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    Montesquieu, Baron de


Useless laws weaken necessary laws.

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
(Attributed)
 
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If we only wanted to be happy, it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is difficult, since we think them happier than they are.

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
(Attributed)
 
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An empire founded by war has to maintain itself by war.

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
Considerations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romaines et de leur decadence, ch. 8 (1734)
 
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Study has been for me the sovereign remedy against all the disappointments of life. I have never known any trouble that an hour’s reading would not dissipate.

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
Mes Pensées [My Thoughts] (1720-1755)

Alternate translations:

Study has been to me a sovereign remedy against the vexations of life, having never had an annoyance that one hour's reading did not dissipate.
[Source]

Study has been to me a sovereign remedy against the troubles of life, and I have never had a grief that an hour's reading would not dissipate.
[Source]

 
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It is a misfortune not to be loved at all, but an affront to be loved no longer.

[C’est un malheur de n’être point aimée ; mais c’est un affront de ne l’être plus.]

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
Persian Letters [Lettres Persanes], Letter 3, Zachi to Usbek (1721) [tr. Healy (1964)]
    (Source)

Chiding Usbek for leaving her and his other wives behind as he travels to France.

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

'Tis a Misfortune not to have been belov'd; but 'tis an Affront to be belov'd no more.
[tr. Ozell (1736)]

It is a misfortune not to have been beloved; but it is an affront to be beloved no more.
[tr. Ozell (1760)]

Not to have been beloved is a misfortune; but to be so no more, an affront.
[tr. Floyd (1762)]

It is a misfortunate not to be loved, but to have love withdrawn from one is an outrage.
[tr. Davidson (1891)]

Not to be loved is a misfortune, but to be abandoned is an -- outrage.
[tr. Betts (1897)]

It is a misfortune to be not loved; but it's an insult to be no longer loved.
[tr. Mauldon (2008)]

It is misery not to be loved, but it is an offense to be loved no longer.
[tr. MacKenzie (2014)]

 
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What wouldest thou have me follow? what my enemies think prudent, or what I myself think to be so?

[Que veux-tu que je suive, la prudence de mes ennemis, ou la mienne?]

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
Persian Letters [Lettres Persanes], Letter 8, Usbek to Rustan (1721) [tr. Floyd (1762)]
    (Source)

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

What wouldst thou have me pursue; the Prudence of my Enemies, or my own?
[tr. Ozell (1736)]

Which would you have me obey -- the petty maxims that guide my enemies, or the dictates of my own free soul?
[tr. Davidson (1891)]

Which would you have me accept as a guide, -- the foresight of my enemies or my own?
[tr.https://archive.org/details/persianletters00degoog/page/n52/mode/2up?q=%22accept+as+a+guide%22 Betts (1897)]

Would you have me follow my own counsel or that of my enemies?
[tr. Healy (1964)]

Ought I to heed my enemies' prudent counsels or my own?
[tr. Mauldon (2008)]

Which would you have me follow, Rustan, my own counsel, or that of my enemies?
[tr. MacKenzie (2014)]

 
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They loved their wives, and were beloved by them. Their entire attention was directed to educating their children in the ways of virtue; the miseries of their fellow countrymen were constantly represented to them and held up as the sorriest of examples. Above all, they were taught that individual interest is always bound to the common interest, that to try to separate them was to invite ruin, that virtue is not something costly to achieve nor painful to exercise, and that justice for others is a blessing for ourselves.
They soon had the consolation of virtuous fathers, seeing their children develop in their image.

[Ils aimoient leurs femmes, et ils en étoient tendrement chéris. Toute leur attention étoit d’élever leurs enfants à la vertu. Ils leur représentoient sans cesse les malheurs de leurs compatriotes, et leur mettoient devant les yeux cet exemple si touchant ; ils leur faisoient surtout sentir que l’intérêt des particuliers se trouve toujours dans l’intérêt commun ; que vouloir s’en séparer, c’est vouloir se perdre ; que la vertu n’est point une chose qui doive nous coûter ; qu’il ne faut point la regarder comme un exercice pénible ; et que la justice pour autrui est une charité pour nous.
Ils eurent bientôt la consolation des pères vertueux, qui est d’avoir des enfants qui leur ressemblent.]

