The Social Contract


Jean-Jacques Rousseau


I MEAN to inquire if, in the civil order, there can be any sure
and legitimate rule of administration, men being taken as they are
and laws as they might be. In this inquiry I shall endeavour always
to unite what right sanctions with what is prescribed by interest,
in order that justice and utility may in no case be divided.

I enter upon my task without proving the importance of the
subject. I shall be asked if I am a prince or a legislator, to
write on politics. I answer that I am neither, and that is why I do
so. If I were a prince or a legislator, I should not waste time in
saying what wants doing; I should do it, or hold my peace.

As I was born a citizen of a free State, and a member of the
Sovereign, I feel that, however feeble the influence my voice can
have on public affairs, the right of voting on them makes it my
duty to study them: and I am happy, when I reflect upon
governments, to find my inquiries always furnish me with new
reasons for loving that of my own country.

1. Subject of the First Book

MAN is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks
himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave
than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can
make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer.

If I took into account only force, and the effects derived from
it, I should say: "As long as a people is compelled to obey, and
obeys, it does well; as soon as it can shake off the yoke, and
shakes it off, it does still better; for, regaining its liberty by
the same right as took it away, either it is justified in resuming
it, or there was no justification for those who took it away." But
the social order is a sacred right which is the basis of all other
rights. Nevertheless, this right does not come from nature, and
must therefore be founded on conventions. Before coming to that, I
have to prove what I have just asserted.

2. The First Societies

THE most ancient of all societies, and the only one that is
natural, is the family: and even so the children remain attached to
the father only so long as they need him for their preservation. As
soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved. The
children, released from the obedience they owed to the father, and
the father, released from the care he owed his children, return
equally to independence. If they remain united, they continue so no
longer naturally, but voluntarily; and the family itself is then
maintained only by convention.

This common liberty results from the nature of man. His first
law is to provide for his own preservation, his first cares are
those which he owes to himself; and, as soon as he reaches years of
discretion, he is the sole judge of the proper means of preserving
himself, and consequently becomes his own master.

The family then may be called the first model of political
societies: the ruler corresponds to the father, and the people to
the children; and all, being born free and equal, alienate their
liberty only for their own advantage. The whole difference is that,
in the family, the love of the father for his children repays him
for the care he takes of them, while, in the State, the pleasure of
commanding takes the place of the love which the chief cannot have
for the peoples under him.

Grotius denies that all human power is established in favour of
the governed, and quotes slavery as an example. His usual method of
reasoning is constantly to establish right by fact."#note1">[1] It would be possible to employ a more
logical method, but none could be more favourable to tyrants.

It is then, according to Grotius, doubtful whether the human
race belongs to a hundred men, or that hundred men to the human
race: and, throughout his book, he seems to incline to the former
alternative, which is also the view of Hobbes. On this showing, the
human species is divided into so many herds of cattle, each with
its ruler, who keeps guard over them for the purpose of devouring

As a shepherd is of a nature superior to that of his flock, the
shepherds of men, i.e., their rulers, are of a nature superior to
that of the peoples under them. Thus, Philo tells us, the Emperor
Caligula reasoned, concluding equally well either that kings were
gods, or that men were beasts.

The reasoning of Caligula agrees with that of Hobbes and
Grotius. Aristotle, before any of them, had said that men are by no
means equal naturally, but that some are born for slavery, and
others for dominion.

Aristotle was right; but he took the effect for the cause.
Nothing can be more certain than that every man born in slavery is
born for slavery. Slaves lose everything in their chains, even the
desire of escaping from them: they love their servitude, as the
comrades of Ulysses loved their brutish condition."#note2">[2] If then there are slaves by nature, it is
because there have been slaves against nature. Force made the first
slaves, and their cowardice perpetuated the condition.

I have said nothing of King Adam, or Emperor Noah, father of the
three great monarchs who shared out the universe, like the children
of Saturn, whom some scholars have recognised in them. I trust to
getting due thanks for my moderation; for, being a direct
descendant of one of these princes, perhaps of the eldest branch,
how do I know that a verification of titles might not leave me the
legitimate king of the human race? In any case, there can be no
doubt that Adam was sovereign of the world, as Robinson Crusoe was
of his island, as long as he was its only inhabitant; and this
empire had the advantage that the monarch, safe on his throne, had
no rebellions, wars, or conspirators to fear.

3. The Right of the Strongest

THE strongest is never strong enough to be always the master,
unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty.
Hence the right of the strongest, which, though to all seeming
meant ironically, is really laid down as a fundamental principle.
But are we never to have an explanation of this phrase? Force is a
physical power, and I fail to see what moral effect it can have. To
yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will — at the
most, an act of prudence. In what sense can it be a duty?

Suppose for a moment that this so-called "right" exists. I
maintain that the sole result is a mass of inexplicable nonsense.
For, if force creates right, the effect changes with the cause:
every force that is greater than the first succeeds to its right.
As soon as it is possible to disobey with impunity, disobedience is
legitimate; and, the strongest being always in the right, the only
thing that matters is to act so as to become the strongest. But
what kind of right is that which perishes when force fails? If we
must obey perforce, there is no need to obey because we ought; and
if we are not forced to obey, we are under no obligation to do so.
Clearly, the word "right" adds nothing to force: in this
connection, it means absolutely nothing.

Obey the powers that be. If this means yield to force, it is a
good precept, but superfluous: I can answer for its never being
violated. All power comes from God, I admit; but so does all
sickness: does that mean that we are forbidden to call in the
doctor? A brigand surprises me at the edge of a wood: must I not
merely surrender my purse on compulsion; but, even if I could
withhold it, am I in conscience bound to give it up? For certainly
the pistol he holds is also a power.

Let us then admit that force does not create right, and that we
are obliged to obey only legitimate powers. In that case, my
original question recurs.

4. Slavery

SINCE no man has a natural authority over his fellow, and force
creates no right, we must conclude that conventions form the basis
of all legitimate authority among men.

If an individual, says Grotius, can alienate his liberty and
make himself the slave of a master, why could not a whole people do
the same and make itself subject to a king? There are in this
passage plenty of ambiguous words which would need explaining; but
let us confine ourselves to the word alienate. To alienate is to
give or to sell. Now, a man who becomes the slave of another does
not give himself; he sells himself, at the least for his
subsistence: but for what does a people sell itself? A king is so
far from furnishing his subjects with their subsistence that he
gets his own only from them; and, according to Rabelais, kings do
not live on nothing. Do subjects then give their persons on
condition that the king takes their goods also? I fail to see what
they have left to preserve.

It will be said that the despot assures his subjects civil
tranquillity. Granted; but what do they gain, if the wars his
ambition brings down upon them, his insatiable avidity, and the
vexations conduct of his ministers press harder on them than their
own dissensions would have done? What do they gain, if the very
tranquillity they enjoy is one of their miseries? Tranquillity is
found also in dungeons; but is that enough to make them desirable
places to live in? The Greeks imprisoned in the cave of the Cyclops
lived there very tranquilly, while they were awaiting their turn to
be devoured.

To say that a man gives himself gratuitously, is to say what is
absurd and inconceivable; such an act is null and illegitimate,
from the mere fact that he who does it is out of his mind. To say
the same of a whole people is to suppose a people of madmen; and
madness creates no right.

Even if each man could alienate himself, he could not alienate
his children: they are born men and free; their liberty belongs to
them, and no one but they has the right to dispose of it. Before
they come to years of discretion, the father can, in their name,
lay down conditions for their preservation and well-being, but he
cannot give them irrevocably and without conditions: such a gift is
contrary to the ends of nature, and exceeds the rights of
paternity. It would therefore be necessary, in order to legitimise
an arbitrary government, that in every generation the people should
be in a position to accept or reject it; but, were this so, the
government would be no longer arbitrary.

To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the
rights of humanity and even its duties. For him who renounces
everything no indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is
incompatible with man's nature; to remove all liberty from his will
is to remove all morality from his acts. Finally, it is an empty
and contradictory convention that sets up, on the one side,
absolute authority, and, on the other, unlimited obedience. Is it
not clear that we can be under no obligation to a person from whom
we have the right to exact everything? Does not this condition
alone, in the absence of equivalence or exchange, in itself involve
the nullity of the act? For what right can my slave have against
me, when all that he has belongs to me, and, his right being mine,
this right of mine against myself is a phrase devoid of

Grotius and the rest find in war another origin for the
so-called right of slavery. The victor having, as they hold, the
right of killing the vanquished, the latter can buy back his life
at the price of his liberty; and this convention is the more
legitimate because it is to the advantage of both parties.

But it is clear that this supposed right to kill the conquered
is by no means deducible from the state of war. Men, from the mere
fact that, while they are living in their primitive independence,
they have no mutual relations stable enough to constitute either
the state of peace or the state of war, cannot be naturally
enemies. War is constituted by a relation between things, and not
between persons; and, as the state of war cannot arise out of
simple personal relations, but only out of real relations, private
war, or war of man with man, can exist neither in the state of
nature, where there is no constant property, nor in the social
state, where everything is under the authority of the laws.

Individual combats, duels and encounters, are acts which cannot
constitute a state; while the private wars, authorised by the
Establishments of Louis IX, King of France, and suspended by the
Peace of God, are abuses of feudalism, in itself an absurd system
if ever there was one, and contrary to the principles of natural
right and to all good polity.

War then is a relation, not between man and man, but between
State and State, and individuals are enemies only accidentally, not
as men, nor even as citizens,[3] but as
soldiers; not as members of their country, but as its defenders.
Finally, each State can have for enemies only other States, and not
men; for between things disparate in nature there can be no real

Furthermore, this principle is in conformity with the
established rules of all times and the constant practice of all
civilised peoples. Declarations of war are intimations less to
powers than to their subjects. The foreigner, whether king,
individual, or people, who robs, kills or detains the subjects,
without declaring war on the prince, is not an enemy, but a
brigand. Even in real war, a just prince, while laying hands, in
the enemy's country, on all that belongs to the public, respects
the lives and goods of individuals: he respects rights on which his
own are founded. The object of the war being the destruction of the
hostile State, the other side has a right to kill its defenders,
while they are bearing arms; but as soon as they lay them down and
surrender, they cease to be enemies or instruments of the enemy,
and become once more merely men, whose life no one has any right to
take. Sometimes it is possible to kill the State without killing a
single one of its members; and war gives no right which is not
necessary to the gaining of its object. These principles are not
those of Grotius: they are not based on the authority of poets, but
derived from the nature of reality and based on reason.

The right of conquest has no foundation other than the right of
the strongest. If war does not give the conqueror the right to
massacre the conquered peoples, the right to enslave them cannot be
based upon a right which does not exist. No one has a right to kill
an enemy except when he cannot make him a slave, and the right to
enslave him cannot therefore be derived from the right to kill him.
It is accordingly an unfair exchange to make him buy at the price
of his liberty his life, over which the victor holds no right. Is
it not clear that there is a vicious circle in founding the right
of life and death on the right of slavery, and the right of slavery
on the right of life and death?

Even if we assume this terrible right to kill everybody, I
maintain that a slave made in war, or a conquered people, is under
no obligation to a master, except to obey him as far as he is
compelled to do so. By taking an equivalent for his life, the
victor has not done him a favour; instead of killing him without
profit, he has killed him usefully. So far then is he from
acquiring over him any authority in addition to that of force, that
the state of war continues to subsist between them: their mutual
relation is the effect of it, and the usage of the right of war
does not imply a treaty of peace. A convention has indeed been
made; but this convention, so far from destroying the state of war,
presupposes its continuance.

So, from whatever aspect we regard the question, the right of
slavery is null and void, not only as being illegitimate, but also
because it is absurd and meaningless. The words slave and right
contradict each other, and are mutually exclusive. It will always
be equally foolish for a man to say to a man or to a people: "I
make with you a convention wholly at your expense and wholly to my
advantage; I shall keep it as long as I like, and you will keep it
as long as I like."

5. That we must always go back to a First

EVEN if I granted all that I have been refuting, the friends of
despotism would be no better off. There will always be a great
difference between subduing a multitude and ruling a society. Even
if scattered individuals were successively enslaved by one man,
however numerous they might be, I still see no more than a master
and his slaves, and certainly not a people and its ruler; I see
what may be termed an aggregation, but not an association; there is
as yet neither public good nor body politic. The man in question,
even if he has enslaved half the world, is still only an
individual; his interest, apart from that of others, is still a
purely private interest. If this same man comes to die, his empire,
after him, remains scattered and without unity, as an oak falls and
dissolves into a heap of ashes when the fire has consumed it.

A people, says Grotius, can give itself to a king. Then,
according to Grotius, a people is a people before it gives itself.
The gift is itself a civil act, and implies public deliberation. It
would be better, before examining the act by which a people gives
itself to a king, to examine that by which it has become a people;
for this act, being necessarily prior to the other, is the true
foundation of society.

Indeed, if there were no prior convention, where, unless the
election were unanimous, would be the obligation on the minority to
submit to the choice of the majority? How have a hundred men who
wish for a master the right to vote on behalf of ten who do not?
The law of majority voting is itself something established by
convention, and presupposes unanimity, on one occasion at

6. The Social Compact

I SUPPOSE men to have reached the point at which the obstacles
in the way of their preservation in the state of nature show their
power of resistance to be greater than the resources at the
disposal of each individual for his maintenance in that state. That
primitive condition can then subsist no longer; and the human race
would perish unless it changed its manner of existence.

But, as men cannot engender new forces, but only unite and
direct existing ones, they have no other means of preserving
themselves than the formation, by aggregation, of a sum of forces
great enough to overcome the resistance. These they have to bring
into play by means of a single motive power, and cause to act in

This sum of forces can arise only where several persons come
together: but, as the force and liberty of each man are the chief
instruments of his self-preservation, how can he pledge them
without harming his own interests, and neglecting the care he owes
to himself? This difficulty, in its bearing on my present subject,
may be stated in the following terms:

"The problem is to find a form of association which will defend
and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of
each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all,
may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before." This
is the fundamental problem of which the Social Contract provides
the solution.

The clauses of this contract are so determined by the nature of
the act that the slightest modification would make them vain and
ineffective; so that, although they have perhaps never been
formally set forth, they are everywhere the same and everywhere
tacitly admitted and recognised, until, on the violation of the
social compact, each regains his original rights and resumes his
natural liberty, while losing the conventional liberty in favour of
which he renounced it.

These clauses, properly understood, may be reduced to one
— the total alienation of each associate, together with all
his rights, to the whole community; for, in the first place, as
each gives himself absolutely, the conditions are the same for all;
and, this being so, no one has any interest in making them
burdensome to others.

Moreover, the alienation being without reserve, the union is as
perfect as it can be, and no associate has anything more to demand:
for, if the individuals retained certain rights, as there would be
no common superior to decide between them and the public, each,
being on one point his own judge, would ask to be so on all; the
state of nature would thus continue, and the association would
necessarily become inoperative or tyrannical.

Finally, each man, in giving himself to all, gives himself to
nobody; and as there is no associate over whom he does not acquire
the same right as he yields others over himself, he gains an
equivalent for everything he loses, and an increase of force for
the preservation of what he has.

If then we discard from the social compact what is not of its
essence, we shall find that it reduces itself to the following

"Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under
the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate
capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the

At once, in place of the individual personality of each
contracting party, this act of association creates a moral and
collective body, composed of as many members as the assembly
contains votes, and receiving from this act its unity, its common
identity, its life and its will. This public person, so formed by
the union of all other persons formerly took the name of
city,[4] and now takes that of Republic
or body politic; it is called by its members State when passive.
Sovereign when active, and Power when compared with others like
itself. Those who are associated in it take collectively the name
of people, and severally are called citizens, as sharing in the
sovereign power, and subjects, as being under the laws of the
State. But these terms are often confused and taken one for
another: it is enough to know how to distinguish them when they are
being used with precision.

7. The Sovereign

THIS formula shows us that the act of association comprises a
mutual undertaking between the public and the individuals, and that
each individual, in making a contract, as we may say, with himself,
is bound in a double capacity; as a member of the Sovereign he is
bound to the individuals, and as a member of the State to the
Sovereign. But the maxim of civil right, that no one is bound by
undertakings made to himself, does not apply in this case; for
there is a great difference between incurring an obligation to
yourself and incurring one to a whole of which you form a part.

Attention must further be called to the fact that public
deliberation, while competent to bind all the subjects to the
Sovereign, because of the two different capacities in which each of
them may be regarded, cannot, for the opposite reason, bind the
Sovereign to itself; and that it is consequently against the nature
of the body politic for the Sovereign to impose on itself a law
which it cannot infringe. Being able to regard itself in only one
capacity, it is in the position of an individual who makes a
contract with himself; and this makes it clear that there neither
is nor can be any kind of fundamental law binding on the body of
the people — not even the social contract itself. This does
not mean that the body politic cannot enter into undertakings with
others, provided the contract is not infringed by them; for in
relation to what is external to it, it becomes a simple being, an

But the body politic or the Sovereign, drawing its being wholly
from the sanctity of the contract, can never bind itself, even to
an outsider, to do anything derogatory to the original act, for
instance, to alienate any part of itself, or to submit to another
Sovereign. Violation of the act by which it exists would be
self-annihilation; and that which is itself nothing can create

As soon as this multitude is so united in one body, it is
impossible to offend against one of the members without attacking
the body, and still more to offend against the body without the
members resenting it. Duty and interest therefore equally oblige
the two contracting parties to give each other help; and the same
men should seek to combine, in their double capacity, all the
advantages dependent upon that capacity.

Again, the Sovereign, being formed wholly of the individuals who
compose it, neither has nor can have any interest contrary to
theirs; and consequently the sovereign power need give no guarantee
to its subjects, because it is impossible for the body to wish to
hurt all its members. We shall also see later on that it cannot
hurt any in particular. The Sovereign, merely by virtue of what it
is, is always what it should be.

This, however, is not the case with the relation of the subjects
to the Sovereign, which, despite the common interest, would have no
security that they would fulfil their undertakings, unless it found
means to assure itself of their fidelity.

In fact, each individual, as a man, may have a particular will
contrary or dissimilar to the general will which he has as a
citizen. His particular interest may speak to him quite differently
from the common interest: his absolute and naturally independent
existence may make him look upon what he owes to the common cause
as a gratuitous contribution, the loss of which will do less harm
to others than the payment of it is burdensome to himself; and,
regarding the moral person which constitutes the State as a persona
ficta, because not a man, he may wish to enjoy the rights of
citizenship without being ready to fulfil the duties of a subject.
The continuance of such an injustice could not but prove the
undoing of the body politic.

In order then that the social compact may not be an empty
formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give
force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will
shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing
less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the
condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him
against all personal dependence. In this lies the key to the
working of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil
undertakings, which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, and
liable to the most frightful abuses.

8. The Civil State

THE passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces
a very remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for
instinct in his conduct, and giving his actions the morality they
had formerly lacked. Then only, when the voice of duty takes the
place of physical impulses and right of appetite, does man, who so
far had considered only himself, find that he is forced to act on
different principles, and to consult his reason before listening to
his inclinations. Although, in this state, he deprives himself of
some advantages which he got from nature, he gains in return others
so great, his faculties are so stimulated and developed, his ideas
so extended, his feelings so ennobled, and his whole soul so
uplifted, that, did not the abuses of this new condition often
degrade him below that which he left, he would be bound to bless
continually the happy moment which took him from it for ever, and,
instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made him an
intelligent being and a man.

Let us draw up the whole account in terms easily commensurable.
What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an
unlimited right to everything he tries to get and succeeds in
getting; what he gains is civil liberty and the proprietorship of
all he possesses. If we are to avoid mistake in weighing one
against the other, we must clearly distinguish natural liberty,
which is bounded only by the strength of the individual, from civil
liberty, which is limited by the general will; and possession,
which is merely the effect of force or the right of the first
occupier, from property, which can be founded only on a positive

We might, over and above all this, add, to what man acquires in
the civil state, moral liberty, which alone makes him truly master
of himself; for the mere impulse of appetite is slavery, while
obedience to a law which we prescribe to ourselves is liberty. But
I have already said too much on this head, and the philosophical
meaning of the word liberty does not now concern us.

9. Real Property

EACH member of the community gives himself to it, at the moment
of its foundation, just as he is, with all the resources at his
command, including the goods he possesses. This act does not make
possession, in changing hands, change its nature, and become
property in the hands of the Sovereign; but, as the forces of the
city are incomparably greater than those of an individual, public
possession is also, in fact, stronger and more irrevocable, without
being any more legitimate, at any rate from the point of view of
foreigners. For the State, in relation to its members, is master of
all their goods by the social contract, which, within the State, is
the basis of all rights; but, in relation to other powers, it is so
only by the right of the first occupier, which it holds from its

The right of the first occupier, though more real than the right
of the strongest, becomes a real right only when the right of
property has already been established. Every man has naturally a
right to everything he needs; but the positive act which makes him
proprietor of one thing excludes him from everything else. Having
his share, he ought to keep to it, and can have no further right
against the community. This is why the right of the first occupier,
which in the state of nature is so weak, claims the respect of
every man in civil society. In this right we are respecting not so
much what belongs to another as what does not belong to

In general, to establish the right of the first occupier over a
plot of ground, the following conditions are necessary: first, the
land must not yet be inhabited; secondly, a man must occupy only
the amount he needs for his subsistence; and, in the third place,
possession must be taken, not by an empty ceremony, but by labour
and cultivation, the only sign of proprietorship that should be
respected by others, in default of a legal title.

In granting the right of first occupancy to necessity and
labour, are we not really stretching it as far as it can go? Is it
possible to leave such a right unlimited? Is it to be enough to set
foot on a plot of common ground, in order to be able to call
yourself at once the master of it? Is it to be enough that a man
has the strength to expel others for a moment, in order to
establish his right to prevent them from ever returning? How can a
man or a people seize an immense territory and keep it from the
rest of the world except by a punishable usurpation, since all
others are being robbed, by such an act, of the place of habitation
and the means of subsistence which nature gave them in common? When
Nunez Balboa, standing on the sea-shore, took possession of the
South Seas and the whole of South America in the name of the crown
of Castile, was that enough to dispossess all their actual
inhabitants, and to shut out from them all the princes of the
world? On such a showing, these ceremonies are idly multiplied, and
the Catholic King need only take possession all at once, from his
apartment, of the whole universe, merely making a subsequent
reservation about what was already in the possession of other

We can imagine how the lands of individuals, where they were
contiguous and came to be united, became the public territory, and
how the right of Sovereignty, extending from the subjects over the
lands they held, became at once real and personal. The possessors
were thus made more dependent, and the forces at their command used
to guarantee their fidelity. The advantage of this does not seem to
have been felt by ancient monarchs, who called themselves Kings of
the Persians, Scythians, or Macedonians, and seemed to regard
themselves more as rulers of men than as masters of a country.
Those of the present day more cleverly call themselves Kings of
France, Spain, England, etc.: thus holding the land, they are quite
confident of holding the inhabitants.

The peculiar fact about this alienation is that, in taking over
the goods of individuals, the community, so far from despoiling
them, only assures them legitimate possession, and changes
usurpation into a true right and enjoyment into proprietorship.
Thus the possessors, being regarded as depositaries of the public
good, and having their rights respected by all the members of the
State and maintained against foreign aggression by all its forces,
have, by a cession which benefits both the public and still more
themselves, acquired, so to speak, all that they gave up. This
paradox may easily be explained by the distinction between the
rights which the Sovereign and the proprietor have over the same
estate, as we shall see later on.

