12.
  • 59 SL XVIII-13.
  • 60 SL XVIII-14.
  • 61 SL XVIII-2.

24Book XVIII of The Spirit of the Laws argues that people’s wealth depends on the nature of their terrain, and that the amount of their property affects the type of government. In the same book, political societies in which citizenship was based on land property, such as ancient Athens, Sparta, and early Republican Rome, are contrasted with the Germanic peoples, who did not cultivate the land. Regarding these Germanic peoples, Montesquieu states, 'lacking territory, they will have so many things to regulate by the right of nations that they will have few to decide by civil right',58 and also that '[o]ne can call the institutions of these peoples mores rather than laws'.59 Regarding their 'political state', he explains that people not attached to the land have little reason to yield to the strongest and that a relationship of domination-submission is unlikely to arise.60 Montesquieu thus sees the 'spirit of liberty' in this 'independence' of the governed from the ruler.61 The draft letter to Domville sheds light on the fact that Montesquieu compared and contrasted the ancient Roman Republic and modern England based on the idea of a constitution supported by the middle class, which The Spirit of the Laws does not explicitly mention. Furthermore, the same draft letter indicates that throughout Book XVIII of The Spirit of the Laws, the 'independence', that is, the 'spirit of liberty', of the English middle class is precisely described in contrast to the 'dependence' of the Roman knights at the end of the Roman Republic.

  • 62 Huet, Daniel, History of the Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients (1763 [1716]), chap.46.
  • 63 Cf. Spector, C., Montesquieu et l’émergence de l’économie politique, pp. 411-418 ; Larrère, C., 'Mo (...)

25In agreement with Cicero, Montesquieu believes that in the late Roman Republic, the wealthy, especially the knights, were forced to rely on military commanders for the safety of their lives and property, and their search for tranquility resulted in indifference to their participation in politics. However, for Montesquieu, this does not mean that engaging in agriculture or commerce and accumulating wealth would inevitably result in political indifference. For him, the sources of wealth of the Romans were plunder backed by military power; it could not be regarded as commerce, an argument by which there is reason to believe that Montesquieu intended to criticize Daniel Huet’s History of the Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients, published in 1716.62 Huet believed that the late Roman Republic prospered through commercial activities backed by military power. This work was dedicated to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who promoted Louis XIV’s plans for a universal monarchy in the late seventeenth century and understood the role of commerce as supporting military power.63

26The significance of Montesquieu’s assessment of English commerce becomes even clearer in contrast to the schemes of the ancient Roman Republic and France under Louis XIV. In the draft letter to Domville, Montesquieu speaks of England, first citing the relationship between officers and soldiers, then deputies, officeholders, and finally, the people. He then argues that even if those who govern—both in the army and in parliament—are corrupt, the people, who acquire wealth from their own industry and commerce, will not be corrupted. Therefore, the question he poses is the condition under which parliament could constrain military power. Indeed, in The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu wrote:

  • 64 SL V-19.

In a nation where the republic hides under the form of monarchy, observe how a particular estate for fighting men is feared and how the warrior still remains a citizen or even a magistrate, so that these titles serve as a pledge to the homeland so that it is never forgotten.64

  • 65 SL I-3.

27By describing these two different natures of military magistrates and civilians, Montesquieu sees how the relationship between the 'political state', which is a 'union of the strength', and the 'civil state', meaning a 'union of the wills', is reflected in the reality of government.65

28In the following section, with this logical structure of The Spirit of the Laws, which is the relationship between the 'political state' and 'civil state', in mind, we first identify the reasons why the commerce of the English is linked to their liberty and can constrain their military power. Second, we investigate how the Romans’ plundering of conquered nations resulted in the emergence of military despotism at the end of the Roman Republic.

Constitution and the Sources of Wealth in Modern England and Ancient Rome

Parliamentary Limits on Military Power in Commercial England

29Montesquieu believed that the sources of a nation’s wealth determined its constitution in the long term. To identify the sources of this wealth, he analyzed the history of interest rates in Rome. Believing that this rate of interest is defined by the profit that the merchant, the money’s borrower, is expected to earn through his investment, Montesquieu writes the following in Book XXII, Chapter 19, titled 'On Lending at Interest', of The Spirit of the Laws:

  • 66 SL XXII-19.

In order for commerce to proceed well, silver must have a price, but this price must be small. If it is too high, the trader, who sees that it would cost him more than he could gain in his commerce, undertakes nothing; if silver has no price, no one lends it, and the trader still undertakes nothing.66

  • 67 Cf. SL XXII-22, al.9.

30The Roman Republic acquired enormous wealth by plundering or taxing conquered nations. Despite legal prohibitions, loans at interest rates of 12 percent or higher persisted because Romans continued to acquire more plunder from the conquered nations.67 Montesquieu also considered this high interest rate an indicator of growing wealth inequality in Rome, resulting in the concentration of political and military power in the hands of a few powerful individuals. Thus, his analysis of the history of interest rates reveals that growing wealth inequality undermined the Constitution of the Roman Republic.

  • 68 SL XIX-27, al.27.
  • 69 SL XIX-27, al.34.

