Persian Letter Series: Letter 48 – Usbek to Rhedi, at Venice (excerpt B)

This is the tenth post in a series of posts examining excerpts from Charles Montesquieu’s book Persian Letters.  Each post in this series examines a selected excerpt for study and discussion.  The following is an excerpt from Letter 48:

‘We have a maxim in France,’ he replied, ‘never to give high rank to officers who have spent their time patiently waiting in junior positions.  We consider that they will become narrow-minded by attention to detail, and that, because they are accustomed to little things, they will have become incapable of anything greater.  We believe that if at the age of thirty a man does not possess the qualities required of a general, he will never possess them; that the man who lacks the vision to imagine a battlefield several leagues in extent in its different aspects, and who lacks the presence of mind to use every advantage in victory and every resource in defeat, will never acquire these talents.  It is for this reason that we have positions of preeminence for the sublimely great men to whom Heaven has granted the heart, as well as the ability, of a hero, and subordinate posts for those whose talents are subordinate too.  Among them we include men who have grown old in unimportant wars; they will succeed, at best, only in what they have been doing all their lives; they should not be overburdened when they are beginning to weaken.

Anthony Van Dyck - Portrait of a Young GeneralThis is a great passage.  It should resonate with anyone who’s over 30 years of age.  With insights like this one, it stands to reason why France was a key player in the period of history called the enlightenment.  It is also easy to see what Ben Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and many of the founding fathers of this country admired about our French ally across the sea and Montesquieu in particular.  A brain like Montesquieu’s just doesn’t come along all that often. Montesquieu is the man that would later come up with the separation of power style of government the United States Constitution is patterned after and is why I call the Baron: The Father of Sociology.  It’s no wonder our founding fathers would pay attention to such sage consul like that of Montesquieu’s.

Another interesting thing about this passage is how it applies to business and the climbing of the corporate ladder.  Working in Detroit, we get a good glimpse of Japan and understand the Japanese people as our business ally and competitor in the auto industry.   The Japanese have an adage: business is war.  And in that regard, this quote can be held parallel to key corporate positions that require the greatest of strategists.  Again, if a man has not exhibited the skills or character necessary to run a company or lurks in a junior position past 30 years of age trying to capture an executive position later in life, he’s often looked over. It’s a brilliant coining of an axiom, you’ve seen it a hundred times.

Persian Letter Series: Letter 48 – Usbek to Rhedi, at Venice (excerpt A)

This is the ninth post in a series of posts examining excerpts from Charles Montesquieu’s book Persian Letters.  Each post in this series examines a selected excerpt for study and discussion.  The following is an excerpt from Letter 48:

Those who enjoy learning are never idle.  Although I have not important business to do, I am nonetheless continually occupied.  I spend my life in inquiry.  In the evening, I write down what I have noticed, what I have seen or heard, during the day.  Everything interests me, everything surprises me: I am like a child, whose organs are still delicate, so that even the most trivial things make an impression on them.

Comments on the excerpt above:

Never let go of your childish intrigue

This quote is a little more light-hearted, it made me smile. I believe that Montesquieu envisioned himself as Usbek.  With that in mind, I thought this quote was really cool.  It gave me great pause.  I read it with a smile again and again and felt a connection to Montesquieu through this passage.

Ever since I can remember, I have felt the same way as Usbek.  I am in this passionate hurry to read and learn as much as I can before the sand runs out of the hour glass.  I’m compelled and driven to read of my favorite subjects.  I can’t read a book without my highlighter, pencil, and post-it flags.  I’m driven to write my thoughts down on the pages of my books as I read and contemplate things in my own way; to process them for myself and leave them for my children.

I should like that the excerpt above go on my tombstone and my kids understand that there can be nothing more satisfying in life than to spend it in inquiry making the best of what God has given to you.

Persian Letter Series: Letter 46 – Usbek to Rhedi, at Venice

This is the eighth post in a series of posts examining excerpts from Charles Montesquieu’s book Persian Letters.  Each post in this series examines a selected excerpt for study and discussion.  The following passage is Letter 46 in its entirety:

I observe that people here argue about religion interminably: but it appears that they are competing at the same time to see who can be the least devout.

Not only are they no better as Christians, they are not even better citizens, which is what affects me most: for, whatever  religion one may have, obedience to the laws, love of mankind, and respect for one’s parents are always the principal acts of religion.

For is it not the case that the chief concern of a religious man must be to please the Divinity who established the religion that he professes?  But the surest way to achieve this is certainly to observe the rules of society, and the duties of humanity.  For, whatever religion you may have, you must, immediately you suppose that there is a religion, suppose also that God loves mankind, since he founded a religion to make them happy; and if he loves mankind, you are certain to please him by loving them also; that is to say, in performing all the duties of charity and humanity towards them, and in not violating the laws under which they live.