It may also happen that men begin to unite one with another
before they possess anything, and that, subsequently occupying a
tract of country which is enough for all, they enjoy it in common,
or share it out among themselves, either equally or according to a
scale fixed by the Sovereign. However the acquisition be made, the
right which each individual has to his own estate is always
subordinate to the right which the community has over all: without
this, there would be neither stability in the social tie, nor real
force in the exercise of Sovereignty.

I shall end this chapter and this book by remarking on a fact on
which the whole social system should rest: i.e., that, instead of
destroying natural inequality, the fundamental compact substitutes,
for such physical inequality as nature may have set up between men,
an equality that is moral and legitimate, and that men, who may be
unequal in strength or intelligence, become every one equal by
convention and legal right.[5]

1 "Learned inquiries into public right are
often only the history of past abuses; and troubling to study them
too deeply is a profitless infatuation" (Essay on the Interests of
France in Relation to its Neighbours, by the Marquis d'Argenson).
This is exactly what Grotius has done.

2 See a short treatise of Plutarch's entitled
That Animals Reason.

3 The Romans, who understood and respected the
right of war more than any other nation on earth, carried their
scruples on this head so far that a citizen was not allowed to
serve as a volunteer without engaging himself expressly against the
enemy, and against such and such an enemy by name. A legion in
which the younger Cato was seeing his first service under Popilius
having been reconstructed, the elder Cato wrote to Popilius that,
if he wished his son to continue serving under him, he must
administer to him a new military oath, because, the first having
been annulled, he was no longer able to bear arms against the
enemy. The same Cato wrote to his son telling him to take great
care not to go into battle before taking this new oath. I know that
the siege of Clusium and other isolated events can be quoted
against me; but I am citing laws and customs. The Romans are the
people that least often transgressed its laws; and no other people
has had such good ones.

4 The real meaning of this word has been almost
wholly lost in modern times; most people mistake a town for a city,
and a townsman for a citizen. They do not know that houses make a
town, but citizens a city. The same mistake long ago cost the
Carthaginians dear. I have never read of the title of citizens
being given to the subjects of any prince, not even the ancient
Macedonians or the English of to-day, though they are nearer
liberty than any one else. The French alone everywhere familiarly
adopt the name of citizens, because, as can be seen from their
dictionaries, they have no idea of its meaning; otherwise they
would be guilty in usurping it, of the crime of lèse-majesté: among
them, the name expresses a virtue, and not a right. When Bodin
spoke of our citizens and townsmen, he fell into a bad blunder in
taking the one class for the other. M. d'Alembert has avoided the
error, and, in his article on Geneva, has clearly distinguished the
four orders of men (or even five, counting mere foreigners) who
dwell in our town, of which two only compose the Republic. No other
French writer, to my knowledge, has understood the real meaning of
the word citizen.

5 Under bad governments, this equality is only
apparent and illusory: it serves only to-keep the pauper in his
poverty and the rich man in the position he has usurped. In fact,
laws are always of use to those who possess and harmful to those
who have nothing: from which it follows that the social state is
advantageous to men only when all have something and none too


1. That Sovereignty is Inalienable

THE first and most important deduction from the principles we
have so far laid down is that the general will alone can direct the
State according to the object for which it was instituted, i.e.,
the common good: for if the clashing of particular interests made
the establishment of societies necessary, the agreement of these
very interests made it possible. The common element in these
different interests is what forms the social tie; and, were there
no point of agreement between them all, no society could exist. It
is solely on the basis of this common interest that every society
should be governed.

I hold then that Sovereignty, being nothing less than the
exercise of the general will, can never be alienated, and that the
Sovereign, who is no less than a collective being, cannot be
represented except by himself: the power indeed may be transmitted,
but not the will.

In reality, if it is not impossible for a particular will to
agree on some point with the general will, it is at least
impossible for the agreement to be lasting and constant; for the
particular will tends, by its very nature, to partiality, while the
general will tends to equality. It is even more impossible to have
any guarantee of this agreement; for even if it should always
exist, it would be the effect not of art, but of chance. The
Sovereign may indeed say: "I now will actually what this man wills,
or at least what he says he wills"; but it cannot say: "What he
wills tomorrow, I too shall will" because it is absurd for the will
to bind itself for the future, nor is it incumbent on any will to
consent to anything that is not for the good of the being who
wills. If then the people promises simply to obey, by that very act
it dissolves itself and loses what makes it a people; the moment a
master exists, there is no longer a Sovereign, and from that moment
the body politic has ceased to exist.

This does not mean that the commands of the rulers cannot pass
for general wills, so long as the Sovereign, being free to oppose
them, offers no opposition. In such a case, universal silence is
taken to imply the consent of the people. This will be explained
later on.

2. That Sovereignty is Indivisible

SOVEREIGNTY, for the same reason as makes it inalienable, is
indivisible; for will either is, or is not, general;"#note6">[6] it is the will either of the body of the
people, or only of a part of it. In the first case, the will, when
declared, is an act of Sovereignty and constitutes law: in the
second, it is merely a particular will, or act of magistracy
— at the most a decree.

But our political theorists, unable to divide Sovereignty in
principle, divide it according to its object: into force and will;
into legislative power and executive power; into rights of
taxation, justice and war; into internal administration and power
of foreign treaty. Sometimes they confuse all these sections, and
sometimes they distinguish them; they turn the Sovereign into a
fantastic being composed of several connected pieces: it is as if
they were making man of several bodies, one with eyes, one with
arms, another with feet, and each with nothing besides. We are told
that the jugglers of Japan dismember a child before the eyes of the
spectators; then they throw all the members into the air one after
another, and the child falls down alive and whole. The conjuring
tricks of our political theorists are very like that; they first
dismember the Body politic by an illusion worthy of a fair, and
then join it together again we know not how.

This error is due to a lack of exact notions concerning the
Sovereign authority, and to taking for parts of it what are only
emanations from it. Thus, for example, the acts of declaring war
and making peace have been regarded as acts of Sovereignty; but
this is not the case, as these acts do not constitute law, but
merely the application of a law, a particular act which decides how
the law applies, as we shall see clearly when the idea attached to
the word law has been defined.

If we examined the other divisions in the same manner, we should
find that, whenever Sovereignty seems to be divided, there is an
illusion: the rights which are taken as being part of Sovereignty
are really all subordinate, and always imply supreme wills of which
they only sanction the execution.

It would be impossible to estimate the obscurity this lack of
exactness has thrown over the decisions of writers who have dealt
with political right, when they have used the principles laid down
by them to pass judgment on the respective rights of kings and
peoples. Every one can see, in Chapters III and IV of the First
Book of Grotius, how the learned man and his translator, Barbeyrac,
entangle and tie themselves up in their own sophistries, for fear
of saying too little or too much of what they think, and so
offending the interests they have to conciliate. Grotius, a refugee
in France, ill-content with his own country, and desirous of paying
his court to Louis XIII, to whom his book is dedicated, spares no
pains to rob the peoples of all their rights and invest kings with
them by every conceivable artifice. This would also have been much
to the taste of Barbeyrac, who dedicated his translation to George
I of England. But unfortunately the expulsion of James II, which he
called his "abdication," compelled him to use all reserve, to
shuffle and to tergiversate, in order to avoid making William out a
usurper. If these two writers had adopted the true principles, all
difficulties would have been removed, and they would have been
always consistent; but it would have been a sad truth for them to
tell, and would have paid court for them to no one save the people.
Moreover, truth is no road to fortune, and the people dispenses
neither ambassadorships, nor professorships, nor pensions.

3. Whether the General Will is Fallible

IT follows from what has gone before that the general will is
always right and tends to the public advantage; but it does not
follow that the deliberations of the people are always equally
correct. Our will is always for our own good, but we do not always
see what that is; the people is never corrupted, but it is often
deceived, and on such occasions only does it seem to will what is

There is often a great deal of difference between the will of
all and the general will; the latter considers only the common
interest, while the former takes private interest into account, and
is no more than a sum of particular wills: but take away from these
same wills the pluses and minuses that cancel one another,"#note7">[7] and the general will remains as the sum of
the differences.

If, when the people, being furnished with adequate information,
held its deliberations, the citizens had no communication one with
another, the grand total of the small differences would always give
the general will, and the decision would always be good. But when
factions arise, and partial associations are formed at the expense
of the great association, the will of each of these associations
becomes general in relation to its members, while it remains
particular in relation to the State: it may then be said that there
are no longer as many votes as there are men, but only as many as
there are associations. The differences become less numerous and
give a less general result. Lastly, when one of these associations
is so great as to prevail over all the rest, the result is no
longer a sum of small differences, but a single difference; in this
case there is no longer a general will, and the opinion which
prevails is purely particular.

It is therefore essential, if the general will is to be able to
express itself, that there should be no partial society within the
State, and that each citizen should think only his own
thoughts:[8] which was indeed the
sublime and unique system established by the great Lycurgus. But if
there are partial societies, it is best to have as many as possible
and to prevent them from being unequal, as was done by Solon, Numa
and Servius. These precautions are the only ones that can guarantee
that the general will shall be always enlightened, and that the
people shall in no way deceive itself.

4. The Limits of the Sovereign Power

IF the State is a moral person whose life is in the union of its
members, and if the most important of its cares is the care for its
own preservation, it must have a universal and compelling force, in
order to move and dispose each part as may be most advantageous to
the whole. As nature gives each man absolute power over all his
members, the social compact gives the body politic absolute power
over all its members also; and it is this power which, under the
direction of the general will, bears, as I have said, the name of

But, besides the public person, we have to consider the private
persons composing it, whose life and liberty are naturally
independent of it. We are bound then to distinguish clearly between
the respective rights of the citizens and the Sovereign,"#note9">[9] and between the duties the former have to
fulfil as subjects, and the natural rights they should enjoy as

Each man alienates, I admit, by the social compact, only such
part of his powers, goods and liberty as it is important for the
community to control; but it must also be granted that the
Sovereign is sole judge of what is important.

Every service a citizen can render the State he ought to render
as soon as the Sovereign demands it; but the Sovereign, for its
part, cannot impose upon its subjects any fetters that are useless
to the community, nor can it even wish to do so; for no more by the
law of reason than by the law of nature can anything occur without
a cause.

The undertakings which bind us to the social body are obligatory
only because they are mutual; and their nature is such that in
fulfilling them we cannot work for others without working for
ourselves. Why is it that the general will is always in the right,
and that all continually will the happiness of each one, unless it
is because there is not a man who does not think of "each" as
meaning him, and consider himself in voting for all? This proves
that equality of rights and the idea of justice which such equality
creates originate in the preference each man gives to himself, and
accordingly in the very nature of man. It proves that the general
will, to be really such, must be general in its object as well as
its essence; that it must both come from all and apply to all; and
that it loses its natural rectitude when it is directed to some
particular and determinate object, because in such a case we are
judging of something foreign to us, and have no true principle of
equity to guide us.

Indeed, as soon as a question of particular fact or right arises
on a point not previously regulated by a general convention, the
matter becomes contentious. It is a case in which the individuals
concerned are one party, and the public the other, but in which I
can see neither the law that ought to be followed nor the judge who
ought to give the decision. In such a case, it would be absurd to
propose to refer the question to an express decision of the general
will, which can be only the conclusion reached by one of the
parties and in consequence will be, for the other party, merely an
external and particular will, inclined on this occasion to
injustice and subject to error. Thus, just as a particular will
cannot stand for the general will, the general will, in turn,
changes its nature, when its object is particular, and, as general,
cannot pronounce on a man or a fact. When, for instance, the people
of Athens nominated or displaced its rulers, decreed honours to
one, and imposed penalties on another, and, by a multitude of
particular decrees, exercised all the functions of government
indiscriminately, it had in such cases no longer a general will in
the strict sense; it was acting no longer as Sovereign, but as
magistrate. This will seem contrary to current views; but I must be
given time to expound my own.

It should be seen from the foregoing that what makes the will
general is less the number of voters than the common interest
uniting them; for, under this system, each necessarily submits to
the conditions he imposes on others: and this admirable agreement
between interest and justice gives to the common deliberations an
equitable character which at once vanishes when any particular
question is discussed, in the absence of a common interest to unite
and identify the ruling of the judge with that of the party.

From whatever side we approach our principle, we reach the same
conclusion, that the social compact sets up among the citizens an
equality of such a kind, that they all bind themselves to observe
the same conditions and should therefore all enjoy the same rights.
Thus, from the very nature of the compact, every act of
Sovereignty, i.e., every authentic act of the general will, binds
or favours all the citizens equally; so that the Sovereign
recognises only the body of the nation, and draws no distinctions
between those of whom it is made up. What, then, strictly speaking,
is an act of Sovereignty? It is not a convention between a superior
and an inferior, but a convention between the body and each of its
members. It is legitimate, because based on the social contract,
and equitable, because common to all; useful, because it can have
no other object than the general good, and stable, because
guaranteed by the public force and the supreme power. So long as
the subjects have to submit only to conventions of this sort, they
obey no-one but their own will; and to ask how far the respective
rights of the Sovereign and the citizens extend, is to ask up to
what point the latter can enter into undertakings with themselves,
each with all, and all with each.

We can see from this that the sovereign power, absolute, sacred
and inviolable as it is, does not and cannot exceed the limits of
general conventions, and that every man may dispose at will of such
goods and liberty as these conventions leave him; so that the
Sovereign never has a right to lay more charges on one subject than
on another, because, in that case, the question becomes particular,
and ceases to be within its competency.

When these distinctions have once been admitted, it is seen to
be so untrue that there is, in the social contract, any real
renunciation on the part of the individuals, that the position in
which they find themselves as a result of the contract is really
preferable to that in which they were before. Instead of a
renunciation, they have made an advantageous exchange: instead of
an uncertain and precarious way of living they have got one that is
better and more secure; instead of natural independence they have
got liberty, instead of the power to harm others security for
themselves, and instead of their strength, which others might
overcome, a right which social union makes invincible. Their very
life, which they have devoted to the State, is by it constantly
protected; and when they risk it in the State's defence, what more
are they doing than giving back what they have received from it?
What are they doing that they would not do more often and with
greater danger in the state of nature, in which they would
inevitably have to fight battles at the peril of their lives in
defence of that which is the means of their preservation? All have
indeed to fight when their country needs them; but then no one has
ever to fight for himself. Do we not gain something by running, on
behalf of what gives us our security, only some of the risks we
should have to run for ourselves, as soon as we lost it?

5. The Right of Life and Death

THE question is often asked how individuals, having no right to
dispose of their own lives, can transfer to the Sovereign a right
which they do not possess. The difficulty of answering this
question seems to me to lie in its being wrongly stated. Every man
has a right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it
ever been said that a man who throws himself out of the window to
escape from a fire is guilty of suicide? Has such a crime ever been
laid to the charge of him who perishes in a storm because, when he
went on board, he knew of the danger?

The social treaty has for its end the preservation of the
contracting parties. He who wills the end wills the means also, and
the means must involve some risks, and even some losses. He who
wishes to preserve his life at others' expense should also, when it
is necessary, be ready to give it up for their sake. Furthermore,
the citizen is no longer the judge of the dangers to which the
law-desires him to expose himself; and when the prince says to him:
"It is expedient for the State that you should die," he ought to
die, because it is only on that condition that he has been living
in security up to the present, and because his life is no longer a
mere bounty of nature, but a gift made conditionally by the

The death-penalty inflicted upon criminals may be looked on in
much the same light: it is in order that we may not fall victims to
an assassin that we consent to die if we ourselves turn assassins.
In this treaty, so far from disposing of our own lives, we think
only of securing them, and it is not to be assumed that any of the
parties then expects to get hanged.

Again, every malefactor, by attacking social rights, becomes on
forfeit a rebel and a traitor to his country; by violating its laws
be ceases to be a member of it; he even makes war upon it. In such
a case the preservation of the State is inconsistent with his own,
and one or the other must perish; in putting the guilty to death,
we slay not so much the citizen as an enemy. The trial and the
judgment are the proofs that he has broken the social treaty, and
is in consequence no longer a member of the State. Since, then, he
has recognised himself to be such by living there, he must be
removed by exile as a violator of the compact, or by death as a
public enemy; for such an enemy is not a moral person, but merely a
man; and in such a case the right of war is to kill the

But, it will be said, the condemnation of a criminal is a
particular act. I admit it: but such condemnation is not a function
of the Sovereign; it is a right the Sovereign can confer without
being able itself to exert it. All my ideas are consistent, but I
cannot expound them all at once.

We may add that frequent punishments are always a sign of
weakness or remissness on the part of the government. There is not
a single ill-doer who could not be turned to some good. The State
has no right to put to death, even for the sake of making an
example, any one whom it can leave alive without danger.

The right of pardoning or exempting the guilty from a penalty
imposed by the law and pronounced by the judge belongs only to the
authority which is superior to both judge and law, i.e., the
Sovereign; each its right in this matter is far from clear, and the
cases for exercising it are extremely rare. In a well-governed
State, there are few punishments, not because there are many
pardons, but because criminals are rare; it is when a State is in
decay that the multitude of crimes is a guarantee of impunity.
Under the Roman Republic, neither the Senate nor the Consuls ever
attempted to pardon; even the people never did so, though it
sometimes revoked its own decision. Frequent pardons mean that
crime will soon need them no longer, and no one can help seeing
whither that leads. But I feel my heart protesting and restraining
my pen; let us leave these questions to the just man who has never
offended, and would himself stand in no need of pardon.

6. Law

BY the social compact we have given the body politic existence
and life; we have now by legislation to give it movement and will.
For the original act by which the body is formed and united still
in no respect determines what it ought to do for its

What is well and in conformity with order is so by the nature of
things and independently of human conventions. All justice comes
from God, who is its sole source; but if we knew how to receive so
high an inspiration, we should need neither government nor laws.
Doubtless, there is a universal justice emanating from reason
alone; but this justice, to be admitted among us, must be mutual.
Humanly speaking, in default of natural sanctions, the laws of
justice are ineffective among men: they merely make for the good of
the wicked and the undoing of the just, when the just man observes
them towards everybody and nobody observes them towards him.
Conventions and laws are therefore needed to join rights to duties
and refer justice to its object. In the state of nature, where
everything is common, I owe nothing to him whom I have promised
nothing; I recognise as belonging to others only what is of no use
to me. In the state of society all rights are fixed by law, and the
case becomes different.

But what, after all, is a law? As long as we remain satisfied
with attaching purely metaphysical ideas to the word, we shall go
on arguing without arriving at an understanding; and when we have
defined a law of nature, we shall be no nearer the definition of a
law of the State.

I have already said that there can be no general will directed
to a particular object. Such an object must be either within or
outside the State. If outside, a will which is alien to it cannot
be, in relation to it, general; if within, it is part of the State,
and in that case there arises a relation between whole and part
which makes them two separate beings, of which the part is one, and
the whole minus the part the other. But the whole minus a part
cannot be the whole; and while this relation persists, there can be
no whole, but only two unequal parts; and it follows that the will
of one is no longer in any respect general in relation to the

But when the whole people decrees for the whole people, it is
considering only itself; and if a relation is then formed, it is
between two aspects of the entire object, without there being any
division of the whole. In that case the matter about which the
decree is made is, like the decreeing will, general. This act is
what I call a law.

When I say that the object of laws is always general, I mean
that law considers subjects en masse and actions in the abstract,
and never a particular person or action. Thus the law may indeed
decree that there shall be privileges, but cannot confer them on
anybody by name. It may set up several classes of citizens, and
even lay down the qualifications for membership of these classes,
but it cannot nominate such and such persons as belonging to them;
it may establish a monarchical government and hereditary
succession, but it cannot choose a king, or nominate a royal
family. In a word, no function which has a particular object
belongs to the legislative power.

On this view, we at once see that it can no longer be asked
whose business it is to make laws, since they are acts of the
general will; nor whether the prince is above the law, since he is
a member of the State; nor whether the law can be unjust, since no
one is unjust to himself; nor how we can be both free and subject
to the laws, since they are but registers of our wills.

We see further that, as the law unites universality of will with
universality of object, what a man, whoever he be, commands of his
own motion cannot be a law; and even what the Sovereign commands
with regard to a particular matter is no nearer being a law, but is
a decree, an act, not of sovereignty, but of magistracy.

I therefore give the name "Republic" to every State that is
governed by laws, no matter what the form of its administration may
be: for only in such a case does the public interest govern, and
the res publica rank as a reality. Every legitimate government is
republican;[10] what government is I
will explain later on.

Laws are, properly speaking, only the conditions of civil
association. The people, being subject to the laws, ought to be
their author: the conditions of the society ought to be regulated
solely by those who come together to form it. But how are they to
regulate them? Is it to be by common agreement, by a sudden
inspiration? Has the body politic an organ to declare its will? Who
can give it the foresight to formulate and announce its acts in
advance? Or how is it to announce them in the hour of need? How can
a blind multitude, which often does not know what it wills, because
it rarely knows what is good for it, carry out for itself so great
and difficult an enterprise as a system of legislation? Of itself
the people wills always the good, but of itself it by no means
always sees it. The general will is always in the right, but the
judgment which guides it is not always enlightened. It must be got
to see objects as they are, and sometimes as they ought to appear
to it; it must be shown the good road it is in search of, secured
from the seductive influences of individual wills, taught to see
times and spaces as a series, and made to weigh the attractions of
present and sensible advantages against the danger of distant and
hidden evils. The individuals see the good they reject; the public
wills the good it does not see. All stand equally in need of
guidance. The former must be compelled to bring their wills into
conformity with their reason; the latter must be taught to know
what it wills. If that is done, public enlightenment leads to the
union of understanding and will in the social body: the parts are
made to work exactly together, and the whole is raised to its
highest power. This makes a legislator necessary.

7. The Legislator

IN order to discover the rules of society best suited to
nations, a superior intelligence beholding all the passions of men
without experiencing any of them would be needed. This intelligence
would have to be wholly unrelated to our nature, while knowing it
through and through; its happiness would have to be independent of
us, and yet ready to occupy itself with ours; and lastly, it would
have, in the march of time, to look forward to a distant glory,
and, working in one century, to be able to enjoy in the
next.[11] It would take gods to give
men laws.

What Caligula argued from the facts, Plato, in the dialogue
called the Politicus, argued in defining the civil or kingly man,
on the basis of right. But if great princes are rare, how much more
so are great legislators? The former have only to follow the
pattern which the latter have to lay down. The legislator is the
engineer who invents the machine, the prince merely the mechanic
who sets it up and makes it go. "At the birth of societies," says
Montesquieu, "the rulers of Republics establish institutions, and
afterwards the institutions mould the rulers.""#note12">[12]

He who dares to undertake the making of a people's institutions
ought to feel himself capable, so to speak, of changing human
nature, of transforming each individual, who is by himself a
complete and solitary whole, into part of a greater whole from
which he in a manner receives his life and being; of altering man's
constitution for the purpose of strengthening it; and of
substituting a partial and moral existence for the physical and
independent existence nature has conferred on us all. He must, in a
word, take away from man his own resources and give him instead new
ones alien to him, and incapable of being made use of without the
help of other men. The more completely these natural resources are
annihilated, the greater and the more lasting are those which he
acquires, and the more stable and perfect the new institutions; so
that if each citizen is nothing and can do nothing without the
rest, and the resources acquired by the whole are equal or superior
to the aggregate of the resources of all the individuals, it may be
said that legislation is at the highest possible point of

The legislator occupies in every respect an extraordinary
position in the State. If he should do so by reason of his genius,
he does so no less by reason of his office, which is neither
magistracy, nor Sovereignty. This office, which sets up the
Republic, nowhere enters into its constitution; it is an individual
and superior function, which has nothing in common with human
empire; for if he who holds command over men ought not to have
command over the laws, he who has command over the laws ought not
any more to have it over men; or else his laws would be the
ministers of his passions and would often merely serve to
perpetuate his injustices: his private aims would inevitably mar
the sanctity of his work.