31In The Spirit of the Laws, the ancient Roman Republic is contrasted with modern England. Montesquieu paints an idealized picture of the English Constitution and its people’s mores and manners. He presents the country’s commercial activities as a desirable example of commerce that took advantage of the peculiarities of a European island nation and stresses that England would not pursue conquests belligerently.68 In contrast to ancient Rome, which extended its military dominance, England sent colonizers to expand its commerce.69 Indeed, The Spirit of the Laws demonstrates that commerce contributes to the establishment of peace in interstate relations.

  • 70 SL XX-2.

The natural effect of commerce is to lead to peace. Two nations that trade with each other become reciprocally dependent; if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling, and all unions are founded on mutual needs.70

  • 71 SL XX-23.

32However, this does not imply that Montesquieu wholeheartedly supported commerce in modern Europe. When asked in Book XX, Chapter 23 of The Spirit of the Laws, 'to which nation is it disadvantageous to engage in commerce?' Montesquieu understands that, in practice, modern commerce can be either a cause of peace or a reason for conquest: 'The avarice of nations disputes the movables of the whole universe. There may be a state so unhappy that it will be deprived of the movable effects of other countries, and even of almost all its own. The owner of its land will be but the colonists of foreigners'.71 While knowing these realities of world commerce of his day, Montesquieu still regards his English contemporaries as a 'commercial nation', and it is conceivable that he intends to show what world commerce should be.

33As if to confirm the reality of English commerce, Montesquieu writes the following in miscellaneous notes on the rate of interest in England, based on the comments of William Pulteney, Earl of Bath, who was an acquaintance and published the newspaper The Craftsman with Bolingbroke.

  • 72 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, p. 482.

It has just been said that interest in England is at 4 percent. Lord Bath told me that they were thinking in England of reducing it to 3.5 at first, then to 3, which would raise the amortization fund to 2 million and would mean they would be able to pay the Nation’s debt in a short enough time, because of the interest on the interest.72

  • 73 On the growing interest in the rate of interest among seventeenth-century English intellectuals, se (...)
  • 74 SL XII-1 ; in fact, Book XXVII of The Spirit of the Laws on the laws on inheritance in Rome explain (...)
  • 75 See SL XIX-27, al.56.

34English commerce was based on the exchange of products derived from their own industry; this commerce was conducted at an interest rate of no more than 4 percent per annum, corresponding to the scale of their economic growth.73 In this way, buyers and sellers could be expected to create peace through the 'natural effect of commerce' since they were bound together by their mutual needs. Montesquieu also believes that, although luxury increased in proportion to inequality in wealth,74 a certain equality of wealth was maintained in England because there existed only 'a solid luxury, founded not on the refinement of vanity, but on that of real needs'; the middle class comprised people having these needs.75

35The Spirit of the Laws thus shows how relationships formed internationally through commerce are also a reflection of the relationships formed domestically. In other words, the characteristics of this 'commercial nation' stem from the nature of the commodities with which they mainly deal. Montesquieu characterizes movables, including money, as different from landed property:

Wealth consists in land or in movable effects; the land of each country is usually possessed by its inhabitants. Most states have laws that discourage foreigners from acquiring their lands; only the presence of the master can increase their value; therefore, this kind of wealth belongs to each state particularly. But movable effects, such as silver, notes, letters of exchange, shares in companies, ships, and all commodities belong to the whole world, which, in this regard, comprises but a single state of which all societies are members.

  • 76 Cf. SL III-5; IV-5; V-3.
  • 77 SL 19-27, al.62.
  • 78 SL XIX-27, al.30.

36In modern societies, with well-developed commerce, individuals pursue their own profits. Therefore, no one can demand that citizens put the public good above their own as demanded by ancient republics of the virtuous era; nor can one expect them to practice 'love of homeland' or 'self-renunciation' at the point of sacrificing their own lives if necessary.76 Montesquieu believes a republic does not always require 'virtue', meaning 'love of the laws and the homeland', from its citizens. In England, even though the people of this 'commercial nation' do not have a self-sacrificing 'love of the homeland', they still share a 'love of the laws' as long as they reflect their will in legislation through a medium of representation; the security of property is thus guaranteed, and laws respecting their commercial interest are enacted: 'As the laws there would not be made for one individual more than another, each would regard himself as the monarch; the men in this nation would be confederates more than fellow citizens'.77 According to Montesquieu, while the constitution guarantees the security of life and property of the English, the 'spirit of liberty' rooted in their mores and manners sustains the same constitution. In international commerce, this 'commercial nation' further influences the parliamentary administration to create alliances in which 'all unions are founded on mutual needs'. '[C]hoosing which states it would favor with an advantageous commerce, it would make reciprocally useful treaties with the nation it had chosen'.78 For the English, the state becomes a means of protecting its own commercial activities, rather than an entity to be loved for its glory.

  • 79 For studies that interpret the 'harmony of dissonances' created by the internal conflicts presented (...)

37Indeed, it is always possible that real English commerce driven by the greed of great merchants may push toward robbing other countries of their wealth. However, that is why Montesquieu explains the inner workings of the commercial activity that creates the 'unions that are founded on mutual needs' in the same way in which he explains how the 'union of wills' between citizens in a political society creates the conditions for the government of law.79 It is England that Montesquieu adopts as a specific example in Book XX, Chapter 12, titled 'On the Liberty of Commerce'. In The Spirit of the Laws, 'right of nations', 'political right', and 'civil right' are always interwoven, and what is at stake here is the condition for the genesis of laws and rights in human society.

  • 80 SL XX-12.

