1. For the better understanding of the first four books of this work, it is to be observed that what I distinguish by the name of virtue, in a republic, is the love of one’s country, that is, the love of equality. It is not a moral, nor a christian, but a political virtue; and it is the spring which sets the republican government in motion, as honour is the spring which gives motion to monarchy. Hence it is that I have distinguished the love of one’s country, and of equality, by the appellation of political virtue. My ideas are new, and, therefore, I have been obliged to find out new words, or to give new acceptations to old terms, in order to convey my meaning. They who are unacquainted with this particular, have made me say most strange absurdities, such as would be shocking in any part of the world, because in all countries and governments morality is requisite.
2. The reader is also to take notice, that there is a vast difference between saying, that a certain quality, modification of the mind, or virtue, is not the spring by which government is actuated, and affirming that it is not to be found in that government. Were I to say, such a wheel, or such a pinion, is not the spring which sets the watch a going, can you infer from thence that they are not to be found in the watch? So far is it from being true that the moral and Christian virtues are excluded from monarchy, that even political virtue is not excluded. In a word, honour is found in a republic, though its spring be political virtue; and political virtue is found in a monarchical government, though it be actuated by honour.
To conclude, the honest man of whom we treat in the third book, chap v, is not the Christian, but the political honest man, who is possessed of the political virtue there mentioned. He is the man who loves the laws of his country, and who is actuated by the love of those laws. I have set these matters in a clearer light in the present edition, by giving a more precise meaning to my expression: and in most places, where I have made use of the word virtue, I have taken care to add the term political.
If amidst the infinite number of subjects contained in this book, there is any thing, which, contrary to my expectation, may possibly offend, I can at least assure the public, that it was not inserted with an ill-intention; for I am not naturally of a captious temper. Plato thanked the Gods, that he was born in the same age with Socrates: and for my part I give thanks to the Supreme, that I was born a subject of that government under which I live; and that it is his pleasure I should obey those whom he has made me love.
I beg one favour of my readers, which I fear will not be granted me; this is, that they will not judge by a few hours reading, of the labour, of twenty years; that they will approve or condemn the book entire, and not a few particular phrases. If they would search into the design of the author, they can do it no other way so completely, as by searching into the design of the work.
I have first of all considered mankind; and the result of my thoughts has been, that amidst such an infinite diversity of laws and manners, they were not solely conducted by the caprice of fancy.
I have laid down the first principles, and have found that the particular cases follow naturally from them; that the histories of all nations are only consequences of them; and that every particular law is connected with another law, or depends on some other of a more general extent.
When I have been obliged to look back into antiquity, I have endeavoured to assume the spirit of the ancients, lest I should consider those things as alike, which are really different; and lest I should miss the difference of those which appear to be alike.
I have not drawn my principles from my prejudices, but from the nature of things.
Here a great many truths will not appear, till we have seen the chain which connects them with others. The more we enter into particulars, the more we shall perceive the certainty of the principles on which they are founded. I have not even given all these particulars, for who could mention them all without a most insupportable fatigue?
The reader will not here meet with any of those bold flights. which seem to characterize the works of the present age. When things are examined with never so small a degree of extent, the sallies of imagination must vanish; these generally arise from the mind’s collecting all its powers to view only one side of the subject, while it leaves the other unobserved.