When Lycurgus gave laws to his country, he began by resigning
the throne. It was the custom of most Greek towns to entrust the
establishment of their laws to foreigners. The Republics of modern
Italy in many cases followed this example; Geneva did the same and
profited by it.[13] Rome, when it was
most prosperous, suffered a revival of all the crimes of tyranny,
and was brought to the verge of destruction, because it put the
legislative authority and the sovereign power into the same

Nevertheless, the decemvirs themselves never claimed the right
to pass any law merely on their own authority. "Nothing we propose
to you," they said to the people, "can pass into law without your
consent. Romans, be yourselves the authors of the laws which are to
make you happy."

He, therefore, who draws up the laws has, or should have, no
right of legislation, and the people cannot, even if it wishes,
deprive itself of this incommunicable right, because, according to
the fundamental compact, only the general will can bind the
individuals, and there can be no assurance that a particular will
is in conformity with the general will, until it has been put to
the free vote of the people. This I have said already; but it is
worth while to repeat it.

Thus in the task of legislation we find together two things
which appear to be incompatible: an enterprise too difficult for
human powers, and, for its execution, an authority that is no

There is a further difficulty that deserves attention. Wise men,
if they try to speak their language to the common herd instead of
its own, cannot possibly make themselves understood. There are a
thousand kinds of ideas which it is impossible to translate into
popular language. Conceptions that are too general and objects that
are too remote are equally out of its range: each individual,
having no taste for any other plan of government than that which
suits his particular interest, finds it difficult to realise the
advantages he might hope to draw from the continual privations good
laws impose. For a young people to be able to relish sound
principles of political theory and follow the fundamental rules of
statecraft, the effect would have to become the cause; the social
spirit, which should be created by these institutions, would have
to preside over their very foundation; and men would have to be
before law what they should become by means of law. The legislator
therefore, being unable to appeal to either force or reason, must
have recourse to an authority of a different order, capable of
constraining without violence and persuading without

This is what has, in all ages, compelled the fathers of nations
to have recourse to divine intervention and credit the gods with
their own wisdom, in order that the peoples, submitting to the laws
of the State as to those of nature, and recognising the same power
in the formation of the city as in that of man, might obey freely,
and bear with docility the yoke of the public happiness.

This sublime reason, far above the range of the common herd, is
that whose decisions the legislator puts into the mouth of the
immortals, in order to constrain by divine authority those whom
human prudence could not move.[14] But
it is not anybody who can make the gods speak, or get himself
believed when he proclaims himself their interpreter. The great
soul of the legislator is the only miracle that can prove his
mission. Any man may grave tablets of stone, or buy an oracle, or
feign secret intercourse with some divinity, or train a bird to
whisper in his ear, or find other vulgar ways of imposing on the
people. He whose knowledge goes no further may perhaps gather round
him a band of fools; but he will never found an empire, and his
extravagances will quickly perish with him. Idle tricks form a
passing tie; only wisdom can make it lasting. The Judaic law, which
still subsists, and that of the child of Ishmael, which, for ten
centuries, has ruled half the world, still proclaim the great men
who laid them down; and, while the pride of philosophy or the blind
spirit of faction sees in them no more than lucky impostures, the
true political theorist admires, in the institutions they set up,
the great and powerful genius which presides over things made to

We should not, with Warburton, conclude from this that politics
and religion have among us a common object, but that, in the first
periods of nations, the one is used as an instrument for the

8. The People

AS, before putting up a large building, the architect surveys
and sounds the site to see if it will bear the weight, the wise
legislator does not begin by laying down laws good in themselves,
but by investigating the fitness of the people, for which they are
destined, to receive them. Plato refused to legislate for the
Arcadians and the Cyrenæans, because he knew that both peoples were
rich and could not put up with equality; and good laws and bad men
were found together in Crete, because Minos had inflicted
discipline on a people already burdened with vice.

A thousand nations have achieved earthly greatness, that could
never have endured good laws; even such as could have endured them
could have done so only for a very brief period of their long
history. Most peoples, like most men, are docile only in youth; as
they grow old they become incorrigible. When once customs have
become established and prejudices inveterate, it is dangerous and
useless to attempt their reformation; the people, like the foolish
and cowardly patients who rave at sight of the doctor, can no
longer bear that any one should lay hands on its faults to remedy

There are indeed times in the history of States when, just as
some kinds of illness turn men's heads and make them forget the
past, periods of violence and revolutions do to peoples what these
crises do to individuals: horror of the past takes the place of
forgetfulness, and the State, set on fire by civil wars, is born
again, so to speak, from its ashes, and takes on anew, fresh from
the jaws of death, the vigour of youth. Such were Sparta at the
time of Lycurgus, Rome after the Tarquins, and, in modern times,
Holland and Switzerland after the expulsion of the tyrants.

But such events are rare; they are exceptions, the cause of
which is always to be found in the particular constitution of the
State concerned. They cannot even happen twice to the same people,
for it can make itself free as long as it remains barbarous, but
not when the civic impulse has lost its vigour. Then disturbances
may destroy it, but revolutions cannot mend it: it needs a master,
and not a liberator. Free peoples, be mindful of this maxim:
"Liberty may be gained, but can never be recovered."

Youth is not infancy. There is for nations, as for men, a period
of youth, or, shall we say, maturity, before which they should not
be made subject to laws; but the maturity of a people is not always
easily recognisable, and, if it is anticipated, the work is spoilt.
One people is amenable to discipline from the beginning; another,
not after ten centuries. Russia will never be really civilised,
because it was civilised too soon. Peter had a genius for
imitation; but he lacked true genius, which is creative and makes
all from nothing. He did some good things, but most of what he did
was out of place. He saw that his people was barbarous, but did not
see that it was not ripe for civilisation: he wanted to civilise it
when it needed only hardening. His first wish was to make Germans
or Englishmen, when he ought to have been making Russians; and he
prevented his subjects from ever becoming what they might have been
by persuading them that they were what they are not. In this
fashion too a French teacher turns out his pupil to be an infant
prodigy, and for the rest of his life to be nothing whatsoever. The
empire of Russia will aspire to conquer Europe, and will itself be
conquered. The Tartars, its subjects or neighbours, will become its
masters and ours, by a revolution which I regard as inevitable.
Indeed, all the kings of Europe are working in concert to hasten
its coming.

9. The People (continued)

As nature has set bounds to the stature of a well-made man, and,
outside those limits, makes nothing but giants or dwarfs,
similarly, for the constitution of a State to be at its best, it is
possible to fix limits that will make it neither too large for good
government, nor too small for self-maintenance. In every body
politic there is a maximum strength which it cannot exceed and
which it only loses by increasing in size. Every extension of the
social tie means its relaxation; and, generally speaking, a small
State is stronger in proportion than a great one.

A thousand arguments could be advanced in favour of this
principle. First, long distances make administration more
difficult, just as a weight becomes heavier at the end of a longer
lever. Administration therefore becomes more and more burdensome as
the distance grows greater; for, in the first place, each city has
its own, which is paid for by the people: each district its own,
still paid for by the people: then comes each province, and then
the great governments, satrapies, and vice-royalties, always
costing more the higher you go, and always at the expense of the
unfortunate people. Last of all comes the supreme administration,
which eclipses all the rest. All these over charges are a continual
drain upon the subjects; so far from being better governed by all
these different orders, they are worse governed than if there were
only a single authority over them. In the meantime, there scarce
remain resources enough to meet emergencies; and, when recourse
must be had to these, the State is always on the eve of

This is not all; not only has the government less vigour and
promptitude for securing the observance of the laws, preventing
nuisances, correcting abuses, and guarding against seditious
undertakings begun in distant places; the people has less affection
for its rulers, whom it never sees, for its country, which, to its
eyes, seems like the world, and for its fellow-citizens, most of
whom are unknown to it. The same laws cannot suit so many diverse
provinces with different customs, situated in the most various
climates, and incapable of enduring a uniform government. Different
laws lead only to trouble and confusion among peoples which, living
under the same rulers and in constant communication one with
another, intermingle and intermarry, and, coming under the sway of
new customs, never know if they can call their very patrimony their
own. Talent is buried, virtue unknown and vice unpunished, among
such a multitude of men who do not know one another, gathered
together in one place at the seat of the central administration.
The leaders, overwhelmed with business, see nothing for themselves;
the State is governed by clerks. Finally, the measures which have
to be taken to maintain the general authority, which all these
distant officials wish to escape or to impose upon, absorb all the
energy of the public, so that there is none left for the happiness
of the people. There is hardly enough to defend it when need
arises, and thus a body which is too big for its constitution gives
way and falls crushed under its own weight.

Again, the State must assure itself a safe foundation, if it is
to have stability, and to be able to resist the shocks it cannot
help experiencing, as well as the efforts it will be forced to make
for its maintenance; for all peoples have a kind of centrifugal
force that makes them continually act one against another, and tend
to aggrandise themselves at their neighbours' expense, like the
vortices of Descartes. Thus the weak run the risk of being soon
swallowed up; and it is almost impossible for any one to preserve
itself except by putting itself in a state of equilibrium with all,
so that the pressure is on all sides practically equal.

It may therefore be seen that there are reasons for expansion
and reasons for contraction; and it is no small part of the
statesman's skill to hit between them the mean that is most
favourable to the preservation of the State. It may be said that
the reason for expansion, being merely external and relative, ought
to be subordinate to the reasons for contraction, which are
internal and absolute. A strong and healthy constitution is the
first thing to look for; and it is better to count on the vigour
which comes of good government than on the resources a great
territory furnishes.

It may be added that there have been known States so constituted
that the necessity of making conquests entered into their very
constitution, and that, in order to maintain themselves, they were
forced to expand ceaselessly. It may be that they congratulated
themselves greatly on this fortunate necessity, which none the less
indicated to them, along with the limits of their greatness, the
inevitable moment of their fall.

10. The People (continued)

A BODY politic may be measured in two ways — either by the
extent of its territory, or by the number of its people; and there
is, between these two measurements, a right relation which makes
the State really great. The men make the State, and the territory
sustains the men; the right relation therefore is that the land
should suffice for the maintenance of the inhabitants, and that
there should be as many inhabitants as the land can maintain. In
this proportion lies the maximum strength of a given number of
people; for, if there is too much land, it is troublesome to guard
and inadequately cultivated, produces more than is needed, and soon
gives rise to wars of defence; if there is not enough, the State
depends on its neighbours for what it needs over and above, and
this soon gives rise to wars of offence. Every people, to which its
situation gives no choice save that between commerce and war, is
weak in itself: it depends on its neighbours, and on circumstances;
its existence can never be more than short and uncertain. It either
conquers others, and changes its situation, or it is conquered and
becomes nothing. Only insignificance or greatness can keep it

No fixed relation can be stated between the extent of territory
and the population that are adequate one to the other, both because
of the differences in the quality of land, in its fertility, in the
nature of its products, and in the influence of climate, and
because of the different tempers of those who inhabit it; for some
in a fertile country consume little, and others on an ungrateful
soil much. The greater or less fecundity of women, the conditions
that are more or less favourable in each country to the growth of
population, and the influence the legislator can hope to exercise
by his institutions, must also be taken into account. The
legislator therefore should not go by what he sees, but by what he
foresees; he should stop not so much at the state in which he
actually finds the population, as at that to which it ought
naturally to attain. Lastly, there are countless cases in which the
particular local circumstances demand or allow the acquisition of a
greater territory than seems necessary. Thus, expansion will be
great in a mountainous country, where the natural products, i.e.,
woods and pastures, need less labour, where we know from experience
that women are more fertile than in the plains, and where a great
expanse of slope affords only a small level tract that can be
counted on for vegetation. On the other hand, contraction is
possible on the coast, even in lands of rocks and nearly barren
sands, because there fishing makes up to a great extent for the
lack of land-produce, because the inhabitants have to congregate
together more in order to repel pirates, and further because it is
easier to unburden the country of its superfluous inhabitants by
means of colonies.

To these conditions of law-giving must be added one other which,
though it cannot take the place of the rest, renders them all
useless when it is absent. This is the enjoyment of peace and
plenty; for the moment at which a State sets its house in order is,
like the moment when a battalion is forming up, that when its body
is least capable of offering resistance and easiest to destroy. A
better resistance could be made at a time of absolute
disorganisation than at a moment of fermentation, when each is
occupied with his own position and not with the danger. If war,
famine, or sedition arises at this time of crisis, the State will
inevitably be overthrown.

Not that many governments have not been set up during such
storms; but in such cases these governments are themselves the
State's destroyers. Usurpers always bring about or select troublous
times to get passed, under cover of the public terror, destructive
laws, which the people would never adopt in cold blood. The moment
chosen is one of the surest means of distinguishing the work of the
legislator from that of the tyrant.

What people, then, is a fit subject for legislation? One which,
already bound by some unity of origin, interest, or convention, has
never yet felt the real yoke of law; one that has neither customs
nor superstitions deeply ingrained, one which stands in no fear of
being overwhelmed by sudden invasion; one which, without entering
into its neighbours' quarrels, can resist each of them
single-handed, or get the help of one to repel another; one in
which every member may be known by every other, and there is no
need to lay on any man burdens too heavy for a man to bear; one
which can do without other peoples, and without which all others
can do;[15] one which is neither rich
nor poor, but self-sufficient; and, lastly, one which unites the
consistency of an ancient people with the docility of a new one.
Legislation is made difficult less by what it is necessary to build
up than by what has to be destroyed; and what makes success so rare
is the impossibility of finding natural simplicity together with
social requirements. All these conditions are indeed rarely found
united, and therefore few States have good constitutions.

There is still in Europe one country capable of being given laws
— Corsica. The valour and persistency with which that brave
people has regained and defended its liberty well deserves that
some wise man should teach it how to preserve what it has won. I
have a feeling that some day that little island will astonish

11. The Various Systems of Legislation

IF we ask in what precisely consists the greatest good of all,
which should be the end of every system of legislation, we shall
find it reduce itself to two main objects, liberty and equality
— liberty, because all particular dependence means so much
force taken from the body of the State and equality, because
liberty cannot exist without it.

I have already defined civil liberty; by equality, we should
understand, not that the degrees of power and riches are to be
absolutely identical for everybody; but that power shall never be
great enough for violence, and shall always be exercised by virtue
of rank and law; and that, in respect of riches, no citizen shall
ever be wealthy enough to buy another, and none poor enough to be
forced to sell himself:[16] which
implies, on the part of the great, moderation in goods and
position, and, on the side of the common sort, moderation in
avarice and covetousness.

Such equality, we are told, is an unpractical ideal that cannot
actually exist. But if its abuse is inevitable, does it follow that
we should not at least make regulations concerning it? It is
precisely because the force of circumstances tends continually to
destroy equality that the force of legislation should always tend
to its maintenance.

But these general objects of every good legislative system need
modifying in every country in accordance with the local situation
and the temper of the inhabitants; and these circumstances should
determine, in each case, the particular system of institutions
which is best, not perhaps in itself, but for the State for which
it is destined. If, for instance, the soil is barren and
unproductive, or the land too crowded for its inhabitants, the
people should turn to industry and the crafts, and exchange what
they produce for the commodities they lack. If, on the other hand,
a people dwells in rich plains and fertile slopes, or, in a good
land, lacks inhabitants, it should give all its attention to
agriculture, which causes men to multiply, and should drive out the
crafts, which would only result in depopulation, by grouping in a
few localities the few inhabitants there are."#note17">[17] If a nation dwells on an extensive and
convenient coast-line, let it cover the sea with ships and foster
commerce and navigation. It will have a life that will be short and
glorious. If, on its coasts, the sea washes nothing but almost
inaccessible rocks, let it remain barbarous and ichthyophagous: it
will have a quieter, perhaps a better, and certainly a happier
life. In a word, besides the principles that are common to all,
every nation has in itself something that gives them a particular
application, and makes its legislation peculiarly its own. Thus,
among the Jews long ago and more recently among the Arabs, the
chief object was religion, among the Athenians letters, at Carthage
and Tyre commerce, at Rhodes shipping, at Sparta war, at Rome
virtue. The author of The Spirit of the Laws has shown with many
examples by what art the legislator directs the constitution
towards each of these objects. What makes the constitution of a
State really solid and lasting is the due observance of what is
proper, so that the natural relations are always in agreement with
the laws on every point, and law only serves, so to speak, to
assure, accompany and rectify them. But if the legislator mistakes
his object and adopts a principle other than circumstances
naturally direct; if his principle makes for servitude while they
make for liberty, or if it makes for riches, while they make for
populousness, or if it makes for peace, while they make for
conquest — the laws will insensibly lose their influence, the
constitution will alter, and the State will have no rest from
trouble till it is either destroyed or changed, and nature has
resumed her invincible sway.

12. The Division of the Laws

IF the whole is to be set in order, and the commonwealth put
into the best possible shape, there are various relations to be
considered. First, there is the action of the complete body upon
itself, the relation of the whole to the whole, of the Sovereign to
the State; and this relation, as we shall see, is made up of the
relations of the intermediate terms.

The laws which regulate this relation bear the name of political
laws, and are also called fundamental laws, not without reason if
they are wise. For, if there is, in each State, only one good
system, the people that is in possession of it should hold fast to
this; but if the established order is bad, why should laws that
prevent men from being good be regarded as fundamental? Besides, in
any case, a people is always in a position to change its laws,
however good; for, if it choose to do itself harm, who can have a
right to stop it?

The second relation is that of the members one to another, or to
the body as a whole; and this relation should be in the first
respect as unimportant, and in the second as important, as
possible. Each citizen would then be perfectly independent of all
the rest, and at the same time very dependent on the city; which is
brought about always by the same means, as the strength of the
State can alone secure the liberty of its members. From this second
relation arise civil laws.

We may consider also a third kind of relation between the
individual and the law, a relation of disobedience to its penalty.
This gives rise to the setting up of criminal laws, which, at
bottom, are less a particular class of law than the sanction behind
all the rest.

Along with these three kinds of law goes a fourth, most
important of all, which is not graven on tablets of marble or
brass, but on the hearts of the citizens. This forms the real
constitution of the State, takes on every day new powers, when
other laws decay or die out, restores them or takes their place,
keeps a people in the ways in which it was meant to go, and
insensibly replaces authority by the force of habit. I am speaking
of morality, of custom, above all of public opinion; a power
unknown to political thinkers, on which none the less success in
everything else depends. With this the great legislator concerns
himself in secret, though he seems to confine himself to particular
regulations; for these are only the arc of the arch, while manners
and morals, slower to arise, form in the end its immovable

Among the different classes of laws, the political, which
determine the forms of the government, are alone relevant to my

6 To be general, a will need not always be
unanimous; but every vote must be counted: any exclusion is a
breach of generality.

7 "Every interest," says the Marquis
d'Argenson, "has different principles. The agreement of two
particular interests is formed by opposition to a third." He might
have added that the agreement of all interests is formed by
opposition to that of each. If there were no different interests,
the common interest would be barely felt, as it would encounter no
obstacle; all would go on of its own accord, and politics would
cease to be an art.

8 "In fact," says Machiavelli, "there are some
divisions that are harmful to a Republic and some that are
advantageous. Those which stir up sects and parties are harmful;
those attended by neither are advantageous. Since, then, the
founder of a Republic cannot help enmities arising, he ought at
least to prevent them from growing into sects" (History of
Florence, Book vii).

9 Attentive readers, do not, I pray, be in a
hurry to charge me with contradicting myself. The terminology made
it unavoidable, considering the poverty of the language; but wait
and see.

10 I understand by this word, not merely an
aristocracy or a democracy, but generally any government directed
by the general will, which is the law. To be legitimate, the
government must be, not one with the Sovereign, but its minister.
In such a case even a monarchy is a Republic. This will be made
clearer in the following book.

11 A people becomes famous only when its
legislation begins to decline. We do not know for how many
centuries the system of Lycurgus made the Spartans happy before the
rest of Greece took any notice of it.

12 Montesquieu, The Greatness and Decadence of
the Romans, ch. i.

13 Those who know Calvin only as a theologian
much under-estimate the extent of his genius. The codification of
our wise edicts, in which he played a large part, does him no less
honour than his Institute. Whatever revolution time may bring in
our religion, so long as the spirit of patriotism and liberty still
lives among us, the memory of this great man will be for ever

14 "In truth," says Machiavelli, "there has
never been, in any country, an extraordinary legislator who has not
had recourse to God; for otherwise his laws would not have been
accepted: there are, in fact, many useful truths of which a wise
man may have knowledge without their having in themselves such
clear reasons for their being so as to be able to convince others"
(Discourses on Livy, Bk. v, ch. xi).

15 If there were two neighbouring peoples, one
of which could not do without the other, it would be very hard on
the former, and very dangerous for the latter. Every wise nation,
in such a case, would make haste to free the other from dependence.
The Republic of Thiascala, enclosed by the Mexican Empire,
preferred doing without salt to buying from the Mexicans, or even
getting it from them as a gift. The Thiascalans were wise enough to
see the snare hidden under such liberality. They kept their
freedom, and that little State, shut up in that great Empire, was
finally the instrument of its ruin.

16 If the object is to give the State
consistency, bring the two extremes as near to each other as
possible; allow neither rich men nor beggars. These two estates,
which are naturally inseparable, are equally fatal to the common
good; from the one come the friends of tyranny, and from the other
tyrants. It is always between them that public liberty is put up to
auction; the one buys, and the other sells.

17 "Any branch of foreign commerce," says M.
d'Argenson, "creates on the whole only apparent advantage for the
kingdom in general; it may enrich some individuals, or even some
towns; but the nation as a whole gains nothing by it, and the
people is no better off."


BEFORE speaking of the different forms of government, let us try
to fix the exact sense of the word, which has not yet been very
clearly explained.

1. Government in General

I WARN the reader that this chapter requires careful reading,
and that I am unable to make myself clear to those who refuse to be
attentive. Every free action is produced by the concurrence of two
causes; one moral, i.e., the will which determines the act; the
other physical, i.e., the power which executes it. When I walk
towards an object, it is necessary first that I should will to go
there, and, in the second place, that my feet should carry me. If a
paralytic wills to run and an active man wills not to, they will
both stay where they are. The body politic has the same motive
powers; here too force and will are distinguished, will under the
name of legislative power and force under that of executive power.
Without their concurrence, nothing is, or should be, done.

We have seen that the legislative power belongs to the people,
and can belong to it alone. It may, on the other hand, readily be
seen, from the principles laid down above, that the executive power
cannot belong to the generality as legislature or Sovereign,
because it consists wholly of particular acts which fall outside
the competency of the law, and consequently of the Sovereign, whose
acts must always be laws.

The public force therefore needs an agent of its own to bind it
together and set it to work under the direction of the general
will, to serve as a means of communication between the State and
the Sovereign, and to do for the collective person more or less
what the union of soul and body does for man. Here we have what is,
in the State, the basis of government, often wrongly confused with
the Sovereign, whose minister it is.

What then is government? An intermediate body set up between the
subjects and the Sovereign, to secure their mutual correspondence,
charged with the execution of the laws and the maintenance of
liberty, both civil and political.

The members of this body are called magistrates or kings, that
is to say governors, and the whole body bears the name
prince.[18] Thus those who hold that
the act, by which a people puts itself under a prince, is not a
contract, are certainly right. It is simply and solely a
commission, an employment, in which the rulers, mere officials of
the Sovereign, exercise in their own name the power of which it
makes them depositaries. This power it can limit, modify or recover
at pleasure; for the alienation of such a right is incompatible
with the nature of the social body, and contrary to the end of

I call then government, or supreme administration, the
legitimate exercise of the executive power, and prince or
magistrate the man or the body entrusted with that

In government reside the intermediate forces whose relations
make up that of the whole to the whole, or of the Sovereign to the
State. This last relation may be represented as that between the
extreme terms of a continuous proportion, which has government as
its mean proportional. The government gets from the Sovereign the
orders it gives the people, and, for the State to be properly
balanced, there must, when everything is reckoned in, be equality
between the product or power of the government taken in itself, and
the product or power of the citizens, who are on the one hand
sovereign and on the other subject.