Liberty of commerce is not a faculty granted to traders to do what they want; this would instead be the servitude of commerce. That which hampers those who engage in commerce does not, for all that, hamper commerce. It is in countries of liberty that the trader finds innumerable obstacles; the laws never thwart him less than in countries of servitude.80

  • 81 Cf. SL XI-3.

38Ideally, laws on commerce are also enacted due to a mutually agreed 'union of wills' between merchants. Just as 'political liberty' is defined as 'the right to do everything the laws permit' and consists in 'having the power to do what one should want to do (ce que l’on doit vouloir)', in commercial relations, certain great merchants are not allowed to escape from the 'duty (devoir)' imposed by their own laws.81

  • 82 Cf. SL XX-1 ; XIX-27, al.29.

39Consequently, it becomes clear that the English commerce idealized in The Spirit of the Laws shows the conditions and possibilities for commerce to contribute to peace in interstate relations in 1748. Therefore, given this peaceful order, the 'love of the homeland', which exacerbates discord between nations in military confrontations, appears as a 'destructive prejudice'.”82 From this perspective, the English Constitution, as depicted in The Spirit of Laws, appears as a product of the historical circumstances brought about by the development of modern commerce, rather than an ideal exemplar model of a constitution in one country detached from the rest of the world. The principles and ideals of commercial activities operating in the context of global interstate relations are reflected in a nation’s internal politics and constitution.

  • 83 SL V-19.
  • 84 SL I-3.
  • 85 Cf. SL XI-3.
  • 86 Cf. SL XXVI-15.

40Therefore, it is significant that in The Spirit of the Laws, England is characterized as a 'nation where the republic hides under the form of monarchy'83 when discussing the place of military personnel within its constitution. The common question in interstate and internal relations in The Spirit of the Laws is how to realize government of law from an infinitely varied and sometimes shifting relationship between physical forces and people’s will. To explain this, Montesquieu defines the 'political state', which determines the relationship between the rulers and the ruled, as 'the union of all individual strength'—and the 'civil state', which concerns the relationship among the ruled, as 'the union of wills'. He subsequently confirms that 'individual strength cannot be united unless all wills are united'.84 According to this logic, in a state of 'natural independence', or 'license', that is, before the existence of the state, 'people do whatever they will to do'.85 However, after a law has been enacted as a result of the 'union of will' of citizens, judicial power is called upon to give effect to that law, and the physical strength of the state confronts those who infringe on the law.86 This combination of 'will' and 'strength' determines the relationship between military forces and law in monarchical and republican regimes.

  • 87 As John Robertson points out, the idea of parliament constraining the army under the command of the (...)
  • 88 SL XI-6, al.59.

41In England, the monarch had the power to infringe the law at any time through his command of the standing army. However, the Bill of Rights enacted during the Glorious Revolution placed certain limitations on this military power. Parliament subsequently acquired the power to suspend military spending and disband the armed forces if deemed necessary.87 Alternatively, this legislature was backed by the 'middle class' engaged in commerce, who supported state finances through their tax burden. Therefore, Montesquieu states, '[i]f the executive power enacts on the raising of public funds without the consent of the legislature, there will no longer be liberty, because the executive power will become the legislator on the most important point of legislation'.88 This implies that the sources of wealth that support a country’s finances ultimately determine the operational objectives of its military forces. In other words, if the English relied on military power to plunder wealth from other nations, they might have had an incentive to encourage, rather than deter, executive power to become tyrannical. In contrast, their 'spirit of liberty' was maintained only if they did not rely on military force to acquire wealth. In this sense, their liberty derived from their commercial activities and, in a larger context, from their mores and manners. This is the significance of Montesquieu’s consideration of the 'natural effect of commerce' rather than the presence or absence of commerce itself.

The Emergence of Military Despotism in Rapacious Rome

  • 89 Cf. SL V-19.
  • 90 SL XI-18, et al., 19.
  • 91 See SL XI-15.

42According to The Spirit of the Laws, the common aspect between the early Roman Republic and modern England was that the constitutions of these nations succeeded in distributing political power and avoiding its abuse. In England, the monarch, having the power to command the military and enforce the laws, could stand above these laws. Therefore, parliamentary limits on military power were considered essential for maintaining the government of law. In contrast, in the Roman Republic, at least in its early period, the entire citizenry played a part in enacting and enforcing the law. By taking up arms themselves as 'defenders of the laws and of the homeland',89 Roman citizens did not admit military power as being above the law. In this sense, in the early Roman Republic, the qualifications of citizens to participate in lawmaking could not be separated from those of soldiers to defend their laws and homeland. 'The Roman constitution was founded on the principle that those who had enough goods to be responsible to the republic for their conduct should be soldiers'.90 For this reason, as Montesquieu shows, when Appius Claudius usurped and abused his judicial power while drafting the Twelve Tables between 451 and 450 BC, the citizens could resist and overthrow this tyranny to restore the government of law.91

  • 92 SL XI-18, et al., 19.

