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Modern History Sourcebook:
Montesquieu:
The Persian Letters, No. 13, 1721

Letter 83: If there is a God, my dear Rhedi, he must necessarily be just; for if he were not, he would be the worst and most imperfect being of all.

Justice is a relation of suitability, which actually exists between two things. This relationship is always the same, by whatever being it is perceived, whether by God, or by an angel, or finally by a man.

It is true that men do not see these relationships all the time. Often, indeed, when they do see them they turn away from them, and what they best see is always their self-interest. Justice raises its voice, but has difficulty in making itself heard amongst the tumult of the passions.

Men are capable of unjust actions because it is in their interest to do them, and they prefer their own satisfaction to that of others. They always act with reference to themselves -- no one is gratuitously wicked; there must be a determinant reason, and this reason is always a reason of self-interest.

But it is not possible that God should ever do anything unjust. Once it is assumed that he perceives what is just, he must necessarily act in accordance with it, for since he has no need of anything, and is sufficient to himself, he would be the wickedest of all beings if he were wicked without self-interest.

Consequently, even if there were no God, we should nonetheless still love justice, that is to say, make an effort to resemble this being of whom we have so exalted a conception, and who if he existed would be just necessarily. Even if we were free of the constraints of religion, we ought not to be free of those imposed by equity.

It is this, Rhedi, which has led me to think that justice is eternal, and does not depend on human conventions. Even if it were to depend on them, this truth would be a terrible once, and we should have to conceal it from ourselves.



This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook.

(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997
halsall@murray.fordham.edu