Furthermore, none of these three terms can be altered without
the equality being instantly destroyed. If the Sovereign desires to
govern, or the magistrate to give laws, or if the subjects refuse
to obey, disorder takes the place of regularity, force and will no
longer act together, and the State is dissolved and falls into
despotism or anarchy. Lastly, as there is only one mean
proportional between each relation, there is also only one good
government possible for a State. But, as countless events may
change the relations of a people, not only may different
governments be good for different peoples, but also for the same
people at different times.

In attempting to give some idea of the various relations that
may hold between these two extreme terms, I shall take as an
example the number of a people, which is the most easily

Suppose the State is composed of ten thousand citizens. The
Sovereign can only be considered collectively and as a body; but
each member, as being a subject, is regarded as an individual: thus
the Sovereign is to the subject as ten thousand to one, i.e., each
member of the State has as his share only a ten-thousandth part of
the sovereign authority, although he is wholly under its control.
If the people numbers a hundred thousand, the condition of the
subject undergoes no change, and each equally is under the whole
authority of the laws, while his vote, being reduced to a
hundred-thousandth part, has ten times less influence in drawing
them up. The subject therefore remaining always a unit, the
relation between him and the Sovereign increases with the number of
the citizens. From this it follows that, the larger the State, the
less the liberty.

When I say the relation increases, I mean that it grows more
unequal. Thus the greater it is in the geometrical sense, the less
relation there is in the ordinary sense of the word. In the former
sense, the relation, considered according to quantity, is expressed
by the quotient; in the latter, considered according to identity,
it is reckoned by similarity.

Now, the less relation the particular wills have to the general
will, that is, morals and manners to laws, the more should the
repressive force be increased. The government, then, to be good,
should be proportionately stronger as the people is more

On the other hand, as the growth of the State gives the
depositaries of the public authority more temptations and chances
of abusing their power, the greater the force with which the
government ought to be endowed for keeping the people in hand, the
greater too should be the force at the disposal of the Sovereign
for keeping the government in hand. I am speaking, not of absolute
force, but of the relative force of the different parts of the

It follows from this double relation that the continuous
proportion between the Sovereign, the prince and the people, is by
no means an arbitrary idea, but a necessary consequence of the
nature of the body politic. It follows further that, one of the
extreme terms, viz., the people, as subject, being fixed and
represented by unity, whenever the duplicate ratio increases or
diminishes, the simple ratio does the same, and is changed
accordingly. From this we see that there is not a single unique and
absolute form of government, but as many governments differing in
nature as there are States differing in size.

If, ridiculing this system, any one were to say that, in order
to find the mean proportional and give form to the body of the
government, it is only necessary, according to me, to find the
square root of the number of the people, I should answer that I am
here taking this number only as an instance; that the relations of
which I am speaking are not measured by the number of men alone,
but generally by the amount of action, which is a combination of a
multitude of causes; and that, further, if, to save words, I borrow
for a moment the terms of geometry, I am none the less well aware
that moral quantities do not allow of geometrical accuracy.

The government is on a small scale what the body politic which
includes it is on a great one. It is a moral person endowed with
certain faculties, active like the Sovereign and passive like the
State, and capable of being resolved into other similar relations.
This accordingly gives rise to a new proportion, within which there
is yet another, according to the arrangement of the magistracies,
till an indivisible middle term is reached, i.e., a single ruler or
supreme magistrate, who may be represented, in the midst of this
progression, as the unity between the fractional and the ordinal

Without encumbering ourselves with this multiplication of terms,
let us rest content with regarding government as a new body within
the State, distinct from the people and the Sovereign, and
intermediate between them.

There is between these two bodies this essential difference,
that the State exists by itself, and the government only through
the Sovereign. Thus the dominant will of the prince is, or should
be, nothing but the general will or the law; his force is only the
public force concentrated in his hands, and, as soon as he tries to
base any absolute and independent act on his own authority, the tie
that binds the whole together begins to be loosened. If finally the
prince should come to have a particular will more active than the
will of the Sovereign, and should employ the public force in his
hands in obedience to this particular will, there would be, so to
speak, two Sovereigns, one rightful and the other actual, the
social union would evaporate instantly, and the body politic would
be dissolved.

However, in order that the government may have a true existence
and a real life distinguishing it from the body of the State, and
in order that all its members may be able to act in concert and
fulfil the end for which it was set up, it must have a particular
personality, a sensibility common to its members, and a force and
will of its own making for its preservation. This particular
existence implies assemblies, councils, power and deliberation and
decision, rights, titles, and privileges belonging exclusively to
the prince and making the office of magistrate more honourable in
proportion as it is more troublesome. The difficulties lie in the
manner of so ordering this subordinate whole within the whole, that
it in no way alters the general constitution by affirmation of its
own, and always distinguishes the particular force it possesses,
which is destined to aid in its preservation, from the public
force, which is destined to the preservation of the State; and, in
a word, is always ready to sacrifice the government to the people,
and never to sacrifice the people to the government.

Furthermore, although the artificial body of the government is
the work of another artificial body, and has, we may say, only a
borrowed and subordinate life, this does not prevent it from being
able to act with more or less vigour or promptitude, or from being,
so to speak, in more or less robust health. Finally, without
departing directly from the end for which it was instituted, it may
deviate more or less from it, according to the manner of its

From all these differences arise the various relations which the
government ought to bear to the body of the State, according to the
accidental and particular relations by which the State itself is
modified, for often the government that is best in itself will
become the most pernicious, if the relations in which it stands
have altered according to the defects of the body politic to which
it belongs.

2. The Constituent Principle in the various Forms of

TO set forth the general cause of the above differences, we must
here distinguish between government and its principle, as we did
before between the State and the Sovereign.

The body of the magistrate may be composed of a greater or a
less number of members. We said that the relation of the Sovereign
to the subjects was greater in proportion as the people was more
numerous, and, by a clear analogy, we may say the same of the
relation of the government to the magistrates.

But the total force of the government, being always that of the
State, is invariable; so that, the more of this force it expends on
its own members, the less it has left to employ on the whole

The more numerous the magistrates, therefore, the weaker the
government. This principle being fundamental, we must do our best
to make it clear.

In the person of the magistrate we can distinguish three
essentially different wills: first, the private will of the
individual, tending only to his personal advantage; secondly, the
common will of the magistrates, which is relative solely to the
advantage of the prince, and may be called corporate will, being
general in relation to the government, and particular in relation
to the State, of which the government forms part; and, in the third
place, the will of the people or the sovereign will, which is
general both in relation to the State regarded as the whole, and to
the government regarded as a part of the whole.

In a perfect act of legislation, the individual or particular
will should be at zero; the corporate will belonging to the
government should occupy a very subordinate position; and,
consequently, the general or sovereign will should always
predominate and should be the sole guide of all the rest.

According to the natural order, on the other hand, these
different wills become more active in proportion as they are
concentrated. Thus, the general will is always the weakest, the
corporate will second, and the individual will strongest of all: so
that, in the government, each member is first of all himself, then
a magistrate, and then a citizen — in an order exactly the
reverse of what the social system requires.

This granted, if the whole government is in the hands of one
man, the particular and the corporate will are wholly united, and
consequently the latter is at its highest possible degree of
intensity. But, as the use to which the force is put depends on the
degree reached by the will, and as the absolute force of the
government is invariable, it follows that the most active
government is that of one man.

Suppose, on the other hand, we unite the government with the
legislative authority, and make the Sovereign prince also, and all
the citizens so many magistrates: then the corporate will, being
confounded with the general will, can possess no greater activity
than that will, and must leave the particular will as strong as it
can possibly be. Thus, the government, having always the same
absolute force, will be at the lowest point of its relative force
or activity.

These relations are incontestable, and there are other
considerations which still further confirm them. We can see, for
instance, that each magistrate is more active in the body to which
he belongs than each citizen in that to which he belongs, and that
consequently the particular will has much more influence on the
acts of the government than on those of the Sovereign; for each
magistrate is almost always charged with some governmental
function, while each citizen, taken singly, exercises no function
of Sovereignty. Furthermore, the bigger the State grows, the more
its real force increases, though not in direct proportion to its
growth; but, the State remaining the same, the number of
magistrates may increase to any extent, without the government
gaining any greater real force; for its force is that of the State,
the dimension of which remains equal. Thus the relative force or
activity of the government decreases, while its absolute or real
force cannot increase.

Moreover, it is a certainty that promptitude in execution
diminishes as more people are put in charge of it: where prudence
is made too much of, not enough is made of fortune; opportunity is
let slip, and deliberation results in the loss of its object.

I have just proved that the government grows remiss in
proportion as the number of the magistrates increases; and I
previously proved that, the more numerous the people, the greater
should be the repressive force. From this it follows that the
relation of the magistrates to the government should vary inversely
to the relation of the subjects to the Sovereign; that is to say,
the larger the State, the more should the government be tightened,
so that the number of the rulers diminish in proportion to the
increase of that of the people.

It should be added that I am here speaking of the relative
strength of the government, and not of its rectitude: for, on the
other hand, the more numerous the magistracy, the nearer the
corporate will comes to the general will; while, under a single
magistrate, the corporate will is, as I said, merely a particular
will. Thus, what may be gained on one side is lost on the other,
and the art of the legislator is to know how to fix the point at
which the force and the will of the government, which are always in
inverse proportion, meet in the relation that is most to the
advantage of the State.

3. The Division of Governments

WE saw in the last chapter what causes the various kinds or
forms of government to be distinguished according to the number of
the members composing them: it remains in this to discover how the
division is made.

In the first place, the Sovereign may commit the charge of the
government to the whole people or to the majority of the people, so
that more citizens are magistrates than are mere private
individuals. This form of government is called democracy.

Or it may restrict the government to a small number, so that
there are more private citizens than magistrates; and this is named

Lastly, it may concentrate the whole government in the hands of
a single magistrate from whom all others hold their power. This
third form is the most usual, and is called monarchy, or royal

It should be remarked that all these forms, or at least the
first two, admit of degree, and even of very wide differences; for
democracy may include the whole people, or may be restricted to
half. Aristocracy, in its turn, may be restricted indefinitely from
half the people down to the smallest possible number. Even royalty
is susceptible of a measure of distribution. Sparta always had two
kings, as its constitution provided; and the Roman Empire saw as
many as eight emperors at once, without it being possible to say
that the Empire was split up. Thus there is a point at which each
form of government passes into the next, and it becomes clear that,
under three comprehensive denominations, government is really
susceptible of as many diverse forms as the State has citizens.

There are even more: for, as the government may also, in certain
aspects, be subdivided into other parts, one administered in one
fashion and one in another, the combination of the three forms may
result in a multitude of mixed forms, each of which admits of
multiplication by all the simple forms.

There has been at all times much dispute concerning the best
form of government, without consideration of the fact that each is
in some cases the best, and in others the worst.

If, in the different States, the number of supreme magistrates
should be in inverse ratio to the number of citizens, it follows
that, generally, democratic government suits small States,
aristocratic government those of middle size, and monarchy great
ones. This rule is immediately deducible from the principle laid
down. But it is impossible to count the innumerable circumstances
which may furnish exceptions.

4. Democracy

HE who makes the law knows better than any one else how it
should be executed and interpreted. It seems then impossible to
have a better constitution than that in which the executive and
legislative powers are united; but this very fact renders the
government in certain respects inadequate, because things which
should be distinguished are confounded, and the prince and the
Sovereign, being the same person, form, so to speak, no more than a
government without government.

It is not good for him who makes the laws to execute them, or
for the body of the people to turn its attention away from a
general standpoint and devote it to particular objects. Nothing is
more dangerous than the influence of private interests in public
affairs, and the abuse of the laws by the government is a less evil
than the corruption of the legislator, which is the inevitable
sequel to a particular standpoint. In such a case, the State being
altered in substance, all reformation becomes impossible, A people
that would never misuse governmental powers would never misuse
independence; a people that would always govern well would not need
to be governed.

If we take the term in the strict sense, there never has been a
real democracy, and there never will be. It is against the natural
order for the many to govern and the few to be governed. It is
unimaginable that the people should remain continually assembled to
devote their time to public affairs, and it is clear that they
cannot set up commissions for that purpose without the form of
administration being changed.

In fact, I can confidently lay down as a principle that, when
the functions of government are shared by several tribunals, the
less numerous sooner or later acquire the greatest authority, if
only because they are in a position to expedite affairs, and power
thus naturally comes into their hands.

Besides, how many conditions that are difficult to unite does
such a government presuppose! First, a very small State, where the
people can readily be got together and where each citizen can with
ease know all the rest; secondly, great simplicity of manners, to
prevent business from multiplying and raising thorny problems;
next, a large measure of equality in rank and fortune, without
which equality of rights and authority cannot long subsist; lastly,
little or no luxury — for luxury either comes of riches or
makes them necessary; it corrupts at once rich and poor, the rich
by possession and the poor by covetousness; it sells the country to
softness and vanity, and takes away from the State all its
citizens, to make them slaves one to another, and one and all to
public opinion.

This is why a famous writer has made virtue the fundamental
principle of Republics;E1 for all these conditions could not exist
without virtue. But, for want of the necessary distinctions, that
great thinker was often inexact, and sometimes obscure, and did not
see that, the sovereign authority being everywhere the same, the
same principle should be found in every well-constituted State, in
a greater or less degree, it is true, according to the form of the

It may be added that there is no government so subject to civil
wars and intestine agitations as democratic or popular government,
because there is none which has so strong and continual a tendency
to change to another form, or which demands more vigilance and
courage for its maintenance as it is. Under such a constitution
above all, the citizen should arm himself with strength and
constancy, and say, every day of his life, what a virtuous Count
Palatine[19] said in the Diet of
Poland: Malo periculosam libertatem quam quietum servitium."#note20">[20]

Were there a people of gods, their government would be
democratic. So perfect a government is not for men.

5. Aristocracy

WE have here two quite distinct moral persons, the government
and the Sovereign, and in consequence two general wills, one
general in relation to all the citizens, the other only for the
members of the administration. Thus, although the government may
regulate its internal policy as it pleases, it can never speak to
the people save in the name of the Sovereign, that is, of the
people itself, a fact which must not be forgotten.

The first societies governed themselves aristocratically. The
heads of families took counsel together on public affairs. The
young bowed without question to the authority of experience. Hence
such names as priests, elders, senate, and gerontes. The savages of
North America govern themselves in this way even now, and their
government is admirable.

But, in proportion as artificial inequality produced by
institutions became predominant over natural inequality, riches or
power[21] were put before age, and
aristocracy became elective. Finally, the transmission of the
father's power along with his goods to his children, by creating
patrician families, made government hereditary, and there came to
be senators of twenty.

There are then three sorts of aristocracy — natural,
elective and hereditary. The first is only for simple peoples; the
third is the worst of all governments; the second is the best, and
is aristocracy properly so called.

Besides the advantage that lies in the distinction between the
two powers, it presents that of its members being chosen; for, in
popular government, all the citizens are born magistrates; but here
magistracy is confined to a few, who become such only by
election.[22] By this means
uprightness, understanding, experience and all other claims to
pre-eminence and public esteem become so many further guarantees of
wise government.

Moreover, assemblies are more easily held, affairs better
discussed and carried out with more order and diligence, and the
credit of the State is better sustained abroad by venerable
senators than by a multitude that is unknown or despised.

In a word, it is the best and most natural arrangement that the
wisest should govern the many, when it is assured that they will
govern for its profit, and not for their own. There is no need to
multiply instruments, or get twenty thousand men to do what a
hundred picked men can do even better. But it must not be forgotten
that corporate interest here begins to direct the public power less
under the regulation of the general will, and that a further
inevitable propensity takes away from the laws part of the
executive power.

If we are to speak of what is individually desirable, neither
should the State be so small, nor a people so simple and upright,
that the execution of the laws follows immediately from the public
will, as it does in a good democracy. Nor should the nation be so
great that the rulers have to scatter in order to govern it and are
able to play the Sovereign each in his own department, and,
beginning by making themselves independent, end by becoming

But if aristocracy does not demand all the virtues needed by
popular government, it demands others which are peculiar to itself;
for instance, moderation on the side of the rich and contentment on
that of the poor; for it seems that thorough-going equality would
be out of place, as it was not found even at Sparta.

Furthermore, if this form of government carries with it a
certain inequality of fortune, this is justifiable in order that as
a rule the administration of public affairs may be entrusted to
those who are most able to give them their whole time, but not, as
Aristotle maintains, in order that the rich may always be put
first. On the contrary, it is of importance that an opposite choice
should occasionally teach the people that the deserts of men offer
claims to pre-eminence more important than those of riches.

6. Monarchy

So far, we have considered the prince as a moral and collective
person, unified by the force of the laws, and the depositary in the
State of the executive power. We have now to consider this power
when it is gathered together into the hands of a natural person, a
real man, who alone has the right to dispose of it in accordance
with the laws. Such a person is called a monarch or king.

In contrast with other forms of administration, in which a
collective being stands for an individual, in this form an
individual stands for a collective being; so that the moral unity
that constitutes the prince is at the same time a physical unity,
and all the qualities, which in the other case are only with
difficulty brought together by the law, are found naturally

Thus the will of the people, the will of the prince, the public
force of the State, and the particular force of the government, all
answer to a single motive power; all the springs of the machine are
in the same hands, the whole moves towards the same end; there are
no conflicting movements to cancel one another, and no kind of
constitution can be imagined in which a less amount of effort
produces a more considerable amount of action. Archimedes, seated
quietly on the bank and easily drawing a great vessel afloat,
stands to my mind for a skilful monarch, governing vast states from
his study, and moving everything while he seems himself

But if no government is more vigorous than this, there is also
none in which the particular will holds more sway and rules the
rest more easily. Everything moves towards the same end indeed, but
this end is by no means that of the public happiness, and even the
force of the administration constantly shows itself prejudicial to
the State.

Kings desire to be absolute, and men are always crying out to
them from afar that the best means of being so is to get themselves
loved by their people. This precept is all very well, and even in
some respects very true. Unfortunately, it will always be derided
at court. The power which comes of a people's love is no doubt the
greatest; but it is precarious and conditional, and princes will
never rest content with it. The best kings desire to be in a
position to be wicked, if they please, without forfeiting their
mastery: political sermonisers may tell them to their hearts'
content that, the people's strength being their own, their first
interest is that the people should be prosperous, numerous and
formidable; they are well aware that this is untrue. Their first
personal interest is that the people should be weak, wretched, and
unable to resist them. I admit that, provided the subjects remained
always in submission, the prince's interest would indeed be that it
should be powerful, in order that its power, being his own, might
make him formidable to his neighbours; but, this interest being
merely secondary and subordinate, and strength being incompatible
with submission, princes naturally give the preference always to
the principle that is more to their immediate advantage. This is
what Samuel put strongly before the Hebrews, and what Machiavelli
has clearly shown. He professed to teach kings; but it was the
people he really taught. His Prince is the book of

We found, on general grounds, that monarchy is suitable only for
great States, and this is confirmed when we examine it in itself.
The more numerous the public administration, the smaller becomes
the relation between the prince and the subjects, and the nearer it
comes to equality, so that in democracy the ratio is unity, or
absolute equality. Again, as the government is restricted in
numbers the ratio increases and reaches its maximum when the
government is in the hands of a single person. There is then too
great a distance between prince and people, and the State lacks a
bond of union. To form such a bond, there must be intermediate
orders, and princes, personages and nobility to compose them. But
no such things suit a small State, to which all class differences
mean ruin.

If, however, it is hard for a great State to be well governed,
it is much harder for it to be so by a single man; and every one
knows what happens when kings substitute others for themselves.

An essential and inevitable defect, which will always rank
monarchical below the republican government, is that in a republic
the public voice hardly ever raises to the highest positions men
who are not enlightened and capable, and such as to fill them with
honour; while in monarchies those who rise to the top are most
often merely petty blunderers, petty swindlers, and petty
intriguers, whose petty talents cause them to get into the highest
positions at Court, but, as soon as they have got there, serve only
to make their ineptitude clear to the public. The people is far
less often mistaken in its choice than the prince; and a man of
real worth among the king's ministers is almost as rare as a fool
at the head of a republican government. Thus, when, by some
fortunate chance, one of these born governors takes the helm of
State in some monarchy that has been nearly overwhelmed by swarms
of "gentlemanly" administrators, there is nothing but amazement at
the resources he discovers, and his coming marks an era in his
country's history.

For a monarchical State to have a chance of being well governed,
its population and extent must be proportionate to the abilities of
its governor. It is easier to conquer than to rule. With a long
enough lever, the world could be moved with a single finger; to
sustain it needs the shoulders of Hercules. However small a State
may be, the prince is hardly ever big enough for it. When, on the
other hand, it happens that the State is too small for its ruler,
in these rare cases too it is ill governed, because the ruler,
constantly pursuing his great designs, forgets the interests of the
people, and makes it no less wretched by misusing the talents he
has, than a ruler of less capacity would make it for want of those
he had not. A kingdom should, so to speak, expand or contract with
each reign, according to the prince's capabilities; but, the
abilities of a senate being more constant in quantity, the State
can then have permanent frontiers without the administration

The disadvantage that is most felt in monarchical government is
the want of the continuous succession which, in both the other
forms, provides an unbroken bond of union. When one king dies,
another is needed; elections leave dangerous intervals and are full
of storms; and unless the citizens are disinterested and upright to
a degree which very seldom goes with this kind of government,
intrigue and corruption abound. He to whom the State has sold
itself can hardly help selling it in his turn and repaying himself,
at the expense of the weak, the money the powerful have wrung from
him. Under such an administration, venality sooner or later spreads
through every part, and peace so enjoyed under a king is worse than
the disorders of an interregnum.

What has been done to prevent these evils? Crowns have been made
hereditary in certain families, and an order of succession has been
set up, to prevent disputes from arising on the death of kings.
That is to say, the disadvantages of regency have been put in place
of those of election, apparent tranquillity has been preferred to
wise administration, and men have chosen rather to risk having
children, monstrosities, or imbeciles as rulers to having disputes
over the choice of good kings. It has not been taken into account
that, in so exposing ourselves to the risks this possibility
entails, we are setting almost all the chances against us. There
was sound sense in what the younger Dionysius said to his father,
who reproached him for doing some shameful deed by asking, "Did I
set you the example?" "No," answered his son, "but your father was
not king."

Everything conspires to take away from a man who is set in
authority over others the sense of justice and reason. Much
trouble, we are told, is taken to teach young princes the art of
reigning; but their education seems to do them no good. It would be
better to begin by teaching them the art of obeying. The greatest
kings whose praises history tells were not brought up to reign:
reigning is a science we are never so far from possessing as when
we have learnt too much of it, and one we acquire better by obeying
than by commanding. "Nam utilissimus idem ac brevissimus bonarum
malarumque rerum delectus cogitare quid aut nolueris sub alio
principe, aut volueris."[24]

One result of this lack of coherence is the inconstancy of royal
government, which, regulated now on one scheme and now on another,
according to the character of the reigning prince or those who
reign for him, cannot for long have a fixed object or a consistent
policy — and this variability, not found in the other forms
of government, where the prince is always the same, causes the
State to be always shifting from principle to principle and from
project to project. Thus we may say that generally, if a court is
more subtle in intrigue, there is more wisdom in a senate, and
Republics advance towards their ends by more consistent and better
considered policies; while every revolution in a royal ministry
creates a revolution in the State; for the principle common to all
ministers and nearly all kings is to do in every respect the
reverse of what was done by their predecessors.