43However, the decisive moment for separating the status of citizens and soldiers in Rome came with Marius’ military reforms in the late Roman Republic. Since the knights benefited the most from the wealth acquired through military conquest, becoming 'the richest men', they ceased to form the legion’s cavalry. To face the penury of soldiers, Marius replaced it with 'another cavalry' levied from the ranks of the indigent citizens, and, in the words of Montesquieu, 'the republic was lost'.92

44To explain how the Romans, especially the knights, drew their wealth from military conquests and the rule of the provinces, Montesquieu analyzes the history of the interest rate in Book XXII of The Spirit of the Laws. Linked to this analysis, in the same year as the publication of this masterpiece, Montesquieu added a more precise account of how the wealth acquired by Rome through imperial expansion was distributed within the city of Rome in Chapter 3 of the 1748 edition of Considerations.

  • 93 CR chap.3.

Before the corruption set in, the primary incomes of the state were divided among the soldiers, that is, the farmers. When the republic was corrupt, they passed at once to rich men, who gave them back to the slaves and artisans. And by means of taxes, a part was taken away for the support of the soldiers [additions to the 1748 edition so far] […] Now, men like these were scarcely fit for war. They were cowardly, and already corrupted by the luxury of the cities, and often by their craft itself. Besides, since they had no country in the proper sense of the term, and could pursue their trade anywhere, they had little to lose or to preserve.93

  • 94 CR chap.16.
  • 95 CR chap.16.

45Corresponding to this account of the distribution of wealth, Montesquieu, in Chapter 16 of the 1748 edition of Considerations, further adds an argument on how soldiers’ pay changed during the transition from the republican to the imperial period. The period of reduced salaries for soldiers during the Second Punic War (218–201 BC) is described as 'a time when most of the citizens blushed to accept payment at all and wanted to serve at their own expense'.94 In this addendum, Montesquieu also confirms that in the period when Rome suspended taxes on its citizens due to the enormous wealth acquired through the Macedonian Wars (171–167 BC) and other conquests, Roman citizens had sufficient wealth not to seek to increase salaries. The same addendum describes Marius’ period in which the Roman army became dependent on salaries as follows: 'After Marius had enrolled men without a patrimony, and because his example was followed, Ceasar was forced to increase the pay'.95 Thus, at the end of the Roman Republic, the salaries given to soldiers were more intended to guarantee their loyalty to the military commander than to their homeland, the city of Rome.

46Montesquieu subsequently focuses on Sulla, the military commander, who overthrew his political opponent Marius and assumed the dictatorship at a turning point in Roman history, when the government of law in the republic was no longer recoverable. In Chapter 11 of the first edition of Considerations, published in 1734, Montesquieu refers to the fact that Sulla had given his troops 'an occasion that could place in his [every warrior’s] hand the property of fellow citizens'. In the 1748 edition of Considerations, to correspond with the history of salaries added in Chapter 16, Montesquieu substantially rewrites and makes further additions to Chapter 11, treating Sulla thematically. In this addendum, he succinctly explains the historical logic that led to Sulla’s conquest of his native Rome by his quasi-private army as follows:

  • 96 CR chap.11.

In his Asian expedition, he ruined all military discipline. He accustomed his army to rapine and gave it needs it never had before. He corrupted for the first time the soldiers who were later to corrupt their captains. He entered Rome with arms in hand and taught Roman generals to violate the asylum of liberty.96

47In the 1748 edition of Considerations, Montesquieu clarifies how Roman citizens were no longer soldiers as 'defenders of the law and the homeland' at the time of Sulla. Thus, in his draft letter to Domville as well as in the addendum to the 1748 edition of Considerations, Montesquieu explains why Roman citizens had become dependent on military commanders for the safety of their lives and property in civil wars, with reference to the same scene of the sacking of Rome by Sulla.

48In a draft letter, however, Montesquieu further compares Romans’ plundering and taxation of conquered nations with English commerce and industry from the perspective of the sources of each nation’s wealth:

  • 97 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, pp. 595-596.

When Rome under Sulla began to lapse into anarchy, the generals let their soldiers pillage the cities and the estates of the countryside. It was only a tranquil government that could ensure property, and as soon as the civil war began to emerge, the proprietors of landed estates and the traders were bound to lapse into despair. Why did this happen? Because the natural wealth of the State had to give way to the wealth acquired by the grandees’ pillaging and the tax collectors’ vexations […]. What will sustain your [English] nation, then, is when the sources of great wealth are the same, and are not dried up by the larger sources of other wealth. The wisdom of your State consists, therefore, in the fact that the great fortunes are not drawn from the levy of taxes – and your laws will be assured when the great fortunes are not drawn from military employments, and when the fortunes drawn from the civil state are moderate in scale.97

  • 98 SL I-3.
  • 99 SL I-1.
  • 100 For a historical study of how criminal justice became a means of eliminating political opponents in (...)

49Sulla led his troops from the battlefield into the city of Rome as conquerors, plundering the property of his compatriots. The logic of this conquest is also explained by the analysis of 'positive laws' in Book I, Chapter 3 of The Spirit of Laws. Here, Montesquieu argues that, concerning the establishment of political societies, 'individual strength cannot be united unless all wills are united'.98 In other words, after the laws are established as the 'union of the will' of the constituent members of society, executive or judicial powers are formed as a result of the union of individual strengths to enforce and protect these laws. Therefore, in The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu sees the essence of 'despotism' in this overturning of the order derived from 'the nature of the things'99: Sulla subjugated the 'union of the wills' of Roman citizens by the 'union of strength' of an army brought in from the battlefield outside the city and more loyal to him than to their homeland. In this overthrow of laws by military force, Montesquieu sees the prototype of military government in the later imperial period. When the abuse of judicial power backed by military force nullified the law, that is, the 'union of wills' of the citizens, what remained was Sulla’s will as a military commander, and the citizens—regardless of rank—were uniformly subordinated to the will of this most powerful man.100

50In Book XXII, Chapter 22 of The Spirit of the Laws, which traces the history of interest rates in Rome, a section was deleted in the 1757 edition published after the author’s death. Montesquieu writes the following in this deleted section about the law on interest rates proposed during Sulla’s reign.