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
Persian Letters [Lettres Persanes], Letter 12, Usbek to Mirza (1721) [tr. Healy (1964)]
    (Source)

In the story of the Troglodytes, a tribe who had been decimated by a plague after years of self-interested anarchy where every person did as they wished. The survivors developed a philosophy of mutual aid and community, and prospered.

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

They lov'd their Wives, and were tenderly belov'd by them. They were wholly intent upon educating their Children to Virtue. They continually represented to them the Calamities of their Countrymen, and often set that moving Example before their Eyes. They above all things instill'd into them this Principle, that every private Man's Interest is inseparable from the Interest of the Community. To divide it, is Ruin. That Virtue is not a thing which should be troublesome to us, nor ought the Exercise of it to give us pain; and that Justice to another, is Charity to our selves.
They had soon the Consolation of virtuous Fathers; which is, to have Children like themselves.
[tr. Ozell (1736)]

They loved their wives, and were affectionately beloved by them. The training up their children to virtue engaged their utmost care. They continually represented to them the miseries of their countrymen, and placed their melancholy example before their eyes. They especially inculcated upon their minds, that the interests of individuals was always to be found in that of the community, and that to attempt to seek it separately was to destroy it; that virtue is by no means a thing that ought to be burdensome to us, nor the practice of it considered as painful; that doing justice to others is acting charitably to ourselves. They soon enjoyed the consolation of virtuous parents, which consists in having children like themselves.
[tr. Floyd (1762)]

They loved their wives, and were beloved most tenderly. Their utmost care was given to the virtuous training of their children. They kept before their young minds the misfortunes of their countrymen, and held them up as a most melancholy example. Above all, they led them to see that the interest of the individual was bound up in that of the community; that to isolate oneself was to court ruin; that the cost of virtue should never be counted, nor the practice of it regarded as troublesome; and that in acting justly by others, we bestow blessings on ourselves.
They soon enjoyed the reward of virtuous parents, which consists in having children like themselves.
[tr. Davidson (1891)]

They loved their wives, and were in turn tenderly beloved by them. Their whole ambition was to rear their children virtuously. They constantly placed before their eyes the misfortunes of their fellow-countrymen, and proved to them by this thrilling example that the interest of the individual is one with the interest of the community; that to attempt to separate them is to court ruin; that virtue is a thing the practice of which ought to be found easy; that we should never regard its cultivation as a painful exercise, and that justice to others is a blessing to ourselves. They had soon the consolation of virtuous fathers, which is to see their children grow up in their likeness.
[tr. Betts (1897)]

They loved their wives, who cherished them tenderly in return; they devoted their whole attention to raising their children in the path of virtue; they told them repeatedly of the misfortunes of their compatriots, and showed them those piteous examples; above all, they made them feel that the interest of the individual is always identical with the common interest, and that to attempt to separate oneself from it is fatal; that we should not find virtue arduous, or regard it as a painful exercise, and that justice to another is a charity to oneself.
Soon they knew the consolation of virtuous fathers, which is to have children like themselves.
[tr. Mauldon (2008)]

They loved their wives, who in turn cherished them. Their great aim was to raise their children in the path of virtue. They constantly told them stories about their compatriots, putting that unhappy example before their eyes. Above all, they stressed that one;s self0--interest is always contained within the common interest, and that to separate those two was to take a step toward ruin; they taught also that virtue need cost us nothing, that we must not regard virtue as a painful burden; finally, they taught that to do justice for one is to do good for all.
In time they enjoyed the consolation of virtuous fathers, which is to have children who resemble them.
[tr. MacKenzie (2014)]

 
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I can consequently assure you that no kingdom has ever existed with as many civil wars as occur in the kingdom of Christ.
 
[Aussi puis-je t’assurer qu’il n’y a jamais eu de royaume où il y ait eu tant de guerres civiles que dans celui de Christ.]