This incoherence further clears up a sophism that is very
familiar to royalist political writers; not only is civil
government likened to domestic government, and the prince to the
father of a family — this error has already been refuted
— but the prince is also freely credited with all the virtues
he ought to possess, and is supposed to be always what he should
be. This supposition once made, royal government is clearly
preferable to all others, because it is incontestably the
strongest, and, to be the best also, wants only a corporate will
more in conformity with the general will.

But if, according to Plato,[25] the
"king by nature" is such a rarity, how often will nature and
fortune conspire to give him a crown? And, if royal education
necessarily corrupts those who receive it, what is to be hoped from
a series of men brought up to reign? It is, then, wanton
self-deception to confuse royal government with government by a
good king. To see such government as it is in itself, we must
consider it as it is under princes who are incompetent or wicked:
for either they will come to the throne wicked or incompetent, or
the throne will make them so.

These difficulties have not escaped our writers, who, all the
same, are not troubled by them. The remedy, they say, is to obey
without a murmur: God sends bad kings in His wrath, and they must
be borne as the scourges of Heaven. Such talk is doubtless
edifying; but it would be more in place in a pulpit than in a
political book. What are we to think of a doctor who promises
miracles, and whose whole art is to exhort the sufferer to
patience? We know for ourselves that we must put up with a bad
government when it is there; the question is how to find a good

7. Mixed Governments

STRICTLY speaking, there is no such thing as a simple
government. An isolated ruler must have subordinate magistrates; a
popular government must have a head. There is therefore, in the
distribution of the executive power, always a gradation from the
greater to the lesser number, with the difference that sometimes
the greater number is dependent on the smaller, and sometimes the
smaller on the greater.

Sometimes the distribution is equal, when either the constituent
parts are in mutual dependence, as in the government of England, or
the authority of each section is independent, but imperfect, as in
Poland. This last form is bad; for it secures no unity in the
government, and the State is left without a bond of union.

Is a simple or a mixed government the better? Political writers
are always debating the question, which must be answered as we have
already answered a question about all forms of government.

Simple government is better in itself, just because it is
simple. But when the executive power is not sufficiently dependent
upon the legislative power, i.e., when the prince is more closely
related to the Sovereign than the people to the prince, this lack
of proportion must be cured by the division of the government; for
all the parts have then no less authority over the subjects, while
their division makes them all together less strong against the

The same disadvantage is also prevented by the appointment of
intermediate magistrates, who leave the government entire, and have
the effect only of balancing the two powers and maintaining their
respective rights. Government is then not mixed, but moderated.

The opposite disadvantages may be similarly cured, and, when the
government is too lax, tribunals may be set up to concentrate it.
This is done in all democracies. In the first case, the government
is divided to make it weak; in the second, to make it strong: for
the maxima of both strength and weakness are found in simple
governments, while the mixed forms result in a mean strength.

8. That all forms of Government do not suit all

LIBERTY, not being a fruit of all climates, is not within the
reach of all peoples. The more this principle, laid down by
Montesquieu,E2 is considered, the more its truth is felt; the more
it is combated, the more chance is given to confirm it by new

In all the governments that there are, the public person
consumes without producing. Whence then does it get what it
consumes? From the labour of its members. The necessities of the
public are supplied out of the superfluities of individuals. It
follows that the civil State can subsist only so long as men's
labour brings them a return greater than their needs.

The amount of this excess is not the same in all countries. In
some it is considerable, in others middling, in yet others nil, in
some even negative. The relation of product to subsistence depends
on the fertility of the climate, on the sort of labour the land
demands, on the nature of its products, on the strength of its
inhabitants, on the greater or less consumption they find
necessary, and on several further considerations of which the whole
relation is made up.

On the other side, all governments are not of the same nature:
some are less voracious than others, and the differences between
them are based on this second principle, that the further from
their source the public contributions are removed, the more
burdensome they become. The charge should be measured not by the
amount of the impositions, but by the path they have to travel in
order to get back to those from whom they came. When the
circulation is prompt and well-established, it does not matter
whether much or little is paid; the people is always rich and,
financially speaking, all is well. On the contrary, however little
the people gives, if that little does not return to it, it is soon
exhausted by giving continually: the State is then never rich, and
the people is always a people of beggars.

It follows that, the more the distance between people and
government increases, the more burdensome tribute becomes: thus, in
a democracy, the people bears the least charge; in an aristocracy,
a greater charge; and, in monarchy, the weight becomes heaviest.
Monarchy therefore suits only wealthy nations; aristocracy, States
of middling size and wealth; and democracy, States that are small
and poor.

In fact, the more we reflect, the more we find the difference
between free and monarchical States to be this: in the former,
everything is used for the public advantage; in the latter, the
public forces and those of individuals are affected by each other,
and either increases as the other grows weak; finally, instead of
governing subjects to make them happy, despotism makes them
wretched in order to govern them.

We find then, in every climate, natural causes according to
which the form of government which it requires can be assigned, and
we can even say what sort of inhabitants it should have.

Unfriendly and barren lands, where the product does not repay
the labour, should remain desert and uncultivated, or peopled only
by savages; lands where men's labour brings in no more than the
exact minimum necessary to subsistence should be inhabited by
barbarous peoples: in such places all polity is impossible. Lands
where the surplus of product over labour is only middling are
suitable for free peoples; those in which the soil is abundant and
fertile and gives a great product for a little labour call for
monarchical government, in order that the surplus of superfluities
among the subjects may be consumed by the luxury of the prince: for
it is better for this excess to be absorbed by the government than
dissipated among the individuals. I am aware that there are
exceptions; but these exceptions themselves confirm the rule, in
that sooner or later they produce revolutions which restore things
to the natural order.

General laws should always be distinguished from individual
causes that may modify their effects. If all the South were covered
with Republics and all the North with despotic States, it would be
none the less true that, in point of climate, despotism is suitable
to hot countries, barbarism to cold countries, and good polity to
temperate regions. I see also that, the principle being granted,
there may be disputes on its application; it may be said that there
are cold countries that are very fertile, and tropical countries
that are very unproductive. But this difficulty exists only for
those who do not consider the question in all its aspects. We must,
as I have already said, take labour, strength, consumption, etc.,
into account.

Take two tracts of equal extent, one of which brings in five and
the other ten. If the inhabitants of the first consume four and
those of the second nine, the surplus of the first product will be
a fifth and that of the second a tenth. The ratio of these two
surpluses will then be inverse to that of the products, and the
tract which produces only five will give a surplus double that of
the tract which produces ten.

But there is no question of a double product, and I think no one
would put the fertility of cold countries, as a general rule, on an
equality with that of hot ones. Let us, however, suppose this
equality to exist: let us, if you will, regard England as on the
same level as Sicily, and Poland as Egypt — further south, we
shall have Africa and the Indies; further north, nothing at all. To
get this equality of product, what a difference there must be in
tillage: in Sicily, there is only need to scratch the ground; in
England, how men must toil! But, where more hands are needed to get
the same product, the superfluity must necessarily be less.

Consider, besides, that the same number of men consume much less
in hot countries. The climate requires sobriety for the sake of
health; and Europeans who try to live there as they would at home
all perish of dysentery and indigestion. "We are," says Chardin,
"carnivorous animals, wolves, in comparison with the Asiatics. Some
attribute the sobriety of the Persians to the fact that their
country is less cultivated; but it is my belief that their country
abounds less in commodities because the inhabitants need less. If
their frugality," he goes on, "were the effect of the nakedness of
the land, only the poor would eat little; but everybody does so.
Again, less or more would be eaten in various provinces, according
to the land's fertility; but the same sobriety is found throughout
the kingdom. They are very proud of their manner of life, saying
that you have only to look at their hue to recognise how far it
excels that of the Christians. In fact, the Persians are of an even
hue; their skins are fair, fine and smooth; while the hue of their
subjects, the Armenians, who live after the European fashion, is
rough and blotchy, and their bodies are gross and unwieldy."

The nearer you get to the equator, the less people live on. Meat
they hardly touch; rice, maize, curcur, millet and cassava are
their ordinary food. There are in the Indies millions of men whose
subsistence does not cost a halfpenny a day. Even in Europe we find
considerable differences of appetite between Northern and Southern
peoples. A Spaniard will live for a week on a German's dinner. In
the countries in which men are more voracious, luxury therefore
turns in the direction of consumption. In England, luxury appears
in a well-filled table; in Italy, you feast on sugar and

Luxury in clothes shows similar differences. In climates in
which the changes of season are prompt and violent, men have better
and simpler clothes; where they clothe themselves only for
adornment, what is striking is more thought of than what is useful;
clothes themselves are then a luxury. At Naples, you may see daily
walking in the Pausilippeum men in gold-embroidered upper garments
and nothing else. It is the same with buildings; magnificence is
the sole consideration where there is nothing to fear from the air.
In Paris and London, you desire to be lodged warmly and
comfortably; in Madrid, you have superb salons, but not a window
that closes, and you go to bed in a mere hole.

In hot countries foods are much more substantial and succulent;
and the third difference cannot but have an influence on the
second. Why are so many vegetables eaten in Italy? Because there
they are good, nutritious and excellent in taste. In France, where
they are nourished only on water, they are far from nutritious and
are thought nothing of at table. They take up all the same no less
ground, and cost at least as much pains to cultivate. It is a
proved fact that the wheat of Barbary, in other respects inferior
to that of France, yields much more flour, and that the wheat of
France in turn yields more than that of northern countries; from
which it may be inferred that a like gradation in the same
direction, from equator to pole, is found generally. But is it not
an obvious disadvantage for an equal product to contain less

To all these points may be added another, which at once depends
on and strengthens them. Hot countries need inhabitants less than
cold countries, and can support more of them. There is thus a
double surplus, which is all to the advantage of despotism. The
greater the territory occupied by a fixed number of inhabitants,
the more difficult revolt becomes, because rapid or secret
concerted action is impossible, and the government can easily
unmask projects and cut communications; but the more a numerous
people is gathered together, the less can the government usurp the
Sovereign's place: the people's leaders can deliberate as safely in
their houses as the prince in council, and the crowd gathers as
rapidly in the squares as the prince's troops in their quarters.
The advantage of tyrannical government therefore lies in acting at
great distances. With the help of the rallying-points it
establishes, its strength, like that of the lever,"#note26">[26] grows with distance. The strength of the
people, on the other hand, acts only when concentrated: when spread
abroad, it evaporates and is lost, like powder scattered on the
ground, which catches fire only grain by grain. The least populous
countries are thus the fittest for tyranny: fierce animals reign
only in deserts.

9. The Marks of a Good Government

THE question "What absolutely is the best government?" is
unanswerable as well as indeterminate; or rather, there are as many
good answers as there are possible combinations in the absolute and
relative situations of all nations.

But if it is asked by what sign we may know that a given people
is well or ill governed, that is another matter, and the question,
being one of fact, admits of an answer.

It is not, however, answered, because everyone wants to answer
it in his own way. Subjects extol public tranquillity, citizens
individual liberty; the one class prefers security of possessions,
the other that of person; the one regards as the best government
that which is most severe, the other maintains that the mildest is
the best; the one wants crimes punished, the other wants them
prevented; the one wants the State to be feared by its neighbours,
the other prefers that it should be ignored; the one is content if
money circulates, the other demands that the people shall have
bread. Even if an agreement were come to on these and similar
points, should we have got any further? As moral qualities do not
admit of exact measurement, agreement about the mark does not mean
agreement about the valuation.

For my part, I am continually astonished that a mark so simple
is not recognised, or that men are of so bad faith as not to admit
it. What is the end of political association? The preservation and
prosperity of its members. And what is the surest mark of their
preservation and prosperity? Their numbers and population. Seek
then nowhere else this mark that is in dispute. The rest being
equal, the government under which, without external aids, without
naturalisation or colonies, the citizens increase and multiply
most, is beyond question the best. The government under which a
people wanes and diminishes is the worst. Calculators, it is left
for you to count, to measure, to compare."#note27">[27]

10. The Abuse of Government and its Tendency to

AS the particular will acts constantly in opposition to the
general will, the government continually exerts itself against the
Sovereignty. The greater this exertion becomes, the more the
constitution changes; and, as there is in this case no other
corporate will to create an equilibrium by resisting the will of
the prince, sooner or later the prince must inevitably suppress the
Sovereign and break the social treaty. This is the unavoidable and
inherent defect which, from the very birth of the body politic,
tends ceaselessly to destroy it, as age and death end by destroying
the human body.

There are two general courses by which government degenerates:
i.e., when it undergoes contraction, or when the State is

Government undergoes contraction when it passes from the many to
the few, that is, from democracy to aristocracy, and from
aristocracy to royalty. To do so is its natural propensity."#note28">[28] If it took the backward course from the
few to the many, it could be said that it was relaxed; but this
inverse sequence is impossible.

Indeed, governments never change their form except when their
energy is exhausted and leaves them too weak to keep what they
have. If a government at once extended its sphere and relaxed its
stringency, its force would become absolutely nil, and it would
persist still less. It is therefore necessary to wind up the spring
and tighten the hold as it gives way: or else the State it sustains
will come to grief.

The dissolution of the State may come about in either of two

First, when the prince ceases to administer the State in
accordance with the laws, and usurps the Sovereign power. A
remarkable change then occurs: not the government, but the State,
undergoes contraction; I mean that the great State is dissolved,
and another is formed within it, composed solely of the members of
the government, which becomes for the rest of the people merely
master and tyrant. So that the moment the government usurps the
Sovereignty, the social compact is broken, and all private citizens
recover by right their natural liberty, and are forced, but not
bound, to obey.

The same thing happens when the members of the government
severally usurp the power they should exercise only as a body; this
is as great an infraction of the laws, and results in even greater
disorders. There are then, so to speak, as many princes as there
are magistrates, and the State, no less divided than the
government, either perishes or changes its form.

When the State is dissolved, the abuse of government, whatever
it is, bears the common name of anarchy. To distinguish, democracy
degenerates into ochlocracy, and aristocracy into oligarchy; and I
would add that royalty degenerates into tyranny; but this last word
is ambiguous and needs explanation.

In vulgar usage, a tyrant is a king who governs violently and
without regard for justice and law. In the exact sense, a tyrant is
an individual who arrogates to himself the royal authority without
having a right to it. This is how the Greeks understood the word
"tyrant": they applied it indifferently to good and bad princes
whose authority was not legitimate.[29]
Tyrant and usurper are thus perfectly synonymous terms.

In order that I may give different things different names, I
call him who usurps the royal authority a tyrant, and him who
usurps the sovereign power a despot. The tyrant is he who thrusts
himself in contrary to the laws to govern in accordance with the
laws; the despot is he who sets himself above the laws themselves.
Thus the tyrant cannot be a despot, but the despot is always a

11. The Death of the Body Politic

SUCH is the natural and inevitable tendency of the best
constituted governments. If Sparta and Rome perished, what State
can hope to endure for ever? If we would set up a long-lived form
of government, let us not even dream of making it eternal. If we
are to succeed, we must not attempt the impossible, or flatter
ourselves that we are endowing the work of man with a stability of
which human conditions do not permit.

The body politic, as well as the human body, begins to die as
soon as it is born, and carries in itself the causes of its
destruction. But both may have a constitution that is more or less
robust and suited to preserve them a longer or a shorter time. The
constitution of man is the work of nature; that of the State the
work of art. It is not in men's power to prolong their own lives;
but it is for them to prolong as much as possible the life of the
State, by giving it the best possible constitution. The best
constituted State will have an end; but it will end later than any
other, unless some unforeseen accident brings about its untimely

The life-principle of the body politic lies in the sovereign
authority. The legislative power is the heart of the State; the
executive power is its brain, which causes the movement of all the
parts. The brain may become paralysed and the individual still
live. A man may remain an imbecile and live; but as soon as the
heart ceases to perform its functions, the animal is dead.

The State subsists by means not of the laws, but of the
legislative power. Yesterday's law is not binding to-day; but
silence is taken for tacit consent, and the Sovereign is held to
confirm incessantly the laws it does not abrogate as it might. All
that it has once declared itself to will it wills always, unless it
revokes its declaration.

Why then is so much respect paid to old laws? For this very
reason. We must believe that nothing but the excellence of old acts
of will can have preserved them so long: if the Sovereign had not
recognised them as throughout salutary, it would have revoked them
a thousand times. This is why, so far from growing weak, the laws
continually gain new strength in any well constituted State; the
precedent of antiquity makes them daily more venerable: while
wherever the laws grow weak as they become old, this proves that
there is no longer a legislative power, and that the State is

12. How the Sovereign Authority maintains

THE Sovereign, having no force other than the legislative power,
acts only by means of the laws; and the laws being solely the
authentic acts of the general will, the Sovereign cannot act save
when the people is assembled. The people in assembly, I shall be
told, is a mere chimera. It is so to-day, but two thousand years
ago it was not so. Has man's nature changed?

The bounds of possibility, in moral matters, are less narrow
than we imagine: it is our weaknesses, our vices and our prejudices
that confine them. Base souls have no belief in great men; vile
slaves smile in mockery at the name of liberty.

Let us judge of what can be done by what has been done. I shall
say nothing of the Republics of ancient Greece; but the Roman
Republic was, to my mind, a great State, and the town of Rome a
great town. The last census showed that there were in Rome four
hundred thousand citizens capable of bearing arms, and the last
computation of the population of the Empire showed over four
million citizens, excluding subjects, foreigners, women, children
and slaves.

What difficulties might not be supposed to stand in the way of
the frequent assemblage of the vast population of this capital and
its neighbourhood. Yet few weeks passed without the Roman people
being in assembly, and even being so several times. It exercised
not only the rights of Sovereignty, but also a part of those of
government. It dealt with certain matters, and judged certain
cases, and this whole people was found in the public meeting-place
hardly less often as magistrates than as citizens.

If we went back to the earliest history of nations, we should
find that most ancient governments, even those of monarchical form,
such as the Macedonian and the Frankish, had similar councils. In
any case, the one incontestable fact I have given is an answer to
all difficulties; it is good logic to reason from the actual to the

13. The Same (continued)

IT is not enough for the assembled people to have once fixed the
constitution of the State by giving its sanction to a body of law;
it is not enough for it to have set up a perpetual government, or
provided once for all for the election of magistrates. Besides the
extraordinary assemblies unforeseen circumstances may demand, there
must be fixed periodical assemblies which cannot be abrogated or
prorogued, so that on the proper day the people is legitimately
called together by law, without need of any formal summoning.

But, apart from these assemblies authorised by their date alone,
every assembly of the people not summoned by the magistrates
appointed for that purpose, and in accordance with the prescribed
forms, should be regarded as unlawful, and all its acts as null and
void, because the command to assemble should itself proceed from
the law.

The greater or less frequency with which lawful assemblies
should occur depends on so many considerations that no exact rules
about them can be given. It can only be said generally that the
stronger the government the more often should the Sovereign show

This, I shall be told, may do for a single town; but what is to
be done when the State includes several? Is the sovereign authority
to be divided? Or is it to be concentrated in a single town to
which all the rest are made subject?

Neither the one nor the other, I reply. First, the sovereign
authority is one and simple, and cannot be divided without being
destroyed. In the second place, one town cannot, any more than one
nation, legitimately be made subject to another, because the
essence of the body politic lies in the reconciliation of obedience
and liberty, and the words subject and Sovereign are identical
correlatives the idea of which meets in the single word

I answer further that the union of several towns in a single
city is always bad, and that, if we wish to make such a union, we
should not expect to avoid its natural disadvantages. It is useless
to bring up abuses that belong to great States against one who
desires to see only small ones; but how can small States be given
the strength to resist great ones, as formerly the Greek towns
resisted the Great King, and more recently Holland and Switzerland
have resisted the House of Austria?

Nevertheless, if the State cannot be reduced to the right
limits, there remains still one resource; this is, to allow no
capital, to make the seat of government move from town to town, and
to assemble by turn in each the Provincial Estates of the

People the territory evenly, extend everywhere the same rights,
bear to every place in it abundance and life: by these means will
the State become at once as strong and as well governed as
possible. Remember that the walls of towns are built of the ruins
of the houses of the countryside. For every palace I see raised in
the capital, my mind's eye sees a whole country made desolate.

14. The Same (continued)

THE moment the people is legitimately assembled as a sovereign
body, the jurisdiction of the government wholly lapses, the
executive power is suspended, and the person of the meanest citizen
is as sacred and inviolable as that of the first magistrate; for in
the presence of the person represented, representatives no longer
exist. Most of the tumults that arose in the comitia at Rome were
due to ignorance or neglect of this rule. The consuls were in them
merely the presidents of the people; the tribunes were mere
speakers;[30] the senate was nothing at

These intervals of suspension, during which the prince
recognises or ought to recognise an actual superior, have always
been viewed by him with alarm; and these assemblies of the people,
which are the aegis of the body politic and the curb on the
government, have at all times been the horror of rulers: who
therefore never spare pains, objections, difficulties, and
promises, to stop the citizens from having them. When the citizens
are greedy, cowardly, and pusillanimous, and love ease more than
liberty, they do not long hold out against the redoubled efforts of
the government; and thus, as the resisting force incessantly grows,
the sovereign authority ends by disappearing, and most cities fall
and perish before their time.

But between the sovereign authority and arbitrary government
there sometimes intervenes a mean power of which something must be

15. Deputies Or Representatives

AS soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the
citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with
their persons, the State is not far from its fall. When it is
necessary to march out to war, they pay troops and stay at home:
when it is necessary to meet in council, they name deputies and
stay at home. By reason of idleness and money, they end by having
soldiers to enslave their country and representatives to sell

It is through the hustle of commerce and the arts, through the
greedy self-interest of profit, and through softness and love of
amenities that personal services are replaced by money payments.
Men surrender a part of their profits in order to have time to
increase them at leisure. Make gifts of money, and you will not be
long without chains. The word finance is a slavish word, unknown in
the city-state. In a country that is truly free, the citizens do
everything with their own arms and nothing by means of money; so
far from paying to be exempted from their duties, they would even
pay for the privilege of fulfilling them themselves. I am far from
taking the common view: I hold enforced labour to be less opposed
to liberty than taxes.

The better the constitution of a State is, the more do public
affairs encroach on private in the minds of the citizens. Private
affairs are even of much less importance, because the aggregate of
the common happiness furnishes a greater proportion of that of each
individual, so that there is less for him to seek in particular
cares. In a well-ordered city every man flies to the assemblies:
under a bad government no one cares to stir a step to get to them,
because no one is interested in what happens there, because it is
foreseen that the general will will not prevail, and lastly because
domestic cares are all-absorbing. Good laws lead to the making of
better ones; bad ones bring about worse. As soon as any man says of
the affairs of the State What does it matter to me? the State may
be given up for lost.

The lukewarmness of patriotism, the activity of private
interest, the vastness of States, conquest and the abuse of
government suggested the method of having deputies or
representatives of the people in the national assemblies. These are
what, in some countries, men have presumed to call the Third
Estate. Thus the individual interest of two orders is put first and
second; the public interest occupies only the third place.

Sovereignty, for the same reason as makes it inalienable, cannot
be represented; it lies essentially in the general will, and will
does not admit of representation: it is either the same, or other;
there is no intermediate possibility. The deputies of the people,
therefore, are not and cannot be its representatives: they are
merely its stewards, and can carry through no definitive acts.
Every law the people has not ratified in person is null and void
— is, in fact, not a law. The people of England regards
itself as free; but it is grossly mistaken; it is free only during
the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected,
slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing. The use it makes of the
short moments of liberty it enjoys shows indeed that it deserves to
lose them.