  • 101 Montesquieu, De L’Esprit des lois, édité par Robert Derathé, 2 vols. (Paris : Classiques Garnier, 1 (...)

Under Sulla, Lucius Valerius Flaccus made a law that allowed interest at 3 percent per annum. Paterculus disapproved of this law, the most equitable and the most moderate of those that the Romans made in this respect. But if this law was necessary to the republic, if it was useful to all individuals, and if it formed a communication of ease between the debtor and the borrower, it was not unjust.101

51In Rome, which had already achieved imperial territorial domination, an interest rate of more than 12 percent per annum further exacerbated wealth inequality. Therefore, Montesquieu judges that this law, which reduced the interest rate to 3 percent per annum, was essential for the survival of the Roman Republic but could not be enacted in face of the opposition of influential figures who would be prevented from making huge profits by it.

  • 102 SL III-3.
  • 103 At the Club de l’Entresol, in the intellectual exchange meeting of the open-minded aristocracy led (...)

52Indeed, Sulla appears to have attempted to rebuild the Roman Republic by limiting the excessive power of the tribunes and restoring political power to the Senate. However, even if he intended to restore the government of law in the Roman Republic, Sulla was ultimately forced to resort to military force, which in turn led to a deepening inclination toward military despotism: 'When Sulla wanted to return liberty to Rome, it could no longer be accepted'.102 Thus, Montesquieu understands the period of civil war after Sulla and Caesar as an irreversible process whereby it was no longer possible to restore the Roman Republic through legislative intervention without resorting to violence.103

Conclusion

53As Montesquieu demonstrates in The Spirit of the Laws, from a contemporaneous perspective, government of law is achieved through the distribution of political powers and their mutual limitations. However, from a historical perspective, the sources of wealth and their distribution have largely affected and determined the distribution of political power. To illustrate the relationship between political power and wealth, Montesquieu developed an economic analysis between his first edition of Considerations, published in 1734, and The Spirit of the Laws, published 14 years later. Unlike Machiavelli, Montesquieu presents an analysis of the transfer of wealth that includes not only land but also movable property with regard to the interpretation of Roman history. In this interpretation, Montesquieu does not simply assume the validity of the census in the Roman Republic, which linked landed estates to the distribution of political power, but traces the history of the disfiguration of the census to explain the transformation of the power structure in the late Roman Republic.

54Thus, Montesquieu, in The Spirit of the Laws, compares ancient Rome with modern England from the combined perspective of political power theory and economic analysis. A supplementary document that clarifies this perspective is Montesquieu’s draft letter to his English friend Domville, written after the publication of this masterpiece. In this letter, Montesquieu argues that when considering why England could continue to maintain its constitution and liberty in the future, while the Roman Republic had turned into a military despotism, one should pay attention not to the increase in wealth itself but rather to the differences in the sources of wealth. In modern England, people acquired wealth through their own industry and commerce, which enabled them to maintain a certain equality of wealth in the country. In contrast, Rome acquired wealth from the plundering and taxation of conquered nations. The knights governing the provinces accumulated vast wealth through tax collection without regard for the public interest. The excessive concentration of wealth in the hands of these few resulted in the concentration of political power, while the decline of the militia and the use of mercenaries to replace it caused the subordination of the law to military power. As a means of analyzing these sources of wealth in Rome, in The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu traces the history of interest rates; at the same time, he makes significant additions to his account of how this wealth was distributed in the 1748 edition of Considerations.

55After its publication in 1748, The Spirit of the Laws profoundly influenced the codification of the constitutions written after the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1776 and the French Revolution in 1789. The Spirit of the Laws was called upon at this point in time to play the role of an immediately applicable didactic text; in particular, Book XI, Chapter 6, titled 'On the English Constitution', has been interpreted as a demonstration of the distribution of powers desirable for an independent nation-state. However, this 'English constitution' did not describe the ideal of the constitution of a single country detached from other countries, but rather was an exemplar of one component of interstate relations that Montesquieu hoped would be maintained in the future with the desired development of world commerce.

  • 104 Montesquieu, Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu, vol. 3, p. 1245.

56With this recognition in mind, Montesquieu dismisses Domville’s concerns about the future corruption of the English government and praises this country: 'I believe, however, that in Europe, the last breath of liberty will emanate from an Englishman; I even believe that you [the English] will delay the promptitude with which the other nations are moving toward entire downfall'.104 Whether Montesquieu meant to be polite or diplomatic is irrelevant. Through this letter, Montesquieu shows concern for the downfall of European nations and, at the same time, suggests the relative hope that England embodies. This letter presents his assessment and concerns regarding the current state of European commercial activities.