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
Persian Letters [Lettres Persanes], Letter 29, Rica to Ibben (1721) [tr. Mauldon (2008)]
    (Source)

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

And accordingly I can assure thee there never was a Kingdom that had so many Civil Wars in it, as that of Christ.
[tr. Ozell (1736), Letter 27]

I can also affirm to thee that there never was a kingdom where there has been so many civil wars as in that of Christ.
[tr. Floyd (1762)]

I can also assure you that there never was a realm in which so many civil wars have broken out, as in the kingdom of Christ.
[tr. Davidson (1891)]

Consequently, I am able to assure you that there never has been a kingdom in which there have been so many civil wars as in that of Christ.
[tr. Betts (1897)]

I can also assure you that there has never been a realm so prone to civil wars as that of Christ.
[tr. Healy (1964)]

I assure you that no countries have had as many civil wars as those in the realm of Christ.
[tr. MacKenzie (2014)]

 
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Usbek, it seems to me that we always judge things by secretly relating them to our own concerns. I am not surprised that black men envision the devil as being a brilliant white color, and that they picture their gods as being black as coal — nor that certain peoples picture Venus as having breasts that hang down to her thighs — nor that all idolaters have always pictured their gods in human form, ascribing to them all their own predilections. It has been well said that if triangles had a god, they would imagine him as having three sides.

[Il me semble, Usbek, que nous ne jugeons jamais des choses que par un retour secret que nous faisons sur nous-mêmes. Je ne suis pas surpris que les nègres peignent le diable d’une blancheur éblouissante et leurs dieux noirs comme du charbon ; que la Vénus de certains peuples ait des mamelles qui lui pendent jusqu’aux cuisses ; et qu’enfin tous les idolâtres aient représenté leurs dieux avec une figure humaine, et leur aient fait part de toutes leurs inclinations. On a dit fort bien que, si les triangles faisoient un dieu, ils lui donneroient trois côtés.]

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
Persian Letters [Lettres Persanes], Letter 59, Rica to Usbek (1721) [tr. MacKenzie (2014)]
    (Source)

The triangles reference is often attributed directly to Montesquieu, though it's referenced here as having another origin. It is sometimes cited as a Jewish or Yiddish proverb.

Some early editions leave out the triangle metaphor altogether, thinking it alludes to the Trinity.

See also Voltaire.

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

It is my Opinion, Usbek, that we never judge of Things but with a private View to our selves. I am not surprised that the Negroes shou'd paint the Devil of the most glaring Whiteness, and their Gods as black as a Coal; that the Venus of some Nations shou'd have Breasts hanging down to her very Thighs; and lastly, that all Idolaters have represented their Gods with a Human Figure, and given them all their own Inclinations. It has been said with good Reason that if the Triangles were to make a God they wou'd give him three Sides.
[tr. Ozell (1736), No. 57]

It appears to me, Usbek, that we never judge of things but with a private view to ourselves. I do not wonder that the Negroes paint the devil in the most glaring whiteness, and their gods as black as a coal; that the Venus of some nations should be represented with breasts pendent to her thighs; nor indeed that all idolaters have made their gods of human figures, and have ascribed to them all their own passions.
[tr. Floyd (1762)]

It seems to me, Usbek, that our opinions are always influenced by a secret application to ourselves. I am not surprised that Negroes paint the devil with a complexion of dazzling whiteness, and their gods as black as coal; that the Venus of certain races has breasts that hang down to her thighs; and finally, that all idolaters have represented their gods in the likeness of men, and have ascribed to them all their own passions. It has been very well said, that if triangles were to make to themselves gods, they would give them three sides.
[tr. Davidson (1891)]

It seems to me, Usbek, that our judgment of things is always controlled by the secret influence they have had on our own actions. I am not surprised that the negroes paint the devil with a face of dazzling whiteness, and their gods as black as coal; that the Venus of certain tribes has breasts that hang down to her thighs; and, in fine, that all nations have represented their gods in the human form, and have supposed them to be imbued with their own passions. It has been very well said that if triangles were to make a god for themselves, they would give him three sides.
[tr. Betts (1897)]

It seems to me, Usbek, that we judge things only by applying them secretly to ourselves. I am not surprised that Negroes paint the devil in dazzling white and their gods in carbon black; or that the Venus of certain peoples has breasts that hang to her thighs; or, finally, that all idolaters have represented their gods in human shape and assign to them all their own attributes. It is well said that if triangles were to create a god, they would describe him with three sides.
[tr. Healy (1964)]