The idea of representation is modern; it comes to us from feudal
government, from that iniquitous and absurd system which degrades
humanity and dishonours the name of man. In ancient republics and
even in monarchies, the people never had representatives; the word
itself was unknown. It is very singular that in Rome, where the
tribunes were so sacrosanct, it was never even imagined that they
could usurp the functions of the people, and that in the midst of
so great a multitude they never attempted to pass on their own
authority a single plebiscitum. We can, however, form an idea of
the difficulties caused sometimes by the people being so numerous,
from what happened in the time of the Gracchi, when some of the
citizens had to cast their votes from the roofs of buildings.

Where right and liberty are everything, disadvantages count for
nothing. Among this wise people everything was given its just
value, its lictors were allowed to do what its tribunes would never
have dared to attempt; for it had no fear that its lictors would
try to represent it.

To explain, however, in what way the tribunes did sometimes
represent it, it is enough to conceive how the government
represents the Sovereign. Law being purely the declaration of the
general will, it is clear that, in the exercise of the legislative
power, the people cannot be represented; but in that of the
executive power, which is only the force that is applied to give
the law effect, it both can and should be represented. We thus see
that if we looked closely into the matter we should find that very
few nations have any laws. However that may be, it is certain that
the tribunes, possessing no executive power, could never represent
the Roman people by right of the powers entrusted to them, but only
by usurping those of the senate.

In Greece, all that the people had to do, it did for itself; it
was constantly assembled in the public square. The Greeks lived in
a mild climate; they had no natural greed; slaves did their work
for them; their great concern was with liberty. Lacking the same
advantages, how can you preserve the same rights? Your severer
climates add to your needs;[31] for
half the year your public squares are uninhabitable; the flatness
of your languages unfits them for being heard in the open air; you
sacrifice more for profit than for liberty, and fear slavery less
than poverty.

What then? Is liberty maintained only by the help of slavery? It
may be so. Extremes meet. Everything that is not in the course of
nature has its disadvantages, civil society most of all. There are
some unhappy circumstances in which we can only keep our liberty at
others' expense, and where the citizen can be perfectly free only
when the slave is most a slave. Such was the case with Sparta. As
for you, modern peoples, you have no slaves, but you are slaves
yourselves; you pay for their liberty with your own. It is in vain
that you boast of this preference; I find in it more cowardice than

I do not mean by all this that it is necessary to have slaves,
or that the right of slavery is legitimate: I am merely giving the
reasons why modern peoples, believing themselves to be free, have
representatives, while ancient peoples had none. In any case, the
moment a people allows itself to be represented, it is no long
free: it no longer exists.

All things considered, I do not see that it is possible
henceforth for the Sovereign to preserve among us the exercise of
its rights, unless the city is very small. But if it is very small,
it will be conquered? No. I will show later on how the external
strength of a great people[32] may be
combined with the convenient polity and good order of a small

16. That the Institution of Government is not a

THE legislative power once well established, the next thing is
to establish similarly the executive power; for this latter, which
operates only by particular acts, not being of the essence of the
former, is naturally separate from it. Were it possible for the
Sovereign, as such, to possess the executive power, right and fact
would be so confounded that no one could tell what was law and what
was not; and the body politic, thus disfigured, would soon fall a
prey to the violence it was instituted to prevent.

As the citizens, by the social contract, are all equal, all can
prescribe what all should do, but no one has a right to demand that
another shall do what he does not do himself. It is strictly this
right, which is indispensable for giving the body politic life and
movement, that the Sovereign, in instituting the government,
confers upon the prince.

It has been held that this act of establishment was a contract
between the people and the rulers it sets over itself, — a
contract in which conditions were laid down between the two parties
binding the one to command and the other to obey. It will be
admitted, I am sure, that this is an odd kind of contract to enter
into. But let us see if this view can be upheld.

First, the supreme authority can no more be modified than it can
be alienated; to limit it is to destroy it. It is absurd and
contradictory for the Sovereign to set a superior over itself; to
bind itself to obey a master would be to return to absolute

Moreover, it is clear that this contract between the people and
such and such persons would be a particular act; and from this is
follows that it can be neither a law nor an act of Sovereignty, and
that consequently it would be illegitimate.

It is plain too that the contracting parties in relation to each
other would be under the law of nature alone and wholly without
guarantees of their mutual undertakings, a position wholly at
variance with the civil state. He who has force at his command
being always in a position to control execution, it would come to
the same thing if the name "contract" were given to the act of one
man who said to another: "I give you all my goods, on condition
that you give me back as much of them as you please."

There is only one contract in the State, and that is the act of
association, which in itself excludes the existence of a second. It
is impossible to conceive of any public contract that would not be
a violation of the first.

17. The Institution of Government

UNDER what general idea then should the act by which government
is instituted be conceived as falling? I will begin by stating that
the act is complex, as being composed of two others — the
establishment of the law and its execution.

By the former, the Sovereign decrees that there shall be a
governing body established in this or that form; this act is
clearly a law.

By the latter, the people nominates the rulers who are to be
entrusted with the government that has been established. This
nomination, being a particular act, is clearly not a second law,
but merely a consequence of the first and a function of

The difficulty is to understand how there can be a governmental
act before government exists, and how the people, which is only
Sovereign or subject, can, under certain circumstances, become a
prince or magistrate.

It is at this point that there is revealed one of the
astonishing properties of the body politic, by means of which it
reconciles apparently contradictory operations; for this is
accomplished by a sudden conversion of Sovereignty into democracy,
so that, without sensible change, and merely by virtue of a new
relation of all to all, the citizens become magistrates and pass
from general to particular acts, from legislation to the execution
of the law.

This changed relation is no speculative subtlety without
instances in practice: it happens every day in the English
Parliament, where, on certain occasions, the Lower House resolves
itself into Grand Committee, for the better discussion of affairs,
and thus, from being at one moment a sovereign court, becomes at
the next a mere commission; so that subsequently it reports to
itself, as House of Commons, the result of its proceedings in Grand
Committee, and debates over again under one name what it has
already settled under another.

It is, indeed, the peculiar advantage of democratic government
that it can be established in actuality by a simple act of the
general will. Subsequently, this provisional government remains in
power, if this form is adopted, or else establishes in the name of
the Sovereign the government that is prescribed by law; and thus
the whole proceeding is regular. It is impossible to set up
government in any other manner legitimately and in accordance with
the principles so far laid down.

18. How to Check the Usurpations of Government

WHAT we have just said confirms Chapter 16, and makes it clear
that the institution of government is not a contract, but a law;
that the depositaries of the executive power are not the people's
masters, but its officers; that it can set them up and pull them
down when it likes; that for them there is no question of contract,
but of obedience and that in taking charge of the functions the
State imposes on them they are doing no more than fulfilling their
duty as citizens, without having the remotest right to argue about
the conditions.

When therefore the people sets up an hereditary government,
whether it be monarchical and confined to one family, or
aristocratic and confined to a class, what it enters into is not an
undertaking; the administration is given a provisional form, until
the people chooses to order it otherwise.

It is true that such changes are always dangerous, and that the
established government should never be touched except when it comes
to be incompatible with the public good; but the circumspection
this involves is a maxim of policy and not a rule of right, and the
State is no more bound to leave civil authority in the hands of its
rulers than military authority in the hands of its generals.

It is also true that it is impossible to be too careful to
observe, in such cases, all the formalities necessary to
distinguish a regular and legitimate act from a seditious tumult,
and the will of a whole people from the clamour of a faction. Here
above all no further concession should be made to the untoward
possibility than cannot, in the strictest logic, be refused it.
From this obligation the prince derives a great advantage in
preserving his power despite the people, without it being possible
to say he has usurped it; for, seeming to avail himself only of his
rights, he finds it very easy to extend them, and to prevent, under
the pretext of keeping the peace, assemblies that are destined to
the re-establishment of order; with the result that he takes
advantage of a silence he does not allow to be broken, or of
irregularities he causes to be committed, to assume that he has the
support of those whom fear prevents from speaking, and to punish
those who dare to speak. Thus it was that the decemvirs, first
elected for one year and then kept on in office for a second, tried
to perpetuate their power by forbidding the comitia to assemble;
and by this easy method every government in the world, once clothed
with the public power, sooner or later usurps the sovereign

The periodical assemblies of which I have already spoken are
designed to prevent or postpone this calamity, above all when they
need no formal summoning; for in that case, the prince cannot stop
them without openly declaring himself a law-breaker and an enemy of
the State.

The opening of these assemblies, whose sole object is the
maintenance of the social treaty, should always take the form of
putting two propositions that may not be suppressed, which should
be voted on separately.

The first is: "Does it please the Sovereign to preserve the
present form of government?"

The second is: "Does it please the people to leave its
administration in the hands of those who are actually in charge of

I am here assuming what I think I have shown; that there is in
the State no fundamental law that cannot be revoked, not excluding
the social compact itself; for if all the citizens assembled of one
accord to break the compact, it is impossible to doubt that it
would be very legitimately broken. Grotius even thinks that each
man can renounce his membership of his own State, and recover his
natural liberty and his goods on leaving the country."#note33">[33] It would be indeed absurd if all the
citizens in assembly could not do what each can do by himself.

18 Thus at Venice the College, even in the
absence of the Doge, is called "Most Serene Prince."

19 The Palatine of Posen, father of the King
of Poland, Duke of Lorraine.

20 I prefer liberty with danger to peace with

21 It is clear that the word optimales meant,
among the ancients, not the best, but the most powerful.

22 It is of great importance that the form of
the election of magistrates should be regulated by law; for if it
is left at the discretion of the prince, it is impossible to avoid
falling into hereditary aristocracy, as the Republics of Venice and
Berne actually did. The first of these has therefore long been a
State dissolved; the second, however, is maintained by the extreme
wisdom of the senate, and forms an honourable and highly dangerous

23 Machiavelli was a proper man and a good
citizen; but, being attached to the court of the Medici, he could
not help veiling his love of liberty in the midst of his country's
oppression. The choice of his detestable hero, Caesar Borgia,
clearly enough shows his hidden aim; and the contradiction between
the teaching of the Prince and that of the Discourses on Livy and
the History of Florence shows that this profound political thinker
has so far been studied only by superficial or corrupt readers. The
Court of Rome sternly prohibited his book. I can well believe it;
for it is that Court it most clearly portrays.

24 "">Tacitus,
Histories, i. 16.
"For the best, and also the shortest way of
finding out what is good and what is bad is to consider what you
would have wished to happen or not to happen, had another than you
been Emperor."

25 In the Statesman.

26 This does not contradict what I said before
(Book II, ch. 9) about the disadvantages
of great States; for we were then dealing with the authority of the
government over the members, while here we are dealing with its
force against the subjects. Its scattered members serve it as
rallying-points for action against the people at a distance, but it
has no rallying-point for direct action on its members themselves.
Thus the length of the lever is its weakness in the one case, and
its strength in the other.

27 On the same principle it should be judged
what centuries deserve the preference for human prosperity. Those
in which letters and arts have flourished have been too much
admired, because the hidden object of their culture has not been
fathomed, and their fatal effects not taken into account. "ldque
apud imperitos humanitas vocabatur, cum pars servitutis esset."
(Fools called "humanity" what was a part of slavery, Tacitus,
Agricola, 31.) Shall we never see in the maxims books lay down the
vulgar interest that makes their writers speak? No, whatever they
may say, when, despite its renown, a country is depopulated, it is
not true that all is well, and it is not enough that a poet should
have an income of 100,000 francs to make his age the best of all.
Less attention should be paid to the apparent repose and
tranquillity of the rulers than to the well-being of their nations
as wholes, and above all of the most numerous States. A hail-storm
lays several cantons waste, but it rarely makes a famine. Outbreaks
and civil wars give rulers rude shocks, but they are not the real
ills of peoples, who may even get a respite, while there is a
dispute as to who shall tyrannise over them. Their true prosperity
and calamities come from their permanent condition: it is when the
whole remains crushed beneath the yoke, that decay sets in, and
that the rulers destroy them at will, and "ubi solitudinem faciunt,
pacem appellant." (Where they create solitude, they call it peace,
Tacitus, Agricola, 31.) When the bickerings of the great disturbed
the kingdom of France, and the Coadjutor of Paris took a dagger in
his pocket to the Parliament, these things did not prevent the
people of France from prospering and multiplying in dignity, ease
and freedom. Long ago Greece flourished in the midst of the most
savage wars; blood ran in torrents, and yet the whole country was
covered with inhabitants. It appeared, says Machiavelli, that in
the midst of murder, proscription and civil war, our republic only
throve: the virtue, morality and independence of the citizens did
more to strengthen it than all their dissensions had done to
enfeeble it. A little disturbance gives the soul elasticity; what
makes the race truly prosperous is not so much peace as

28 The slow formation and the progress of the
Republic of Venice in its lagoons are a notable instance of this
sequence; and it is most astonishing that, after more than twelve
hundred years' existence, the Venetians seem to be still at the
second stage, which they reached with the Serrar di Consiglio in
1198. As for the ancient Dukes who are brought up against them, it
is proved, whatever the Squittinio della libertà veneta may say of
them, that they were in no sense sovereigns.

A case certain to be cited against my view is that of the Roman
Republic, which, it will be said, followed exactly the opposite
course, and passed from monarchy to aristocracy and from
aristocracy to democracy. I by no means take this view of it.

What Romulus first set up was a mixed government, which soon
deteriorated into despotism. From special causes, the State died an
untimely death, as new-born children sometimes perish without
reaching manhood. The expulsion of the Tarquins was the real period
of the birth of the Republic. But at first it took on no constant
form, because, by not abolishing the patriciate, it left half its
work undone. For, by this means, hereditary aristocracy, the worst
of all legitimate forms of administration, remained in conflict
with democracy, and the form of the government, as Machiavelli has
proved, was only fixed on the establishment of the tribunate: only
then was there a true government and a veritable democracy. In
fact, the people was then not only Sovereign, but also magistrate
and judge; the senate was only a subordinate tribunal, to temper
and concentrate the government, and the consuls themselves, though
they were patricians, first magistrates, and absolute generals in
war, were in Rome itself no more than presidents of the people.

From that point, the government followed its natural tendency,
and inclined strongly to aristocracy. The patriciate, we may say,
abolished itself, and the aristocracy was found no longer in the
body of patricians as at Venice and Genoa, but in the body of the
senate, which was composed of patricians and plebeians, and even in
the body of tribunes when they began to usurp an active function:
for names do not affect facts, and, when the people has rulers who
govern for it, whatever name they bear, the government is an

The abuse of aristocracy led to the civil wars and the
triumvirate. Sulla, Julius Caesar and Augustus became in fact real
monarchs; and finally, under the despotism of Tiberius, the State
was dissolved. Roman history then confirms, instead of
invalidating, the principle I have laid down.

29 "Omnes enim et habentur et dicuntur
tyranni, qui potestate utuntur perpetua in ea civitate quæ
libertate usa est" (Cornelius Nepos, Life of Miltiades). (For all
those are called and considered tyrants, who hold perpetual power
in a State that has known liberty.) It is true that Aristotle
(Ethics, Book viii, chapter x) distinguishes the tyrant from the
king by the fact that the former governs in his own interest, and
the latter only for the good of his subjects; but not only did all
Greek authors in general use the word tyrant in a different sense,
as appears most clearly in Xenophon's Hiero, but also it would
follow from Aristotle's distinction that, from the very beginning
of the world, there has not yet been a single king.

30 In nearly the same sense as this word has
in the English Parliament. The similarity of these functions would
have brought the consuls and the tribunes into conflict, even had
all jurisdiction been suspended.

31 To adopt in cold countries the luxury and
effeminacy of the East is to desire to submit to its chains; it is
indeed to bow to them far more inevitably in our case than in

32 I had intended to do this in the sequel to
this work, when in dealing with external relations I came to the
subject of confederations. The subject is quite new, and its
principles have still to be laid down.

33 Provided, of course, he does not leave to
escape his obligations and avoid having to serve his country in the
hour of need. Flight in such a case would be criminal and
punishable, and would be, not withdrawal, but desertion.


1. That the General Will is Indestructible

AS long as several men in assembly regard themselves as a single
body, they have only a single will which is concerned with their
common preservation and general well-being. In this case, all the
springs of the State are vigorous and simple and its rules clear
and luminous; there are no embroilments or conflicts of interests;
the common good is everywhere clearly apparent, and only good sense
is needed to perceive it. Peace, unity and equality are the enemies
of political subtleties. Men who are upright and simple are
difficult to deceive because of their simplicity; lures and
ingenious pretexts fail to impose upon them, and they are not even
subtle enough to be dupes. When, among the happiest people in the
world, bands of peasants are seen regulating affairs of State under
an oak, and always acting wisely, can we help scorning the
ingenious methods of other nations, which make themselves
illustrious and wretched with so much art and mystery?

A State so governed needs very few laws; and, as it becomes
necessary to issue new ones, the necessity is universally seen. The
first man to propose them merely says what all have already felt,
and there is no question of factions or intrigues or eloquence in
order to secure the passage into law of what every one has already
decided to do, as soon as he is sure that the rest will act with

Theorists are led into error because, seeing only States that
have been from the beginning wrongly constituted, they are struck
by the impossibility of applying such a policy to them. They make
great game of all the absurdities a clever rascal or an insinuating
speaker might get the people of Paris or London to believe. They do
not know that Cromwell would have been put to "the bells" by the
people of Berne, and the Duc de Beaufort on the treadmill by the

But when the social bond begins to be relaxed and the State to
grow weak, when particular interests begin to make themselves felt
and the smaller societies to exercise an influence over the larger,
the common interest changes and finds opponents: opinion is no
longer unanimous; the general will ceases to be the will of all;
contradictory views and debates arise; and the best advice is not
taken without question.

Finally, when the State, on the eve of ruin, maintains only a
vain, illusory and formal existence, when in every heart the social
bond is broken, and the meanest interest brazenly lays hold of the
sacred name of "public good," the general will becomes mute: all
men, guided by secret motives, no more give their views as citizens
than if the State had never been; and iniquitous decrees directed
solely to private interest get passed under the name of laws.

Does it follow from this that the general will is exterminated
or corrupted? Not at all: it is always constant, unalterable and
pure; but it is subordinated to other wills which encroach upon its
sphere. Each man, in detaching his interest from the common
interest, sees clearly that he cannot entirely separate them; but
his share in the public mishaps seems to him negligible beside the
exclusive good he aims at making his own. Apart from this
particular good, he wills the general good in his own interest, as
strongly as any one else. Even in selling his vote for money, he
does not extinguish in himself the general will, but only eludes
it. The fault he commits is that of changing the state of the
question, and answering something different from what he is asked.
Instead of saying, by his vote, "It is to the advantage of the
State," he says, "It is of advantage to this or that man or party
that this or that view should prevail." Thus the law of public
order in assemblies is not so much to maintain in them the general
will as to secure that the question be always put to it, and the
answer always given by it.

I could here set down many reflections on the simple right of
voting in every act of Sovereignty — a right which no one can
take from the citizens — and also on the right of stating
views, making proposals, dividing and discussing, which the
government is always most careful to leave solely to its members,
but this important subject would need a treatise to itself, and it
is impossible to say everything in a single work.

2. Voting

IT may be seen, from the last chapter, that the way in which
general business is managed may give a clear enough indication of
the actual state of morals and the health of the body politic. The
more concert reigns in the assemblies, that is, the nearer opinion
approaches unanimity, the greater is the dominance of the general
will. On the other hand, long debates, dissensions and tumult
proclaim the ascendancy of particular interests and the decline of
the State.

This seems less clear when two or more orders enter into the
constitution, as patricians and plebeians did at Rome; for quarrels
between these two orders often disturbed the comitia, even in the
best days of the Republic. But the exception is rather apparent
than real; for then, through the defect that is inherent in the
body politic, there were, so to speak, two States in one, and what
is not true of the two together is true of either separately.
Indeed, even in the most stormy times, the plebiscita of the
people, when the Senate did not interfere with them, always went
through quietly and by large majorities. The citizens having but
one interest, the people had but a single will.

At the other extremity of the circle, unanimity recurs; this is
the case when the citizens, having fallen into servitude, have lost
both liberty and will. Fear and flattery then change votes into
acclamation; deliberation ceases, and only worship or malediction
is left. Such was the vile manner in which the senate expressed its
views under the Emperors. It did so sometimes with absurd
precautions. Tacitus observes that, under Otho, the senators, while
they heaped curses on Vitellius, contrived at the same time to make
a deafening noise, in order that, should he ever become their
master, he might not know what each of them had said.

On these various considerations depend the rules by which the
methods of counting votes and comparing opinions should be
regulated, according as the general will is more or less easy to
discover, and the State more or less in its decline.

There is but one law which, from its nature, needs unanimous
consent. This is the social compact; for civil association is the
most voluntary of all acts. Every man being born free and his own
master, no one, under any pretext whatsoever, can make any man
subject without his consent. To decide that the son of a slave is
born a slave is to decide that he is not born a man.

If then there are opponents when the social compact is made,
their opposition does not invalidate the contract, but merely
prevents them from being included in it. They are foreigners among
citizens. When the State is instituted, residence constitutes
consent; to dwell within its territory is to submit to the

Apart from this primitive contract, the vote of the majority
always binds all the rest. This follows from the contract itself.
But it is asked how a man can be both free and forced to conform to
wills that are not his own. How are the opponents at once free and
subject to laws they have not agreed to?

I retort that the question is wrongly put. The citizen gives his
consent to all the laws, including those which are passed in spite
of his opposition, and even those which punish him when he dares to
break any of them. The constant will of all the members of the
State is the general will; by virtue of it they are citizens and
free.[35] When in the popular assembly
a law is proposed, what the people is asked is not exactly whether
it approves or rejects the proposal, but whether it is in
conformity with the general will, which is their will. Each man, in
giving his vote, states his opinion on that point; and the general
will is found by counting votes. When therefore the opinion that is
contrary to my own prevails, this proves neither more nor less than
that I was mistaken, and that what I thought to be the general will
was not so. If my particular opinion had carried the day I should
have achieved the opposite of what was my will; and it is in that
case that I should not have been free.

This presupposes, indeed, that all the qualities of the general
will still reside in the majority: when they cease to do so,
whatever side a man may take, liberty is no longer possible.

In my earlier demonstration of how particular wills are
substituted for the general will in public deliberation, I have
adequately pointed out the practicable methods of avoiding this
abuse; and I shall have more to say of them later on. I have also
given the principles for determining the proportional number of
votes for declaring that will. A difference of one vote destroys
equality; a single opponent destroys unanimity; but between
equality and unanimity, there are several grades of unequal
division, at each of which this proportion may be fixed in
accordance with the condition and the needs of the body

There are two general rules that may serve to regulate this
relation. First, the more grave and important the questions
discussed, the nearer should the opinion that is to prevail
approach unanimity. Secondly, the more the matter in hand calls for
speed, the smaller the prescribed difference in the numbers of
votes may be allowed to become: where an instant decision has to be
reached, a majority of one vote should be enough. The first of
these two rules seems more in harmony with the laws, and the second
with practical affairs. In any case, it is the combination of them
that gives the best proportions for determining the majority

3. Elections

IN the elections of the prince and the magistrates, which are,
as I have said, complex acts, there are two possible methods of
procedure, choice and lot. Both have been employed in various
republics, and a highly complicated mixture of the two still
survives in the election of the Doge at Venice.

"Election by lot," says Montesquieu, "is democratic in
nature."E3 I agree that it is so; but in what sense? "The lot," he
goes on, "is a way of making choice that is unfair to nobody; it
leaves each citizen a reasonable hope of serving his country."
These are not reasons.