In this way you are much more certain to please God than by carrying out some ceremony or other: for the ritual has no degree of goodness in itself; it is only good conditionally, on the supposition that God ordained it.  But this provides material for a great deal of discussion.  It is easy to be mistaken, for it is necessary to choose the ceremonies of one religion out of two thousand.

A man made this prayer to God everyday: ‘Lord, I cannot understand anything of the continual disputes about you: I should like to serve you according to your will, but everyone whom I consult wants me to serve you according to his.  When I want to pray to you, I do not know which language to speak to you in.  Nor do I know what posture I should adopt.  One man says I must pray standing up; another wants me to sit down; another insists that my body should be supported by my knees.  That is not all: there are some who claim that I must wash in cold water every morning; others affirm that you will regard me with abhorrence if I do not have a small piece of my flesh cut off.  The other day at caravanserai, I happened to eat a rabbit.  There were three men there who made me tremble:  all three maintained that I had gravely offended you; the first, because the animal was impure; the next, because it had been strangled; and the last because it was not a fish.  A Brahmin passing by, whom I appealed to as a judge, said: “They are wrong, since presumably you did not kill the animal yourself.”

“Yes I did,” I said.

“Ah! you have committed an abominable action, which God will never forgive,” he said in a severe voice; “how do you know that the soul of your father had not passed into that creature?”

‘All these things, Lord, put me in the most terrible quandary.  I cannot shake my head without being told that I risk offending you.  Yet I should like to please you and use the life that I received from you in order to do so.  I do not know if I’m mistaken, but I believe that the best way to manage it is to live as a good citizen in the society into which you caused me to be born, and be a good father to the family which you have given me.’

Comments on the excerpt above:

Church of ToleranceThis letter, in its entirety, is worthy of some reflection.  This letter represents some of those things that have not changed in mankind for millennia.  In today’s age, with the internet, you can learn about even more religions than the two thousand Montesquieu references.  One of the most interesting things about some religious folks is the ability to suspend logic for their particular faith while being logical and diligent in disposing of every other religion.  One example website out of literally thousands is the site  This site has information that disproves and discredits every religion you can think of except for the one professed by its webmaster.  While a man can hit the books for hours learning and understanding the history and faults of every religion under the sun, he can simultaneously eschew all logic when talking about the one he has chosen for himself; so much so that he is prepared to die or kill in the name of his conviction; but not just that! He’s also instigating the fight!

The most important thing for the constitution of the sovereign is to grant freedom of religion to all that fall under its umbrella.  The most important duty for a religious man is to grant tolerance to his fellow citizens regardless of the religion they have chosen.  We should look for common ground, as Montesquieu points out, between the fundamental tenets that all religions share.

Persian Letter Series: Letter 44 – Usbek to Rhedi, at Venice

This is the seventh post in a series of posts examining excerpts from Charles Montesquieu’s book Persian Letters.  Each post in this series examines a selected excerpt for study and discussion.  The following is an excerpt from Letter 44:

Even the humblest workers argue over the merits of the trade they have chosen; everyone believes himself to be above someone else of a different calling, proportionately to the idea he has formed of the superiority of his own.

Comments on the excerpt above:

Humble Worker Pondering A Raise...

Okay, so after a couple of deep thoughts this one is a little closer to the surface. Have you ever noticed this behavior?  This is like a psyaxiom (link) that I have a post tag for.  People always believe themselves to be more important than the person they’re sitting next to.  Even at the most micro level you can see this.

Example:  there’s a guy who’s in his job that thinks he’s irreplaceable.  He thinks no one can do what he does because of how hard he works or how smart he is.  He or she always claims to do the work of two to three people.  Well, guess what?  you’re not that important.  If you can do it, someone else can do it.  That might wound the pride of a man, but it’s true.

After years of bitching, the guy finally leaves his job. He makes a call back to his co-workers fishing for the misery that’s overcome everybody now that he’s not there to do the work.  When he’s told that everything is fine, his tail tucks between his legs, he sulks & skulks, and doesn’t want to talk anymore.  Sorry guy, you’re only as special as the other 7 billion people living on this planet.  Get over yourself.

In this passage, I think Montesquieu is making this analogy to, for example, the baker versus the blacksmith.  But, it’s the same phenomenon across the board even after a couple centuries of the maturation of the division of labor.  I will be using this principle heavily in my economics blog Corn & Silver and my site to demonstrate the imbalanced relationship between, for example, a hedge fund manager and a doctor.  I will apply this logic to demonstrate the value added to society by each.  Simply, if a hedge fund manager makes $2 billion per year for hedging as compared to a doctor that makes $150k per year for helping 600 patients per year, which is more valuable to society?  By this logic, a hedge fund manager is worth the same to society as 13,333 1/3 doctors !?!?  Does common sense tell you that?  Anyone can see that legislation in America has been tainted to serve 1 man’s whim for every 100,000 working Americans’ expense.  I will be beating this example into the ground with charts and graphs using Thomas Paine’s pamphlet writing style.  Thomas Paine wrote the pamphlet Common Sense and played an integral part in the American Revolution.