57Indeed, Montesquieu considers the potential risk of English commerce turning into conquest. However, he expresses his hope that the 'spirit of liberty' of the English would contribute to the establishment of a more peaceful order—at least on a European scale; that is, he believes that the English could avoid military despotism at home as well as in its foreign colonies so long as they sought the sources of their wealth in their own industry and commerce rather than in plundering and taxing conquered nations. However, as if to betray this expectation, the Seven Years’ War broke out in 1756, a year after Montesquieu’s death, and the gains from colonial trade explicitly became a major stake in the war.

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Bibliographie

Andrivet, Patrick, 'Rome enfin que je hais…' ? – Une étude sur les différences vues de Montesquieu concernant les anciens Romains (Orléans : Paradigme, 2012).

Appleby, Joyce O., Economic Thought and Ideology in Seventeenth-Century England (Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1978).

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Cicéron, Correspondance, tome V, trad. Jean Bayet (Paris : Les Belle Lettres, 1964).

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Huet, Daniel, History of the Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients (Lyon : Benoît Duplain, 1763 [1716]).

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Kawade, Yoshie, Kizoku no Toku, Shougyou no Seishin [Aristocracy and Commerce: Montesquieu and the Problem of Despotism] (in Japanese) (Tokyo : University of Tokyo Press, 1996).

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Larrère, Catherine, 'Montesquieu et le libéralisme : la question du plurarisme' in Montesquieu and His Legacy édité par Rebecca E. Kingston (Albany : Suny Press, 2009).

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Notes

1 Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, translated by A. M. Cohler, B. C. Miller and H. S. Stone (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1989 [1748]) will be cited as SL, followed by book, chapter, and, when necessary for precision, page in the translation of A. Cohler et al. (e.g., 'XI-6' signifies Book XI, chapter 6 ; see SL I-3).

2 Lowenthal, David, 'Introduction' in Montesquieu, 1965 [1734].

3 Montesquieu, Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence suivi de Réflexions sur la monarchie universelle en Europe, édités par Catherine Volpilhac-Auger et Catherine Larrère (Paris : Gallimard, 2008) [1734].

4 Ehrard, Jean, L’Esprit des mots – Montesquieu en lui-même et parmi les siens (Genève : Droz, 1998) chap.3 ; see also Volpilhac-Auger, Catherine, Montesquieu : une histoire du temps (Paris : ENS Éditions 2017).

5 Montesquieu, Considérations, p. 341; this quote is translated by the author.

6 Gilmore, Nathaniel K., 'Montesquieu’s Considerations on the State of Europe' in Journal of the History of Ideas, 81, 3 (2020).

7 Postigliola, Alberto, 'Une république parfaite: Roma, i poteri, le libertà tra la Considérations e L’Esprit des lois' in Storia e Ragione, a Cura di Alberto Postigliola (Napoli : Liguori, 1987); it is this deepening of Montesquieu’s interpretation of Roman history from Considerations to The Spirit of the Laws that requires further development in studies of Montesquieu. Postigliola (1987), for example, while emphasizing the relationship between the interpretation of Roman history and the argument about the English Constitution in Book XI of The Spirit of the Laws, understands this masterpiece and Considerations as complementary, thereby failing to address the development of Montesquieu’s thought between these two works.

8 F. Millar argues that the notion of 'republican Rome' dominant in the history of ideas and historiography throughout most of the twentieth century was created from a partial, indeed one-dimensional historiography of the early years of ancient Rome’s republican period, particularly of the struggle between patricians and plebeians referred to by Machiavelli in his Discourses (Millar, Fergus, The Roman Republic in Political Thought [Hanover : University Press of New England, 2002] pp. 138-139). In other words, from Machiavelli onward, thinkers and politicians who had a decisive influence on shaping the image of the 'republic' in modern society—including Harrington, Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the authors of The Federalist Papers at the founding of the United States—referred through Machiavelli to early ancient Rome as depicted in the first 10 books of Livy’s History. In the USA, according to Miller’s interpretation, the image of the ancient republican ideal presented by Machiavelli was transmitted especially through Montesquieu, the most influential figure in the founding period ; this had an almost excessive influence on the subsequent revival of 'republican thought' in modern society (Millar, Fergus, The Roman Republic in Political Thought, pp. 120-121 ; cf. McClelland, J.S., The Crowd and the Mob – From Plato to Canetti [New York : Routledge, 1989] pp. 60-109). Against Millar’s interpretation, the present study focuses on the fact that Montesquieu concentrated on the transformation of the form of government in ancient Rome from the early to the late years of the Republic ; in this interpretation of Roman history, the economic analysis in The Spirit of the Laws is of decisive importance.

9 Machiavelli, N., Discourses on Livy, pp. 312-313; pp. 167-168.

10 Montesquieu, Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline, translated with introduction and notes by David Lowenthal (New York : The Free Press, 1965 [1734]) will be cited as CR followed by the chapter number; (see CR, chap.1.)

11 See Roberto, Umberto, 'Diritto e storia: Roma antica nell’Esprit des lois' in Leggere L’Esprot des lois: Stato, sociéta e storia nel pensiero di Montesquieu, a cura di Domenico Felice (Napoli : Liguori Editore 1998), for the importance of the economic analysis of money, interest rates, inheritance law, and population in The Spirit of the Laws in Montesquieu’s interpretation of Roman history. However, Roberto does not seem to fully grasp the inextricable relationship between the theory of the constitution and the economic analysis presented in The Spirit of the Laws, nor does he explains the role the census played in defining the relationship between the distribution of political power and the distribution of wealth throughout the Roman Republican period.