If we bear in mind that the election of rulers is a function of
government, and not of Sovereignty, we shall see why the lot is the
method more natural to democracy, in which the administration is
better in proportion as the number of its acts is small.

In every real democracy, magistracy is not an advantage, but a
burdensome charge which cannot justly be imposed on one individual
rather than another. The law alone can lay the charge on him on
whom the lot falls. For, the conditions being then the same for
all, and the choice not depending on any human will, there is no
particular application to alter the universality of the law.

In an aristocracy, the prince chooses the prince, the government
is preserved by itself, and voting is rightly ordered.

The instance of the election of the Doge of Venice confirms,
instead of destroying, this distinction; the mixed form suits a
mixed government. For it is an error to take the government of
Venice for a real aristocracy. If the people has no share in the
government, the nobility is itself the people. A host of poor
Barnabotes never gets near any magistracy, and its nobility
consists merely in the empty title of Excellency, and in the right
to sit in the Great Council. As this Great Council is as numerous
as our General Council at Geneva, its illustrious members have no
more privileges than our plain citizens. It is indisputable that,
apart from the extreme disparity between the two republics, the
bourgeoisie of Geneva is exactly equivalent to the patriciate of
Venice; our natives and inhabitants correspond to the townsmen and
the people of Venice; our peasants correspond to the subjects on
the mainland; and, however that republic be regarded, if its size
be left out of account, its government is no more aristocratic than
our own. The whole difference is that, having no life-ruler, we do
not, like Venice, need to use the lot.

Election by lot would have few disadvantages in a real
democracy, in which, as equality would everywhere exist in morals
and talents as well as in principles and fortunes, it would become
almost a matter of indifference who was chosen. But I have already
said that a real democracy is only an ideal.

When choice and lot are combined, positions that require special
talents, such as military posts, should be filled by the former;
the latter does for cases, such as judicial offices, in which good
sense, justice, and integrity are enough, because in a State that
is well constituted, these qualities are common to all the

Neither lot nor vote has any place in monarchical government.
The monarch being by right sole prince and only magistrate, the
choice of his lieutenants belongs to none but him. When the Abbé de
Saint-Pierre proposed that the Councils of the King of France
should be multiplied, and their members elected by ballot, he did
not see that he was proposing to change the form of government.

I should now speak of the methods of giving and counting
opinions in the assembly of the people; but perhaps an account of
this aspect of the Roman constitution will more forcibly illustrate
all the rules I could lay down. It is worth the while of a
judicious reader to follow in some detail the working of public and
private affairs in a Council consisting of two hundred thousand

4. The Roman Comitia

WE are without well-certified records of the first period of
Rome's existence; it even appears very probable that most of the
stories told about it are fables; indeed, generally speaking, the
most instructive part of the history of peoples, that which deals
with their foundation, is what we have least of. Experience teaches
us every day what causes lead to the revolutions of empires; but,
as no new peoples are now formed, we have almost nothing beyond
conjecture to go upon in explaining how they were created.

The customs we find established show at least that these customs
had an origin. The traditions that go back to those origins, that
have the greatest authorities behind them, and that are confirmed
by the strongest proofs, should pass for the most certain. These
are the rules I have tried to follow in inquiring how the freest
and most powerful people on earth exercised its supreme power.

After the foundation of Rome, the new-born republic, that is,
the army of its founder, composed of Albans, Sabines and
foreigners, was divided into three classes, which, from this
division, took the name of tribes. Each of these tribes was
subdivided into ten curiæ, and each curia into decuriæ, headed by
leaders called curiones and decuriones.

Besides this, out of each tribe was taken a body of one hundred
Equites or Knights, called a century, which shows that these
divisions, being unnecessary in a town, were at first merely
military. But an instinct for greatness seems to have led the
little township of Rome to provide itself in advance with a
political system suitable for the capital of the world.

Out of this original division an awkward situation soon arose.
The tribes of the Albans (Ramnenses) and the Sabines (Tatienses)
remained always in the same condition, while that of the foreigners
(Luceres) continually grew as more and more foreigners came to live
at Rome, so that it soon surpassed the others in strength. Servius
remedied this dangerous fault by changing the principle of
cleavage, and substituting for the racial division, which he
abolished, a new one based on the quarter of the town inhabited by
each tribe. Instead of three tribes he created four, each occupying
and named after one of the hills of Rome. Thus, while redressing
the inequality of the moment, he also provided for the future; and
in order that the division might be one of persons as well as
localities, he forbade the inhabitants of one quarter to migrate to
another, and so prevented the mingling of the races.

He also doubled the three old centuries of Knights and added
twelve more, still keeping the old names, and by this simple and
prudent method, succeeded in making a distinction between the body
of Knights, and the people, without a murmur from the latter.

To the four urban tribes Servius added fifteen others called
rural tribes, because they consisted of those who lived in the
country, divided into fifteen cantons. Subsequently, fifteen more
were created, and the Roman people finally found itself divided
into thirty-five tribes, as it remained down to the end of the

The distinction between urban and rural tribes had one effect
which is worth mention, both because it is without parallel
elsewhere, and because to it Rome owed the preservation of her
morality and the enlargement of her empire. We should have expected
that the urban tribes would soon monopolise power and honours, and
lose no time in bringing the rural tribes into disrepute; but what
happened was exactly the reverse. The taste of the early Romans for
country life is well known. This taste they owed to their wise
founder, who made rural and military labours go along with liberty,
and, so to speak, relegated to the town arts, crafts, intrigue,
fortune and slavery.

Since therefore all Rome's most illustrious citizens lived in
the fields and tilled the earth, men grew used to seeking there
alone the mainstays of the republic. This condition, being that of
the best patricians, was honoured by all men; the simple and
laborious life of the villager was preferred to the slothful and
idle life of the bourgeoisie of Rome; and he who, in the town,
would have been but a wretched proletarian, became, as a labourer
in the fields, a respected citizen. Not without reason, says Varro,
did our great-souled ancestors establish in the village the nursery
of the sturdy and valiant men who defended them in time of war and
provided for their sustenance in time of peace. Pliny states
positively that the country tribes were honoured because of the men
of whom they were composed; while cowards men wished to dishonour
were transferred, as a public disgrace, to the town tribes. The
Sabine Appius Claudius, when he had come to settle in Rome, was
loaded with honours and enrolled in a rural tribe, which
subsequently took his family name. Lastly, freedmen always entered
the urban, arid never the rural, tribes: nor is there a single
example, throughout the Republic, of a freedman, though he had
become a citizen, reaching any magistracy.

This was an excellent rule; but it was carried so far that in
the end it led to a change and certainly to an abuse in the
political system.

First the censors, after having for a long time claimed the
right of transferring citizens arbitrarily from one tribe to
another, allowed most persons to enrol themselves in whatever tribe
they pleased. This permission certainly did no good, and further
robbed the censorship of one of its greatest resources. Moreover,
as the great and powerful all got themselves enrolled in the
country tribes, while the freedmen who had become citizens remained
with the populace in the town tribes, both soon ceased to have any
local or territorial meaning, and all were so confused that the
members of one could not be told from those of another except by
the registers; so that the idea of the word tribe became personal
instead of real, or rather came to be little more than a

It happened in addition that the town tribes, being more on the
spot, were often the stronger in the comitia and sold the State to
those who stooped to buy the votes of the rabble composing

As the founder had set up ten curiæ in each tribe, the whole
Roman people, which was then contained within the walls, consisted
of thirty curiæ, each with its temples, its gods, its officers, its
priests and its festivals, which were called compitalia and
corresponded to the paganalia, held in later times by the rural

When Servius made his new division, as the thirty curiæ could
not be shared equally between his four tribes, and as he was
unwilling to interfere with them, they became a further division of
the inhabitants of Rome, quite independent of the tribes: but in
the case of the rural tribes and their members there was no
question of curiæ, as the tribes had then become a purely civil
institution, and, a new system of levying troops having been
introduced, the military divisions of Romulus were superfluous.
Thus, although every citizen was enrolled in a tribe, there were
very many who were not members of a curia.

Servius made yet a third division, quite distinct from the two
we have mentioned, which became, in its effects, the most important
of all. He distributed the whole Roman people into six classes,
distinguished neither by place nor by person, but by wealth; the
first classes included the rich, the last the poor, and those
between persons of moderate means. These six classes were
subdivided into one hundred and ninety-three other bodies, called
centuries, which were so divided that the first class alone
comprised more than half of them, while the last comprised only
one. Thus the class that had the smallest number of members had the
largest number of centuries, and the whole of the last class only
counted as a single subdivision, although it alone included more
than half the inhabitants of Rome.

In order that the people might have the less insight into the
results of this arrangement, Servius tried to give it a military
tone: in the second class he inserted two centuries of armourers,
and in the fourth two of makers of instruments of war: in each
class, except the last, he distinguished young and old, that is,
those who were under an obligation to bear arms and those whose age
gave them legal exemption. It was this distinction, rather than
that of wealth, which required frequent repetition of the census or
counting. Lastly, he ordered that the assembly should be held in
the Campus Martius, and that all who were of age to serve should
come there armed.

The reason for his not making in the last class also the
division of young and old was that the populace, of whom it was
composed, was not given the right to bear arms for its country: a
man had to possess a hearth to acquire the right to defend it, and
of all the troops of beggars who to-day lend lustre to the armies
of kings, there is perhaps not one who would not have been driven
with scorn out of a Roman cohort, at a time when soldiers were the
defenders of liberty.

In this last class, however, proletarians were distinguished
from capite censi. The former, not quite reduced to nothing, at
least gave the State citizens, and sometimes, when the need was
pressing, even soldiers. Those who had nothing at all, and could be
numbered only by counting heads, were regarded as of absolutely no
account, and Marius was the first who stooped to enrol them.

Without deciding now whether this third arrangement was good or
bad in itself, I think I may assert that it could have been made
practicable only by the simple morals, the disinterestedness, the
liking for agriculture and the scorn for commerce and for love of
gain which characterised the early Romans. Where is the modern
people among whom consuming greed, unrest, intrigue, continual
removals, and perpetual changes of fortune, could let such a system
last for twenty years without turning the State upside down? We
must indeed observe that morality and the censorship, being
stronger than this institution, corrected its defects at Rome, and
that the rich man found himself degraded to the class of the poor
for making too much display of his riches.

From all this it is easy to understand why only five classes are
almost always mentioned, though there were really six. The sixth,
as it furnished neither soldiers to the army nor votes in the
Campus Martius,[36] and was almost
without function in the State, was seldom regarded as of any

These were the various ways in which the Roman people was
divided. Let us now see the effect on the assemblies. When lawfully
summoned, these were called comitia: they were usually held in the
public square at Rome or in the Campus Martius, and were
distinguished as comitia curiata, comitia centuriata, and comitia
tributa, according to the form under which they were convoked. The
comitia curiata were founded by Romulus; the centuriata by Servius;
and the tributa by the tribunes of the people. No law received its
sanction and no magistrate was elected, save in the comitia; and as
every citizen was enrolled in a curia, a century, or a tribe, it
follows that no citizen was excluded from the right of voting, and
that the Roman people was truly sovereign both de jure and de

For the comitia to be lawfully assembled, and for their acts to
have the force of law, three conditions were necessary. First, the
body or magistrate convoking them had to possess the necessary
authority; secondly, the assembly had to be held on a day allowed
by law; and thirdly, the auguries had to be favourable.

The reason for the first regulation needs no explanation; the
second is a matter of policy. Thus, the comitia might not be held
on festivals or market-days, when the country-folk, coming to Rome
on business, had not time to spend the day in the public square. By
means of the third, the senate held in check the proud and restive
people, and meetly restrained the ardour of seditious tribunes,
who, however, found more than one way of escaping this

Laws and the election of rulers were not the only questions
submitted to the judgment of the comitia: as the Roman people had
taken on itself the most important functions of government, it may
be said that the lot of Europe was regulated in its assemblies. The
variety of their objects gave rise to the various forms these took,
according to the matters on which they had to pronounce.

In order to judge of these various forms, it is enough to
compare them. Romulus, when he set up curia, had in view the
checking of the senate by the people, and of the people by the
senate, while maintaining his ascendancy over both alike. He
therefore gave the people, by means of this assembly, all the
authority of numbers to balance that of power and riches, which he
left to the patricians. But, after the spirit of monarchy, he left
all the same a greater advantage to the patricians in the influence
of their clients on the majority of votes. This excellent
institution of patron and client was a masterpiece of statesmanship
and humanity without which the patriciate, being flagrantly in
contradiction to the republican spirit, could not have survived.
Rome alone has the honour of having given to the world this great
example, which never led to any abuse, and yet has never been

As the assemblies by curiæ persisted under the kings till the
time of Servius, and the reign of the later Tarquin was not
regarded as legitimate, royal laws were called generally leges

Under the Republic, the curiæ, still confined to the four urban
tribes, and including only the populace of Rome, suited neither the
senate, which led the patricians, nor the tribunes, who, though
plebeians, were at the head of the well-to-do citizens. They
therefore fell into disrepute, and their degradation was such, that
thirty lictors used to assemble and do what the comitia curiata
should have done.

The division by centuries was so favourable to the aristocracy
that it is hard to see at first how the senate ever failed to carry
the day in the comitia bearing their name, by which the consuls,
the censors and the other curule magistrates were elected. Indeed,
of the hundred and ninety-three centuries into which the six
classes of the whole Roman people were divided, the first class
contained ninety-eight; and, as voting went solely by centuries,
this class alone had a majority over all the rest. When all these
centuries were in agreement, the rest of the votes were not even
taken; the decision of the smallest number passed for that of the
multitude, and it may be said that, in the comitia centuriata,
decisions were regulated far more by depth of purses than by the
number of votes.

But this extreme authority was modified in two ways. First, the
tribunes as a rule, and always a great number of plebeians,
belonged to the class of the rich, and so counterbalanced the
influence of the patricians in the first class.

The second way was this. Instead of causing the centuries to
vote throughout in order, which would have meant beginning always
with the first, the Romans always chose one by lot which proceeded
alone to the election; after this all the centuries were summoned
another day according to their rank, and the same election was
repeated, and as a rule confirmed. Thus the authority of example
was taken away from rank, and given to the lot on a democratic

From this custom resulted a further advantage. The citizens from
the country had time, between the two elections, to inform
themselves of the merits of the candidate who had been
provisionally nominated, and did not have to vote without knowledge
of the case. But, under the pretext of hastening matters, the
abolition of this custom was achieved, and both elections were held
on the same day.

The comitia tributa were properly the council of the Roman
people. They were convoked by the tribunes alone; at them the
tribunes were elected and passed their plebiscita. The senate not
only had no standing in them, but even no right to be present; and
the senators, being forced to obey laws on which they could not
vote, were in this respect less free than the meanest citizens.
This injustice was altogether ill-conceived, and was alone enough
to invalidate the decrees of a body to which all its members were
not admitted. Had all the patricians attended the comitia by virtue
of the right they had as citizens, they would not, as mere private
individuals, have had any considerable influence on a vote reckoned
by counting heads, where the meanest proletarian was as good as the
princeps senatus.

It may be seen, therefore, that besides the order which was
achieved by these various ways of distributing so great a people
and taking its votes, the various methods were not reducible to
forms indifferent in themselves, but the results of each were
relative to the objects which caused it to be preferred.

Without going here into further details, we may gather from what
has been said above that the comitia tributa were the most
favourable to popular government, and the comitia centuriata to
aristocracy. The comitia curiata, in which the populace of Rome
formed the majority, being fitted only to further tyranny and evil
designs, naturally fell into disrepute, and even seditious persons
abstained from using a method which too clearly revealed their
projects. It is indisputable that the whole majesty of the Roman
people lay solely in the comitia centuriata, which alone included
all; for the comitia curiata excluded the rural tribes, and the
comitia tributa the senate and the patricians.

As for the method of taking the vote, it was among the ancient
Romans as simple as their morals, although not so simple as at
Sparta. Each man declared his vote aloud, and a clerk duly wrote it
down; the majority in each tribe determined the vote of the tribe,
the majority of the tribes that of the people, and so with curiæ
and centuries. This custom was good as long as honesty was
triumphant among the citizens, and each man was ashamed to vote
publicly in favour of an unjust proposal or an unworthy subject;
but, when the people grew corrupt and votes were bought, it was
fitting that voting should be secret in order that purchasers might
be restrained by mistrust, and rogues be given the means of not
being traitors.

I know that Cicero attacks this change, and attributes partly to
it the ruin of the Republic. But though I feel the weight Cicero's
authority must carry on such a point, I cannot agree with him; I
hold, on the contrary, that, for want of enough such changes, the
destruction of the State must be hastened. Just as the regimen of
health does not suit the sick, we should not wish to govern a
people that has been corrupted by the laws that a good people
requires. There is no better proof of this rule than the long life
of the Republic of Venice, of which the shadow still exists, solely
because its laws are suitable only for men who are wicked.

The citizens were provided, therefore, with tablets by means of
which each man could vote without any one knowing how he voted: new
methods were also introduced for collecting the tablets, for
counting voices, for comparing numbers, etc.; but all these
precautions did not prevent the good faith of the officers charged
with these functions[37] from being
often suspect. Finally, to prevent intrigues and trafficking in
votes, edicts were issued; but their very number proves how useless
they were.

Towards the close of the Republic, it was often necessary to
have recourse to extraordinary expedients in order to supplement
the inadequacy of the laws. Sometimes miracles were supposed; but
this method, while it might impose on the people, could not impose
on those who governed. Sometimes an assembly was hastily called
together, before the candidates had time to form their factions:
sometimes a whole sitting was occupied with talk, when it was seen
that the people had been won over and was on the point of taking up
a wrong position. But in the end ambition eluded all attempts to
check it; and the most incredible fact of all is that, in the midst
of all these abuses, the vast people, thanks to its ancient
regulations, never ceased to elect magistrates, to pass laws, to
judge cases, and to carry through business both public and private,
almost as easily as the senate itself could have done.

5. The Tribunate

WHEN an exact proportion cannot be established between the
constituent parts of the State, or when causes that cannot be
removed continually alter the relation of one part to another,
recourse is had to the institution of a peculiar magistracy that
enters into no corporate unity with the rest. This restores to each
term its right relation to the others, and provides a link or
middle term between either prince and people, or prince and
Sovereign, or, if necessary, both at once.

This body, which I shall call the tribunate, is the preserver of
the laws and of the legislative power. It serves sometimes to
protect the Sovereign against the government, as the tribunes of
the people did at Rome; sometimes to uphold the government against
the people, as the Council of Ten now does at Venice; and sometimes
to maintain the balance between the two, as the Ephors did at

The tribunate is not a constituent part of the city, and should
have no share in either legislative or executive power; but this
very fact makes its own power the greater: for, while it can do
nothing, it can prevent anything from being done. It is more sacred
and more revered, as the defender of the laws, than the prince who
executes them, or than the Sovereign which ordains them. This was
seen very clearly at Rome, when the proud patricians, for all their
scorn of the people, were forced to bow before one of its officers,
who had neither auspices nor jurisdiction.

The tribunate, wisely tempered, is the strongest support a good
constitution can have; but if its strength is ever so little
excessive, it upsets the whole State. Weakness, on the other hand,
is not natural to it: provided it is something, it is never less
than it should be.

It degenerates into tyranny when it usurps the executive power,
which it should confine itself to restraining, and when it tries to
dispense with the laws, which it should confine itself to
protecting. The immense power of the Ephors, harmless as long as
Sparta preserved its morality, hastened corruption when once it had
begun. The blood of Agis, slaughtered by these tyrants, was avenged
by his successor; the crime and the punishment of the Ephors alike
hastened the destruction of the republic, and after Cleomenes
Sparta ceased to be of any account. Rome perished in the same way:
the excessive power of the tribunes, which they had usurped by
degrees, finally served, with the help of laws made to secure
liberty, as a safeguard for the emperors who destroyed it. As for
the Venetian Council of Ten, it is a tribunal of blood, an object
of horror to patricians and people alike; and, so far from giving a
lofty protection to the laws, it does nothing, now they have become
degraded, but strike in the darkness blows of which no one dare
take note.

The tribunate, like the government, grows weak as the number of
its members increases. When the tribunes of the Roman people, who
first numbered only two, and then five, wished to double that
number, the senate let them do so, in the confidence that it could
use one to check another, as indeed it afterwards freely did.

The best method of preventing usurpations by so formidable a
body, though no government has yet made use of it, would be not to
make it permanent, but to regulate the periods during which it
should remain in abeyance. These intervals, which should not be
long enough to give abuses time to grow strong, may be so fixed by
law that they can easily be shortened at need by extraordinary

This method seems to me to have no disadvantages, because, as I
have said, the tribunate, which forms no part of the constitution,
can be removed without the constitution being affected. It seems to
be also efficacious, because a newly restored magistrate starts not
with the power his predecessor exercised, but with that which the
law allows him.

6. The Dictatorship

THE inflexibility of the laws, which prevents them from adapting
themselves to circumstances, may, in certain cases, render them
disastrous, and make them bring about, at a time of crisis, the
ruin of the State. The order and slowness of the forms they enjoin
require a space of time which circumstances sometimes withhold. A
thousand cases against which the legislator has made no provision
may present themselves, and it is a highly necessary part of
foresight to be conscious that everything cannot be foreseen.

It is wrong therefore to wish to make political institutions so
strong as to render it impossible to suspend their operation. Even
Sparta allowed its laws to lapse.

However, none but the greatest dangers can counterbalance that
of changing the public order, and the sacred power of the laws
should never be arrested save when the existence of the country is
at stake. In these rare and obvious cases, provision is made for
the public security by a particular act entrusting it to him who is
most worthy. This commitment may be carried out in either of two
ways, according to the nature of the danger.

If increasing the activity of the government is a sufficient
remedy, power is concentrated in the hands of one or two of its
members: in this case the change is not in the authority of the
laws, but only in the form of administering them. If, on the other
hand, the peril is of such a kind that the paraphernalia of the
laws are an obstacle to their preservation, the method is to
nominate a supreme ruler, who shall silence all the laws and
suspend for a moment the sovereign authority. In such a case, there
is no doubt about the general will, and it is clear that the
people's first intention is that the State shall not perish. Thus
the suspension of the legislative authority is in no sense its
abolition; the magistrate who silences it cannot make it speak; he
dominates it, but cannot represent it. He can do anything, except
make laws.

The first method was used by the Roman senate when, in a
consecrated formula, it charged the consuls to provide for the
safety of the Republic. The second was employed when one of the two
consuls nominated a dictator:[38] a
custom Rome borrowed from Alba.

During the first period of the Republic, recourse was very often
had to the dictatorship, because the State had not yet a firm
enough basis to be able to maintain itself by the strength of its
constitution alone. As the state of morality then made superfluous
many of the precautions which would have been necessary at other
times, there was no fear that a dictator would abuse his authority,
or try to keep it beyond his term of office. On the contrary, so
much power appeared to be burdensome to him who was clothed with
it, and he made all speed to lay it down, as if taking the place of
the laws had been too troublesome and too perilous a position to

It is therefore the danger not of its abuse, but of its
cheapening, that makes me attack the indiscreet use of this supreme
magistracy in the earliest times. For as long as it was freely
employed at elections, dedications and purely formal functions,
there was danger of its becoming less formidable in time of need,
and of men growing accustomed to regarding as empty a title that
was used only on occasions of empty ceremonial.

