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Montesquieu: Wars abroad aggravate conflicts at home

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

French writers on war and peace

Montesquieu: Distemper of militarism brings nothing but public ruin

Montesquieu: Military glory leads to torrents of blood overspreading the earth

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Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
From Spirit of the Laws
Translated by Thomas Nugent

If a prince is shut up in a seraglio, he cannot leave his voluptuous abode without alarming those who keep him confined. They will not bear that his person and power should pass into other hands. He seldom, therefore, wages war in person, and hardly ventures to intrust the command to his generals.

A prince of this stamp, unaccustomed to resistance in his palace, is enraged to see his will opposed by armed force; hence he is generally governed by wrath or vengeance…War, therefore, is carried on under such a government in its full natural fury, and less extent is given to the law of nations than in other states.

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Most of the European nations are still governed by the principles of morality. But if from a long abuse of power or the fury of conquest, despotic sway should prevail to a certain degree, neither morals nor climate would be able to withstand its baleful influence: and then human nature would be exposed, for some time at least, even in this beautiful part of the world, to the insults with which she has been abused in the other three.

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The real power of a prince does not consist so much in the facility he meets with in making conquests as in the difficulty an enemy finds in attacking him, and, if I may so speak, in the immutability of his condition. But the increase of territory obliges a government to lay itself more open to an enemy.

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It was a saying of the Lord of Coucy to King Charles V “that the English are never weaker, nor more easily overcome, than in their own country.” The same was observed of the Romans; the same of the Carthaginians; and the same will happen to every power that sends armies to distant countries, in order to re-unite by discipline and military force those who are divided among themselves by political or civil interests. The state finds itself weakened by the disorder that still continues, and more so by the remedy.

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