12 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Henry C. Clark (Indianapolis : Liberty Fund, 2012), p. 595.

13 Larrère, Catherine, 'Montesquieu et l’histoire du commerce' in Le temps de Montesquieu édité par Michel Porret et Catherine Volpilhac-Aiger (Genève : Droz, 2002).

14 On the point that Montesquieu himself oscillated under the tension between the antagonism among states caused by jealousy over trade and the efficacy of commerce in bringing peace, see Spector, Céline, Montesquieu et l’émergence de l’économie politique (Paris : Champion, 2006), p. 431; Morilhat, Claude, Montesquieu – Politique et richesse (Paris : PUF, 1996), pp. 81-85.

15 SL XI-5; Myers, Richard, 'Montesquieu on the Causes of Roman Greatness' in History of Political Thought, No.XVI, 1995; Myers points out that in understanding ancient Rome as discussed in The Spirit of the Laws, it is more important to understand 'expansion', which is the 'purpose of the state' (SL XI-5) unique to Rome, than 'virtue', the 'principle' presented in its typology of governments. However, Myers only opposes English commerce to Roman military expansion and does not explain the importance of analyzing the relationship between the constitution and the distribution of wealth in The Spirit of the Laws, which is the focus of this paper.

16 SL XI-17.

17 SL XI-17.

18 SL XI-13.

19 SL XXII-22, als.1-3.

20 Cf. SL XI-19, V-8.

21 SL XXII-22, al.5.

22 SL V-3.

23 The Spirit of the Laws gives the years in which various events took place in the Roman calendar in footnotes to cross-reference the discussions of Rome scattered throughout the book. This in turn implies that the dated events are of special importance in Montesquieu’s historical narrative. Henceforth, this paper also follows Montesquieu’s use of the Roman calendar when dating certain events.

24 CR, chap.1.

25 CR chap.1; when discussing Montesquieu’s interpretation of Roman history, J. G. A. Pocock quotes the same passages regarding the siege of Veii in Chapter 1 of Considerations in his Barbarism and Religion: The First Decline and Fall, vol. 3 (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2003); however, he does not distinguish between the first edition and the additions to the 1748 edition, thus disregarding the deepening of the economic analysis in Montesquieu’s interpretation of Roman history in The Spirit of the Laws. Consequently, he fails to draw attention to the discussion of the transfer of movable property (including money) or to the discussion of the circumstances in which the census, as the basis of citizenship, became invalidated (cf. Pocock, J. G. A., Barbarism, pp. 347-350).

26 CR chap.16.

27 SL XI-17.

28 SL XI-17.

29 SL XXII-12.

30 SL XI-12.

31 SL IV-6.

32 SL XXII-12.

33 SL IV-5.

34 SL XXII-22, als.10-11.

35 SL XI-19.

36 Montesquieu, Défense de L’Esprit des lois in De L’Esprit des lois édité par Robert Derathé, vol. 2 (Paris : Classiques Garnier, 1973 [1748]), p. 449.

37 SL XXII-22, al.17.

38 SL XXII-22, al.18. In a note to this passage, Montesquieu refers to a letter to Atticus of Cicero, who was involved in the provincial government as an official of the knightly class and who criticized the many unjust decrees of his predecessor ; cf. Cicéron, Correspondance, tome V, trad. Jean Bayet (Paris : Les Belle Lettres, 1964), pp. 138-154.

39 SL XI-19.

40 SL XIII-19.

41 SL XI-19.

42 SL V-8.

43 SL XXII-22, al.19.

44 SL XXII-22, al.19.

45 SL XI-18, al.19.

46 SL XI-6, al.68.

47 Montesquieu, Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu édité par André Masson, vol. 3 (Paris : Nagel, 1955), p. 1235.

48 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, p. 593.

49 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, p. 593.

50 SL I-3.

51 SL I-3.

52 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, p. 595.

53 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, p. 595.

54 SL XI-19.

55 SL V-5.

56 Hulliung, Mark, Montesquieu and the Old Regime (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1976). Hulliung points out that Montesquieu drew attention to the Roman provinces in Considerations, which Machiavelli did not consider ; furthermore, Montesquieu understood the loss of the validity of Roman citizenship as one of the main causes of the decline of the Roman Republic (p. 161). Despite this important remark, Hulliung argues that Montesquieu’s thought had already matured by the time the Persian Letters was published in 1721 and that it is unnecessary to note the development of his thought after this literary work. Contrariwise, this paper seeks to demonstrate a deepening of Montesquieu’s interpretation of Roman history after Persian Letters—in particular, from Considerations to The Spirit of the Laws.

57 SL XVIII-1 ; cf. Cicéron, M., Correspondance, p. 67.

58 SL XVIII-12.

59 SL XVIII-13.

60 SL XVIII-14.

61 SL XVIII-2.

62 Huet, Daniel, History of the Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients (1763 [1716]), chap.46.

63 Cf. Spector, C., Montesquieu et l’émergence de l’économie politique, pp. 411-418 ; Larrère, C., 'Montesquieu et l’histoire du commerce'.

64 SL V-19.

65 SL I-3.

66 SL XXII-19.

67 Cf. SL XXII-22, al.9.

68 SL XIX-27, al.27.

69 SL XIX-27, al.34.

70 SL XX-2.

71 SL XX-23.

72 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, p. 482.