Towards the end of the Republic, the Romans, having grown more
circumspect, were as unreasonably sparing in the use of the
dictatorship as they had formerly been lavish. It is easy to see
that their fears were without foundation, that the weakness of the
capital secured it against the magistrates who were in its midst;
that a dictator might, in certain cases, defend the public liberty,
but could never endanger it; and that the chains of Rome would be
forged, not in Rome itself, but in her armies. The weak resistance
offered by Marius to Sulla, and by Pompey to Cæsar, clearly showed
what was to be expected from authority at home against force from

This misconception led the Romans to make great mistakes; such,
for example, as the failure to nominate a dictator in the
Catilinarian conspiracy. For, as only the city itself, with at most
some province in Italy, was concerned, the unlimited authority the
laws gave to the dictator would have enabled him to make short work
of the conspiracy, which was, in fact, stifled only by a
combination of lucky chances human prudence had no right to

Instead, the senate contented itself with entrusting its whole
power to the consuls, so that Cicero, in order to take effective
action, was compelled on a capital point to exceed his powers; and
if, in the first transports of joy, his conduct was approved, he
was justly called, later on, to account for the blood of citizens
spilt in violation of the laws. Such a reproach could never have
been levelled at a dictator. But the consul's eloquence carried the
day; and he himself, Roman though he was, loved his own glory
better than his country, and sought, not so much the most lawful
and secure means of saving the State, as to get for himself the
whole honour of having done so.[39] He
was therefore justly honoured as the liberator of Rome, and also
justly punished as a law-breaker. However brilliant his recall may
have been, it was undoubtedly an act of pardon.

However this important trust be conferred, it is important that
its duration should be fixed at a very brief period, incapable of
being ever prolonged. In the crises which lead to its adoption, the
State is either soon lost, or soon saved; and, the present need
passed, the dictatorship becomes either tyrannical or idle. At
Rome, where dictators held office for six months only, most of them
abdicated before their time was up. If their term had been longer,
they might well have tried to prolong it still further, as the
decemvirs did when chosen for a year. The dictator had only time to
provide against the need that had caused him to be chosen; he had
none to think of further projects.

7. The Censorship

AS the law is the declaration of the general will, the
censorship is the declaration of the public judgment: public
opinion is the form of law which the censor administers, and, like
the prince, only applies to particular cases.

The censorial tribunal, so far from being the arbiter of the
people's opinion, only declares it, and, as soon as the two part
company, its decisions are null and void.

It is useless to distinguish the morality of a nation from the
objects of its esteem; both depend on the same principle and are
necessarily indistinguishable. There is no people on earth the
choice of whose pleasures is not decided by opinion rather than
nature. Right men's opinions, and their morality will purge itself.
Men always love what is good or what they find good; it is in
judging what is good that they go wrong. This judgment, therefore,
is what must be regulated. He who judges of morality judges of
honour; and he who judges of honour finds his law in opinion.

The opinions of a people are derived from its constitution;
although the law does not regulate morality, it is legislation that
gives it birth. When legislation grows weak, morality degenerates;
but in such cases the judgment of the censors will not do what the
force of the laws has failed to effect.

From this it follows that the censorship may be useful for the
preservation of morality, but can never be so for its restoration.
Set up censors while the laws are vigorous; as soon as they have
lost their vigour, all hope is gone; no legitimate power can retain
force when the laws have lost it.

The censorship upholds morality by preventing opinion from
growing corrupt, by preserving its rectitude by means of wise
applications, and sometimes even by fixing it when it is still
uncertain. The employment of seconds in duels, which had been
carried to wild extremes in the kingdom of France, was done away
with merely by these words in a royal edict: "As for those who are
cowards enough to call upon seconds." This judgment, in
anticipating that of the public, suddenly decided it. But when
edicts from the same source tried to pronounce duelling itself an
act of cowardice, as indeed it is, then, since common opinion does
not regard it as such, the public took no notice of a decision on a
point on which its mind was already made up.

I have stated elsewhere[40] that as
public opinion is not subject to any constraint, there need be no
trace of it in the tribunal set up to represent it. It is
impossible to admire too much the art with which this resource,
which we moderns have wholly lost, was employed by the Romans, and
still more by the Lacedæmonians.

A man of bad morals having made a good proposal in the Spartan
Council, the Ephors neglected it, and caused the same proposal to
be made by a virtuous citizen. What an honour for the one, and what
a disgrace for the other, without praise or blame of either!
Certain drunkards from Samos[41]
polluted the tribunal of the Ephors: the next day, a public edict
gave Samians permission to be filthy. An actual punishment would
not have been so severe as such an impunity. When Sparta has
pronounced on what is or is not right, Greece makes no appeal from
her judgments.

8. Civil Religion

AT first men had no kings save the gods, and no government save
theocracy. They reasoned like Caligula, and, at that period,
reasoned aright. It takes a long time for feeling so to change that
men can make up their minds to take their equals as masters, in the
hope that they will profit by doing so.

From the mere fact that God was set over every political
society, it followed that there were as many gods as peoples. Two
peoples that were strangers the one to the other, and almost always
enemies, could not long recognise the same master: two armies
giving battle could not obey the same leader. National divisions
thus led to polytheism, and this in turn gave rise to theological
and civil intolerance, which, as we shall see hereafter, are by
nature the same.

The fancy the Greeks had for rediscovering their gods among the
barbarians arose from the way they had of regarding themselves as
the natural Sovereigns of such peoples. But there is nothing so
absurd as the erudition which in our days identifies and confuses
gods of different nations. As if Moloch, Saturn, and Chronos could
be the same god! As if the Phoenician Baal, the Greek Zeus, and the
Latin Jupiter could be the same! As if there could still be
anything common to imaginary beings with different names!

If it is asked how in pagan times, where each State had its cult
and its gods, there were no wars of religion, I answer that it was
precisely because each State, having its own cult as well as its
own government, made no distinction between its gods and its laws.
Political war was also theological; the provinces of the gods were,
so to speak, fixed by the boundaries of nations. The god of one
people had no right over another. The gods of the pagans were not
jealous gods; they shared among themselves the empire of the world:
even Moses and the Hebrews sometimes lent themselves to this view
by speaking of the God of Israel. It is true, they regarded as
powerless the gods of the Canaanites, a proscribed people condemned
to destruction, whose place they were to take; but remember how
they spoke of the divisions of the neighbouring peoples they were
forbidden to attack! "Is not the possession of what belongs to your
god Chamos lawfully your due?" said Jephthah to the Ammonites. "We
have the same title to the lands our conquering God has made his
own."[42] Here, I think, there is a
recognition that the rights of Chamos and those of the God of
Israel are of the same nature.

But when the Jews, being subject to the Kings of Babylon, and,
subsequently, to those of Syria, still obstinately refused to
recognise any god save their own, their refusal was regarded as
rebellion against their conqueror, and drew down on them the
persecutions we read of in their history, which are without
parallel till the coming of Christianity."#note43">[43]

Every religion, therefore, being attached solely to the laws of
the State which prescribed it, there was no way of converting a
people except by enslaving it, and there could be no missionaries
save conquerors. The obligation to change cults being the law to
which the vanquished yielded, it was necessary to be victorious
before suggesting such a change. So far from men fighting for the
gods, the gods, as in Homer, fought for men; each asked his god for
victory, and repayed him with new altars. The Romans, before taking
a city, summoned its gods to quit it; and, in leaving the
Tarentines their outraged gods, they regarded them as subject to
their own and compelled to do them homage. They left the vanquished
their gods as they left them their laws. A wreath to the Jupiter of
the Capitol was often the only tribute they imposed.

Finally, when, along with their empire, the Romans had spread
their cult and their gods, and had themselves often adopted those
of the vanquished, by granting to both alike the rights of the
city, the peoples of that vast empire insensibly found themselves
with multitudes of gods and cults, everywhere almost the same; and
thus paganism throughout the known world finally came to be one and
the same religion.

It was in these circumstances that Jesus came to set up on earth
a spiritual kingdom, which, by separating the theological from the
political system, made the State no longer one, and brought about
the internal divisions which have never ceased to trouble Christian
peoples. As the new idea of a kingdom of the other world could
never have occurred to pagans, they always looked on the Christians
as really rebels, who, while feigning to submit, were only waiting
for the chance to make themselves independent and their masters,
and to usurp by guile the authority they pretended in their
weakness to respect. This was the cause of the persecutions.

What the pagans had feared took place. Then everything changed
its aspect: the humble Christians changed their language, and soon
this so-called kingdom of the other world turned, under a visible
leader, into the most violent of earthly despotisms.

However, as there have always been a prince and civil laws, this
double power and conflict of jurisdiction have made all good polity
impossible in Christian States; and men have never succeeded in
finding out whether they were bound to obey the master or the

Several peoples, however, even in Europe and its neighbourhood,
have desired without success to preserve or restore the old system:
but the spirit of Christianity has everywhere prevailed. The sacred
cult has always remained or again become independent of the
Sovereign, and there has been no necessary link between it and the
body of the State. Mahomet held very sane views, and linked his
political system well together; and, as long as the form of his
government continued under the caliphs who succeeded him, that
government was indeed one, and so far good. But the Arabs, having
grown prosperous, lettered, civilised, slack and cowardly, were
conquered by barbarians: the division between the two powers began
again; and, although it is less apparent among the Mahometans than
among the Christians, it none the less exists, especially in the
sect of Ali, and there are States, such as Persia, where it is
continually making itself felt.

Among us, the Kings of England have made themselves heads of the
Church, and the Czars have done the same: but this title has made
them less its masters than its ministers; they have gained not so
much the right to change it, as the power to maintain it: they are
not its legislators, but only its princes. Wherever the clergy is a
corporate body,[44] it is master and
legislator in its own country. There are thus two powers, two
Sovereigns, in England and in Russia, as well as elsewhere.

Of all Christian writers, the philosopher Hobbes alone has seen
the evil and how to remedy it, and has dared to propose the reunion
of the two heads of the eagle, and the restoration throughout of
political unity, without which no State or government will ever be
rightly constituted. But he should have seen that the masterful
spirit of Christianity is incompatible with his system, and that
the priestly interest would always be stronger than that of the
State. It is not so much what is false and terrible in his
political theory, as what is just and true, that has drawn down
hatred on it.[45]

I believe that if the study of history were developed from this
point of view, it would be easy to refute the contrary opinions of
Bayle and Warburton, one of whom holds that religion can be of no
use to the body politic, while the other, on the contrary,
maintains that Christianity is its strongest support. We should
demonstrate to the former that no State has ever been founded
without a religious basis, and to the latter, that the law of
Christianity at bottom does more harm by weakening than good by
strengthening the constitution of the State. To make myself
understood, I have only to make a little more exact the too vague
ideas of religion as relating to this subject.

Religion, considered in relation to society, which is either
general or particular, may also be divided into two kinds: the
religion of man, and that of the citizen. The first, which has
neither temples, nor altars, nor rites, and is confined to the
purely internal cult of the supreme God and the eternal obligations
of morality, is the religion of the Gospel pure and simple, the
true theism, what may be called natural divine right or law. The
other, which is codified in a single country, gives it its gods,
its own tutelary patrons; it has its dogmas, its rites, and its
external cult prescribed by law; outside the single nation that
follows it, all the world is in its sight infidel, foreign and
barbarous; the duties and rights of man extend for it only as far
as its own altars. Of this kind were all the religions of early
peoples, which we may define as civil or positive divine right or

There is a third sort of religion of a more singular kind, which
gives men two codes of legislation, two rulers, and two countries,
renders them subject to contradictory duties, and makes it
impossible for them to be faithful both to religion and to
citizenship. Such are the religions of the Lamas and of the
Japanese, and such is Roman Christianity, which may be called the
religion of the priest. It leads to a sort of mixed and anti-social
code which has no name.

In their political aspect, all these three kinds of religion
have their defects. The third is so clearly bad, that it is waste
of time to stop to prove it such. All that destroys social unity is
worthless; all institutions that set man in contradiction to
himself are worthless.

The second is good in that it unites the divine cult with love
of the laws, and, making country the object of the citizens'
adoration, teaches them that service done to the State is service
done to its tutelary god. It is a form of theocracy, in which there
can be no pontiff save the prince, and no priests save the
magistrates. To die for one's country then becomes martyrdom;
violation of its laws, impiety; and to subject one who is guilty to
public execration is to condemn him to the anger of the gods: Sacer

On the other hand, it is bad in that, being founded on lies and
error, it deceives men, makes them credulous and superstitious, and
drowns the true cult of the Divinity in empty ceremonial. It is
bad, again, when it becomes tyrannous and exclusive, and makes a
people bloodthirsty and intolerant, so that it breathes fire and
slaughter, and regards as a sacred act the killing of every one who
does not believe in its gods. The result is to place such a people
in a natural state of war with all others, so that its security is
deeply endangered.

There remains therefore the religion of man or Christianity
— not the Christianity of to-day, but that of the Gospel,
which is entirely different. By means of this holy, sublime, and
real religion all men, being children of one God, recognise one
another as brothers, and the society that unites them is not
dissolved even at death.

But this religion, having no particular relation to the body
politic, leaves the laws in possession of the force they have in
themselves without making any addition to it; and thus one of the
great bonds that unite society considered in severally fails to
operate. Nay, more, so far from binding the hearts of the citizens
to the State, it has the effect of taking them away from all
earthly things. I know of nothing more contrary to the social

We are told that a people of true Christians would form the most
perfect society imaginable. I see in this supposition only one
great difficulty: that a society of true Christians would not be a
society of men.

I say further that such a society, with all its perfection,
would be neither the strongest nor the most lasting: the very fact
that it was perfect would rob it of its bond of union; the flaw
that would destroy it would lie in its very perfection.

Every one would do his duty; the people would be law-abiding,
the rulers just and temperate; the magistrates upright and
incorruptible; the soldiers would scorn death; there would be
neither vanity nor luxury. So far, so good; but let us hear

Christianity as a religion is entirely spiritual, occupied
solely with heavenly things; the country of the Christian is not of
this world. He does his duty, indeed, but does it with profound
indifference to the good or ill success of his cares. Provided he
has nothing to reproach himself with, it matters little to him
whether things go well or ill here on earth. If the State is
prosperous, he hardly dares to share in the public happiness, for
fear he may grow proud of his country's glory; if the State is
languishing, he blesses the hand of God that is hard upon His

For the State to be peaceable and for harmony to be maintained,
all the citizens without exception would have to be good
Christians; if by ill hap there should be a single self-seeker or
hypocrite, a Catiline or a Cromwell, for instance, he would
certainly get the better of his pious compatriots. Christian
charity does not readily allow a man to think hardly of his
neighbours. As soon as, by some trick, he has discovered the art of
imposing on them and getting hold of a share in the public
authority, you have a man established in dignity; it is the will of
God that he be respected: very soon you have a power; it is God's
will that it be obeyed: and if the power is abused by him who
wields it, it is the scourge wherewith God punishes His children.
There would be scruples about driving out the usurper: public
tranquillity would have to be disturbed, violence would have to be
employed, and blood spilt; all this accords ill with Christian
meekness; and after all, in this vale of sorrows, what does it
matter whether we are free men or serfs? The essential thing is to
get to heaven, and resignation is only an additional means of doing

If war breaks out with another State, the citizens march readily
out to battle; not one of them thinks of flight; they do their
duty, but they have no passion for victory; they know better how to
die than how to conquer. What does it matter whether they win or
lose? Does not Providence know better than they what is meet for
them? Only think to what account a proud, impetuous and passionate
enemy could turn their stoicism! Set over against them those
generous peoples who were devoured by ardent love of glory and of
their country, imagine your Christian republic face to face with
Sparta or Rome: the pious Christians will be beaten, crushed and
destroyed, before they know where they are, or will owe their
safety only to the contempt their enemy will conceive for them. It
was to my mind a fine oath that was taken by the soldiers of
Fabius, who swore, not to conquer or die, but to come back
victorious — and kept their oath. Christians would never have
taken such an oath; they would have looked on it as tempting

But I am mistaken in speaking of a Christian republic; the terms
are mutually exclusive. Christianity preaches only servitude and
dependence. Its spirit is so favourable to tyranny that it always
profits by such a régime. True Christians are made to be slaves,
and they know it and do not much mind: this short life counts for
too little in their eyes.

I shall be told that Christian troops are excellent. I deny it.
Show me an instance. For my part, I know of no Christian troops. I
shall be told of the Crusades. Without disputing the valour of the
Crusaders, I answer that, so far from being Christians, they were
the priests' soldiery, citizens of the Church. They fought for
their spiritual country, which the Church had, somehow or other,
made temporal. Well understood, this goes back to paganism: as the
Gospel sets up no national religion, a holy war is impossible among

Under the pagan emperors, the Christian soldiers were brave;
every Christian writer affirms it, and I believe it: it was a case
of honourable emulation of the pagan troops. As soon as the
emperors were Christian, this emulation no longer existed, and,
when the Cross had driven out the eagle, Roman valour wholly

But, setting aside political considerations, let us come back to
what is right, and settle our principles on this important point.
The right which the social compact gives the Sovereign over the
subjects does not, we have seen, exceed the limits of public
expediency.[46] The subjects then owe
the Sovereign an account of their opinions only to such an extent
as they matter to the community. Now, it matters very much to the
community that each citizen should have a religion. That will make
him love his duty; but the dogmas of that religion concern the
State and its members only so far as they have reference to
morality and to the duties which he who professes them is bound to
do to others. Each man may have, over and above, what opinions he
pleases, without it being the Sovereign's business to take
cognisance of them; for, as the Sovereign has no authority in the
other world, whatever the lot of its subjects may be in the life to
come, that is not its business, provided they are good citizens in
this life.

There is therefore a purely civil profession of faith of which
the Sovereign should fix the articles, not exactly as religious
dogmas, but as social sentiments without which a man cannot be a
good citizen or a faithful subject.[47]
While it can compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the
State whoever does not believe them — it can banish him, not
for impiety, but as an anti-social being, incapable of truly loving
the laws and justice, and of sacrificing, at need, his life to his
duty. If any one, after publicly recognising these dogmas, behaves
as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death: he
has committed the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the

The dogmas of civil religion ought to be few, simple, and
exactly worded, without explanation or commentary. The existence of
a mighty, intelligent and beneficent Divinity, possessed of
foresight and providence, the life to come, the happiness of the
just, the punishment of the wicked, the sanctity of the social
contract and the laws: these are its positive dogmas. Its negative
dogmas I confine to one, intolerance, which is a part of the cults
we have rejected.

Those who distinguish civil from theological intolerance are, to
my mind, mistaken. The two forms are inseparable. It is impossible
to live at peace with those we regard as damned; to love them would
be to hate God who punishes them: we positively must either reclaim
or torment them. Wherever theological intolerance is admitted, it
must inevitably have some civil effect;"#note48">[48] and as soon as it has such an effect, the
Sovereign is no longer Sovereign even in the temporal sphere:
thenceforce priests are the real masters, and kings only their

Now that there is and can be no longer an exclusive national
religion, tolerance should be given to all religions that tolerate
others, so long as their dogmas contain nothing contrary to the
duties of citizenship. But whoever dares to say: Outside the Church
is no salvation, ought to be driven from the State, unless the
State is the Church, and the prince the pontiff. Such a dogma is
good only in a theocratic government; in any other, it is fatal.
The reason for which Henry IV is said to have embraced the Roman
religion ought to make every honest man leave it, and still more
any prince who knows how to reason.

9. Conclusion

Now that I have laid down the true principles of political
right, and tried to give the State a basis of its own to rest on, I
ought next to strengthen it by its external relations, which would
include the law of nations, commerce, the right of war and
conquest, public right, leagues, negotiations, treaties, etc. But
all this forms a new subject that is far too vast for my narrow
scope. I ought throughout to have kept to a more limited

34 This should of course be understood as
applying to a free State; for elsewhere family, goods, lack of a
refuge, necessity, or violence may detain a man in a country
against his will; and then his dwelling there no longer by itself
implies his consent to the contract or to its violation.

35 At Genoa, the word Liberty may be read over
the front of the prisons and on the chains of the galley-slaves.
This application of the device is good and just. It is indeed only
malefactors of all estates who prevent the citizen from being free.
In the country in which all such men were in the galleys, the most
perfect liberty would be enjoyed.

36 I say "in the Campus Martius" because it
was there that the comitia assembled by centuries; in its two other
forms the people assembled in the forum or elsewhere; and then the
capite censi had as much influence and authority as the foremost

37 Custodes, diribitores, rogatores

38 The nomination was made secretly by night,
as if there were something shameful in setting a man above the

39 That is what he could not be sure of, if he
proposed a dictator; for he dared not nominate himself, and could
not be certain that his colleague would nominate him.

40 I merely call attention in this chapter to
a subject with which I have dealt at greater length in my Letter to
M. d'Alembert.

41 They were from another island, which the
delicacy of our language forbids me to name on this occasion.

42 Nonne ea quœ possidet Chamos deus
tuus, tibi jure debentur? (Judges, 11:24.) Such is the text in the
Vulgate. Father de Carrières translates: "Do you not regard
yourselves as having a right to what your god possesses?" I do not
know the force of the Hebrew text: but I perceive that, in the
Vulgate, Jephthah positively recognises the right of the god
Chamos, and that the French translator weakened this admission by
inserting an "according to you," which is not in the Latin.

43 It is quite clear that the Phocian War,
which was called "the Sacred War," was not a war of religion. Its
object was the punishment of acts of sacrilege, and not the
conquest of unbelievers.

44 It should be noted that the clergy find
their bond of union not so much in formal assemblies, as in the
communion of Churches. Communion and excommunication are the social
compact of the clergy, a compact which will always make them
masters of peoples and kings. All priests who communicate together
are fellow-citizens, even if they come from opposite ends of the
earth. This invention is a masterpiece of statesmanship: there is
nothing like it among pagan priests; who have therefore never
formed a clerical corporate body.

45 See, for instance, in a letter from Grotius
to his brother (April 11, 1643), what that learned man found to
praise and to blame in the De Cive. It is true that, with a bent
for indulgence, he seems to pardon the writer the good for the sake
of the bad; but all men are not so forgiving.

46 "In the republic," says the Marquis
d'Argenson, "each man is perfectly free in what does not harm
others." This is the invariable limitation, which it is impossible
to define more exactly. I have not been able to deny myself the
pleasure of occasionally quoting from this manuscript, though it is
unknown to the public, in order to do honour to the memory of a
good and illustrious man, who had kept even in the Ministry the
heart of a good citizen, and views on the government of his country
that were sane and right.

47 Cæsar, pleading for Catiline, tried to
establish the dogma that the soul is mortal: Cato and Cicero, in
refutation, did not waste time in philosophising. They were content
to show that Cæsar spoke like a bad citizen, and brought forward a
doctrine that would have a bad effect on the State. This, in fact,
and not a problem of theology, was what the Roman senate had to

48 Marriage, for instance, being a civil
contract, has civil effects without which society cannot even
subsist. Suppose a body of clergy should claim the sole right of
permitting this act, a right which every intolerant religion must
of necessity claim, is it not clear that in establishing the
authority of the Church in this respect, it will be destroying that
of the prince, who will have thenceforth only as many subjects as
the clergy choose to allow him? Being in a position to marry or not
to marry people according to their acceptance of such and such a
doctrine, their admission or rejection of such and such a formula,
their greater or less piety, the Church alone, by the exercise of
prudence and firmness, will dispose of all inheritances, offices
and citizens, and even of the State itself, which could not subsist
if it were composed entirely of bastards? But, I shall be told,
there will be appeals on the ground of abuse, summonses and
decrees; the temporalities will be seized. How sad! The clergy,
however little, I will not say courage, but sense it has, will take
no notice and go its way: it will quietly allow appeals, summonses,
decrees and seizures, and, in the end, will remain the master. It
is not, I think, a great sacrifice to give up a part, when one is
sure of securing all.