It seems to me, Usbek, that we never judge anything without secretly considering it in relation to our own self. I am not surprised that black men depict the devil as brilliantly white, and their own gods as coal-black, that the Venus of certain peoples has breasts that hang down to her thighs, and, in short, that all idolaters have depicted their gods with human faces, and have endowed them with their own propensities. It has been quite correctly observed that if triangles were to make themselves a god, they would give him three sides.
[tr. Mauldon (2008), No. 57]

 
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Christians are beginning to lose the spirit of intolerance which animated them: experience has shown the error of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and of the persecution of those Christians in France whose belief differed a little from that of the king. They have realized that zeal for the advancement of religion is different from a due attachment to it; and that in order to love it and fulfill its behests, it is not necessary to hate and persecute those who are opposed to it.

[On commence à se défaire parmi les chrétiens de cet esprit d’intolérance qui les animoit : on s’est mal trouvé en Espagne, de les avoir chassés, et en France, d’avoir fatigué des chrétiens dont la croyance différoit un peu de celle du prince. On s’est aperçu que le zèle pour les progrès de la religion est différent de l’attachement qu’on doit avoir pour elle ; et que, pour l’aimer et l’observer, il n’est pas nécessaire de haïr et de persécuter ceux qui ne l’observent pas.]

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
Persian Letters [Lettres Persanes], Letter 60, Usbek to Ibben (1721) [tr. Davidson (1891)]
    (Source)

Referring to the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, and the persecution of the Huguenots (Protestants) in France culminating under Louis XIV in the late 17th Century (and who were still being persecuted while Montesquieu was writing this).

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

The Christians begin to lay aside that untolerating Spirit, which used to sway them: the Spaniards are sensible how much they have lost by driving the Jews out, and the French by vexing of Christians whose Belief differed a little from that of the Prince. They are now convinced that the Zeal for the Progress of a Religion, is very different form the Devotion she requires; and that to love and observe her, there is no manner of Necessity for hating and persecuting those who do not.
[tr. Ozell (1736), Letter 58]

Christians begin to lay aside that intolerating spirit which formerly influenced them. Spain hath experienced the bad consequence of having expelled the Jews, and France of having worried the Christians, whose faith differed a little from that of the prince. They are nos sensible that a zeal for the progress of religion is different from that attachment which ought to be preserved towards her; and that, in order to love and obey her, it is not necessary to hate and persecute those who do not regard her.
[tr. Floyd (1762)]

Christians are fast losing that spirit of intolerance which formerly animated them: they are beginning to find out that the expulsion of the Jews from Spain was a mistake, and that the persecution of Christians in France whose beliefs differed a little from those of their sovereign was another. They have discovered that fanatic zeal for the advancement of a religion is far different from the attachment which every one ought to feel towards it, and that, in order to love and practise its precepts, it is not necessary to hate and afflict those who refuse to do so.
[tr. Betts (1897)]

The Christians are beginning to lose that spirit of intolerance which animated them. It is now seen that it was a mistake to chase the Jews from Spain, and to persecute French Christians whose belief differed a bit from that of the king. They now perceive that zeal for the expansion of religion is different from dutiful devotion to it, and that love and observance of a religion need not require hatred and persecution of those who do not so believe.
[tr. Healy (1964)]

Christians are beginning to abandon that spirit of intolerance which formerly inspired them; the Spanish regret having banished the Jews, and the French regret having persecuted Christians whose beliefs differed slightly from those of their monarch. They have realized that zeal for the advancement of religion is different form the love one should bear it, and that in order to love it, and observe its precepts, there is no need to hate and persecute those who do not do so.
[tr. Mauldon (2008), Letter 58]

The Christians are beginning to abandon that old spirit of religious intolerance; it was a mistake to expel the Jews from Spain, just as it was to persecute the Christians in France whose beliefs differed only slightly from those of their king. They have realized here that zeal for the advancement of one's religion is different from the attachment one ought to have for it, and that to love and observe one's faith, it is not necessary to hate and persecute those who do not observe it.
[tr. MacKenzie (2014)]

 
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I admit that history is filled with religious wars, but let us be careful here, for it is not the multiplicity of religions which has produced these wars, but the spirit of intolerance stirring those who believed themselves to be in a dominant position.