73 On the growing interest in the rate of interest among seventeenth-century English intellectuals, see the following: Tucker, G. S. L., Progress and Profits in British Economic Thought 1650-1850 (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1960); Appleby, Joyce O., Economic Thought and Ideology in Seventeenth-Century England (Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1978).

74 SL XII-1 ; in fact, Book XXVII of The Spirit of the Laws on the laws on inheritance in Rome explains how the growing inequality of wealth in Rome resulted in increased luxuries and the loss of 'love of the fatherland and of the law'. However, this does not necessarily mean that Montesquieu considers luxury incompatible with the rule of law in Rome, at least up to the time of the Gracchi brothers(Sadamori, R., Kyouwashugisha Montesquieu, chaps. 4 and 6).

75 See SL XIX-27, al.56.

76 Cf. SL III-5; IV-5; V-3.

77 SL 19-27, al.62.

78 SL XIX-27, al.30.

79 For studies that interpret the 'harmony of dissonances' created by the internal conflicts presented in Considerations from a viewpoint of pluralism, see Larrère, Catherine, 'Montesquieu et le libéralisme: la question du plurarisme' in Montesquieu and His Legacy édité par Rebecca E. Kingston (Albany : Suny Press, 2009) and Kawade, Yoshie, Kizoku no Toku, Shougyou no Seishin [Aristocracy and Commerce: Montesquieu and the Problem of Despotism] (Tokyo : University of Tokyo Press, 1996), pp. 180-189. Montesquieu writes : 'What is called union in a body politic is a very equivocal thing. The true kind is a union of harmony, whereby all the parts, however opposed they may appear, cooperate for the general good of societyas dissonances in music cooperate in producing overall concord. In a state where we seem to see nothing but commotion, there can be unionthat is, a harmony resulting in happiness, which alone is true peace' (CR, chap.9). It is difficult to believe that Montesquieu would have found in Rome, wherein people were focused on the process of military expansion, 'the harmony resulting in happiness, which alone is true peace'. This paper thus questions the meaning of this 'true union of harmony' in the 'body politic' with regard to The Spirit of the Laws and attempts to dissect it from the viewpoint of the relation between 'union of forces' and 'union of wills'. This question of 'true union' can arise along all the dimensions of 'right of nations', 'political right', and 'civil right'. Thus, what is important here is not only the presence or absence of plurality but also the way in which this plurality is conditioned institutionally, culturally, economically, and historically.

80 SL XX-12.

81 Cf. SL XI-3.

82 Cf. SL XX-1 ; XIX-27, al.29.

83 SL V-19.

84 SL I-3.

85 Cf. SL XI-3.

86 Cf. SL XXVI-15.

87 As John Robertson points out, the idea of parliament constraining the army under the command of the king is also found in Daniel Defoe. In the War of the Grand Alliance, which began in 1689, a coalition led by England and the Netherlands fought against France under Louis XIV. On the controversy over the standing army in England after this war, for the period between 1697 and 1700, see Robertson, J., Scottish Enlightenment (Edinburgh : John Donald Publishers LTD, 1985), esp. chap.2.

88 SL XI-6, al.59.

89 Cf. SL V-19.

90 SL XI-18, et al., 19.

91 See SL XI-15.

92 SL XI-18, et al., 19.

93 CR chap.3.

94 CR chap.16.

95 CR chap.16.

96 CR chap.11.

97 Montesquieu, My Thoughts, pp. 595-596.

98 SL I-3.

99 SL I-1.

100 For a historical study of how criminal justice became a means of eliminating political opponents in political struggles from the time of the Gracchi brothers to the time of Sulla, see Gruen, Erich S., Roman Politics and the Criminal Courts, 149-78 B.C. (London : Harvard University Press, 1968).

101 Montesquieu, De L’Esprit des lois, édité par Robert Derathé, 2 vols. (Paris : Classiques Garnier, 1973 [1748]), p. 472. Translated by the author.

102 SL III-3.

103 At the Club de l’Entresol, in the intellectual exchange meeting of the open-minded aristocracy led by the Abbé de Saint-Pierre, Montesquieu read his literary work The Dialogue between Sulla and Euclates in 1722, which was published in the journal Mercure de France in 1745 and added as an appendix to the 1748 edition of Considerations. According to P. Andrivet, while Montesquieu praised Sulla’s virtues and heroic deeds in Considerations, in The Spirit of the Laws, he changed his assessment, condemning Sulla’s criminal acts (Andrivet, Patrick, 'Rome enfin que je hais…' ? – Une étude sur les différences vues de Montesquieu concernant les anciens Romains [Orléans : Paradigme, 2012], p. 18). However, in The Spirit of the Laws, he reaffirms Sulla’s intention to revive the Roman Republic, explaining why the means he relied on for this revival had to become tyrannical. This is consistent with Montesquieu’s praise of Sulla in the 1748 additions to Considerations.

104 Montesquieu, Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu, vol. 3, p. 1245.

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Ryo Sadamori, « The Sources of Wealth and Future of the Constitution in The Spirit of the Laws: The Implicit Contrast Between Eighteenth-Century England and the Late Roman Republic »Revue d’études benthamiennes [En ligne], 24 | 2023, mis en ligne le 30 août 2023, consulté le 17 juin 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/etudes-benthamiennes/10954 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/etudes-benthamiennes.10954

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Ryo Sadamori

Nagoya University of Economics, Japan

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