Home > Uncategorized > Antoine Destutt de Tracy: War leads to despotism, despotism to war

Antoine Destutt de Tracy: War leads to despotism, despotism to war


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

French writers on war and peace


Antoine Destutt de Tracy
From A Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s ’Spirit of Laws’
Translated by Thomas Jefferson

Indeed ignorant and rude men, cannot be presumed capable of combining principles of social organization: two modes of social action or order only could be conceived by them, either that all should take a part in common, in the management of their affairs; or that they should blindly charge one among them, in whom they have confidence, with the sole care of them. The first of these two means, is generally proposed by those whose restless activity have kept up a spirit of independence, and the second by those among whom idleness and love of repose are the predominant passions; in this primitive state of man, the influence of climate is powerful, and generally determines these dispositions; we see every society in a rude state, from North America to Africa, and to the islands of the Pacific Ocean, under one of these two modes of social organization, or passing rapidly from one to the other, according to circumstances; for when a horde of savages have elected a chief to conduct their war, they follow him and obey him implicitly, and thus simple democracy is transformed into pure monarchy.


“The spirit of monarchy, is war and aggrandizement; the spirit of republicanism, is peace and moderation.” Montesquieu repeats the same sentiments in several places…

[W]e ought to thank him, at least for having rejected the absurdities of all the older writers on this subject, and for having explicitly declared, that the right of making war has no other foundation than that of the necessity of self-defence; that arms should never be taken up to gratify self-love, or ideas of dignity, much less for what has been called the glory or the vanity of a prince.

He [absolute leader] holds in his hands all the real power, and it will be employed exclusively for himself: he is too much elevated above his fellow citizens to have an interest in common with them; and he stands only in need of the opportunity to perpetuate his power: the people require tranquillity and happiness, his element is bustle, disorder, contention; war, which rendering his talents necessary, gives him more power; his measures may not be necessary to the interests of his country, as military renown cannot make them prosperous, and external advantages are not required by their internal possessions…. conquest cannot give them quiet…

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