Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter CV
Usbek to the Same
 
ALL the nations of Europe are not equally submissive to their princes: the impatient humor of the English, for instance, leaves their king hardly any time to make his authority felt. Submission and obedience are virtues upon which they flatter themselves but little. On this subject they say most amazing things. According to them there is only one tie which can bind men, and that is gratitude: husband and wife, father and son, are only bound to each other by their mutual affection, or by the services they do each other: and these various motives of obligation are the origin of all kingdoms and communities.  1
  But if a prince, instead of making the lives of his subjects happy, attempts to oppress and ruin them, the basis of obedience is destroyed; nothing binds them, nothing attaches them to him; and they return to their natural liberty. They maintain that all unlimited power must be unlawful, because it cannot have had a lawful origin. For, we cannot, say they, give to another more power over us than we ourselves have: now, we have not unlimited power over ourselves; for example, we have no right to take our own lives: no one upon earth then, they conclude, had such a power.  2
  The crime of high treason is nothing else, according to them, than the crime of the weaker against the stronger, simply disobedience, no matter what form the disobedience may take. Thus the people of England, finding themselves stronger than one of their kings, 1 pronounced it high treason in a prince to make war upon his subjects. They have therefore good reason to say that the precept of their Koran, 2 which requires submission to the powers that be, is not a very difficult one to follow, seeing that it is impossible not to do so, inasmuch as they are not enjoined to submit to the most virtuous, but to the strongest.  3
  The English tell how one of their kings, having conquered and taken prisoner a prince who disputed his right to the crown, began to reproach him with his faithlessness and treachery, when the unfortunate prince replied, “It was decided only a moment ago which of us two is the traitor.”  4
  A usurper declares all those rebels who have not, like him, oppressed their country; and believing that where there are no judges there are no laws, he causes the caprices of chance and fortune to be reverenced like the decrees of Heaven.

  PARIS, the 20th of the second moon of Rebiab, 1717.
  5
 
Note 1. Charles I. [back]
Note 2. The New Testament. [back]
 
 
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