Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Baron de Montesquieu, fully Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu

French Philosopher, Political Thinker and Social Commentator

"As men are affected in all ages by the same passions, the occasions which bring about great changes are different, but the causes are always the same."

"Experience constantly proves that every man who has power is impelled to abuse it; he goes on till he is pulled up by some limits. Who would say; it! virtue even has need of limits."

"I never listen to calumnies, because if they are untrue I run the risk of being deceived, and if they be true, of hating persons not worth thinking about."

"Men in excess of happiness or misery are equally inclined to severity. Witness conquerors and monks! It is mediocrity alone, and a mixture of prosperous and adverse fortune that inspire us with lenity and pity."

"Passions make us feel, but never see clearly."

"The majority of men are more capable of great actions than of good ones."

"The spirit of politeness is a desire to bring about by our words and manners, that others may be pleased with us and with themselves."

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

"Through a fatality inseparable from human nature, moderation in great men is very rare: and as it is always much easier to push on force in the direction in which it moves than to stop its movement, so in the superior class of the people, it is less difficult, perhaps, to find men extremely virtuous, than extremely prudent."

"We should never create by law what can be accomplished by morality."

"A government is like everything else: to preserve it we must love it."

"As virtue is necessary in a republic, and in a monarchy honor, so fear is necessary in a despotic government: with regard to virtue, there is no occasion for it, and honor would be extremely dangerous."

"Constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as it will go... To prevent this abuse, it is necessary from the very nature of things that power should be a check to power."

"Extremely happy and extremely unhappy men are alike prone to grow hardhearted."

"How admirable is that religion, which, while it seems to have in view only the felicity of another world, is at the same timed the highest happiness of this."

"I never listen to calumnies, because, if they are untrue, I run the risk of being deceived, and if they are true, of hating persons not worth thinking about."

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

"In the state of nature... all men are born equal, but they cannot continue in this equality. Society makes them lose it, and they recover it only by protection of the laws."

"Knowledge humanizes mankind, and reason inclines to mildness; but prejudices destroy every tender disposition."

"Luxury is... absolutely necessary in monarchies; as it is also in despotic states. In the former, it is the use of liberty; in the latter, it is the abuse of servitude. A slave appointed by his master to tyrannize over other wretches of the same condition, uncertain of enjoying tomorrow the blessings of today, has no other felicity that that of glutting the pride, the passions, and the voluptuousness of the present moment."

"Mankind must not be governed with too much severity; we ought to make a prudent use of the means which nature has given us to conduct them. If we inquire into the cause of all human corruptions, we shall find that they proceed form the impunity of criminals, and not from the moderation of punishments."

"Men are extremely inclined to the passions of hope and fear; a religion, therefore, that had neither a heaven nor a hell could hardly please them."

"Nothing more assimilates a man to a bast than living among freedmen, himself a slave. Such people as these are natural enemies of society; and their number must be dangerous."

"Peace is the natural effect of trade. Two nations who traffic with each other become reciprocally dependent; for if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling; and thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities. But if the spirit of commerce unites nations, it does not in the same manner unite individuals. We see that in countries where the people move only by the spirit of commerce, they make a traffic of all the humane, all the moral virtues; the most trifling things, those which humanity would demand, are there done, or there given, only for money."

"Religion is less a matter of holiness than an excuse for dispute."

"Solemnity is the shield of idiots."

"Success generally depends upon knowing how long it takes to succeed."

"The corruption of every government begins nearly always with that of principles."

"The greatest security of the liberties of a people who do not cultivate the earth is their not knowing the use of money... The people who have no money have but few wants; and these are supplied with ease, and in an equal manner. Equality is then unavoidable; and hence it proceeds that their chiefs are not despotic."

"The love of democracy is that of equality."

"The love of study is in us the only lasting passion. All others quit us in proportion as this miserable machine which holds them approaches its ruins."

"The pious man and the atheist always talk of religion; the one speaks of what he loves, and the other of what he fears."

"The principle of democracy is corrupted not only when the spirit of equality is extinct, but likewise when they fall into a spirit of extreme equality, and when each citizen would fain to be upon a level with those whom he has chosen to command him. Then the people, incapable of bearing the very power they have delegated, want to manage everything themselves, to debate for the senate, to execute for the magistrate, and to decide for the judges."

"The severity of laws prevents their execution. When the penalty is excessive, one is forced to prefer impunity."

"There are bad examples which are worse than crimes; and more states have perished from the violation of morality than from the violation of law."

"There is no more cruel tyranny than that which is exercised under cover of the law, and with the colors of justice."

"Those who have but little business to attend to, are great talkers. The less men think, the more they talk."

"Those who have few things to attend to are great babblers; for the less men think, the more they talk."

"Three things we should keep in mind [in conversation]: first, that we speak in the presence of people as vain as ourselves, whose vanity suffers in proportion as ours is satisfied; second, that there are few truths important enough to justify paining and reproving others for not knowing them; finally, that any man who monopolizes the conversation is a fool or would be fortunate if he were one."

"True happiness renders men kind and sensible; and that happiness is always shared with others."

"Useless laws, weaken necessary ones."

"Words do not constitute an overt act; they remain only in idea. When considered by themselves, they have generally no determinate signification; for this depends on the tone in which they are uttered."

"A good writer does not write as people write, but as he writes."

"A love of the republic in a democracy is a love of the democracy, as the latter is that of equality. A love of the democracy is likewise that of frugality. Since every individual ought here to enjoy the same happiness, and the same advantages, they should consequently taste the same pleasures and form the same hopes, which cannot be expected but from a general frugality."

"A man should be mourned at his birth, not at his death."

"A man who writes well writes not as others write, but as he himself writes; it is often in speaking badly that he speaks well."

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

"A prince who loves and fears religion is a lion who stoops to the hand that strokes or to the voice that appeases him. He who fears and hates religion is like the savage beast that growls and bites the chain, which prevents his flying on the passenger. He who has no religion at all is that terrible animal who perceives his liberty only when he tears in pieces, and when he devours."

"A thing is not just because it is law. But it must be law because it is just."

"A truly virtuous man would come to the aid of the most distant stranger as quickly as to his own friend. If men were perfectly virtuous, they wouldn?t have friends."