[J’avoue que les histoires sont remplies des guerres de religion : mais, qu’on y prenne bien garde, ce n’est point la multiplicité des religions qui a produit ces guerres, c’est l’esprit d’intolérance, qui animoit celle qui se croyoit la dominante.]

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
Persian Letters [Lettres Persanes], Letter 86, Usbek to Mirza (1721) [tr. Healy (1964), Letter 85]
    (Source)

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

I confess histories are full of religious wars: but do not let us take the thing wrong; it was not the diversity of religious that occasioned these wars; it was the untolerating spirit of that which thought she had the power in her hands.
[tr. Ozell (1760 ed.)]

I acknowledge, that history is full of religious wars: but we must take care to observe, it was not the multiplicity of religions that produced these wars, it was the intolerating spirit which animated that which thought she had the power of governing.
[tr. Floyd (1762), Letter 85]

I acknowledge that history is full of religious wars: but we must distinguish; it is not the multiplicity of religions which has produced wars; it is the intolerant spirit animating that which believed itself in the ascendant.
[tr. Davidson (1891)]

I acknowledge that history is full of religious wars ; but it is an indisputable fact that these wars have not been produced by the multiplicity of religions, but rather by the intolerance of the dominant creed.
[tr. Betts (1897)]

I admit that history is full of wars of religion; but on this point we must be very careful; it is not the multiplicity of religions that produced these wars, but the spirit of intolerance animating the religion that believed itself to be dominant.
[tr. Mauldon (2008), Letter 83]

I admit that history is full of wars of religion. But one must be careful here: these wars were not caused by a multiplicity of religions, but rather by the spirit of intolerance shown by the dominant religion's believers.
[tr. MacKenzie (2014), Letter 85]

 
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Slavery is not good in itself: it is neither useful to the master nor to the slave, because the slave can do nothing from virtuous motives; nor to the master, because he contracts amongst his slaves all sorts of bad habits — he becomes haughty, passionate, obdurate, vindictive, voluptuous, and cruel.

[Il n’est pas bon par sa nature; il n’est utile ni au maître ni à l’esclave: à celui-ci, parce qu’il ne peut rien faire par vertu; à celui-là, parce qu’il contracte avec ses esclaves toutes sortes de mauvaises habitudes, qu’il s’accoutume insensiblement à manquer à toutes les vertus morales, qu’il devient fier, prompt, dur, colère, voluptueux, cruel.]

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
The Spirit of Laws [De l’esprit des lois], Vol. 1, Book 15, ch. 1 (1748)

(Source (French)).

Common translation used by English and American abolitionists (e.g., 1812). Alternate translations:

The state of slavery is in its own nature bad. It is neither useful to the master nor to the slave; not to the slave, because he can do nothing through a motive of virtue; not to the master, because by having an unlimited authority over his slaves, he insensibly accustoms himself to the want of all moral virtues, and from thence grows fierce, hasty, severe, choleric, voluptuous, and cruel.
[tr. Nugent (1758 ed.)]

It is not good by its nature; it is useful neither to the master nor to the slave: not to the slave, because he can do nothing from virtue; not to the master, because he contracts all sorts of bad habits from his slaves, because he imperceptibly grows accustomed to failing in all the moral virtues, because he grows proud, curt, harsh, angry, voluptuous, and cruel.
[tr. Cohler/Miller/Stone (1989)]

 
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We must not allow Negroes to be men, lest we ourselves should be suspected of not being Christians.

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
The Spirit of Laws [De l’esprit des lois], Vol. 1, Book 15, ch. 5 (1748)

In a satirical set of justifications for slavery of Africans (an institution Montesquieu generally condemned).

This form of the phrase was commonly used by American abolitionists, e.g., used as an epigram in Lydia Maria Child, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, ch. 6 (1836).

French original text:

Il est impossible que nous supposions que ces gens-là soient des hommes, parce que, si nous les supposions des hommes, on commencerait à croire que nous ne sommes pas nous-mêmes chrétiens.

Alternate translations:

It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men, because allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow, that we ourselves are not Christians.
[tr. Nugent (1758 ed.)]

It is impossible for us to assume that these people are men because if we assumed they were men one would begin to believe that we ourselves were not Christians.
[tr. Cohler/Miller/Stone (1989)]

 
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The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
The Spirit of the Laws (1748)
 
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