Persian Letters

By , May 23, 2011 6:21 am

The Persian Letters(1720), written by Charles Montesquieu, was a precursor to some of his greater contributions to the 18th century enlightenment and society.  He’s better known as a political theorist famous for the separation of powers in a republic; most notably the separation between executive, legislative, and judicial powers.   His book Of the Spirit of Laws (1748) was his masterpiece and was more influential than any other book on the founding fathers who wrote the constitution of the United States of America.  The Persian Letters is a good start-off book for anyone interested in reading Montesquieu as it is a much more laid back and easy read than his other works.  The book makes observations of politics, fashion, and religion in…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 8 – Usbek To His Friend Rustan, At Isfahan

By , May 27, 2011 1:07 pm

This is the second post in a series of posts examining excerpts of 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 8: I appeared at court in my earliest youth.  I can truthfully say that my heart did not become corrupt.  I even undertook a great project: I dared to behave virtuously there.  As soon as I had recognized vice for what it was, I kept away from it; but approached it again in order to expose it.  I took truth to the steps of the throne.  I spoke a language hitherto unknown there:  I put flattery out of countenance and, at the same…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 19 – Usbek To His Friend Rustan, At Isfahan

By , July 23, 2011 4:54 am

This is the third post in a series of posts examining excerpts of 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 19: We spent only eight days at Tokat; after thirty-five days’ travel we arrived at Smyrna.  Between Tokat and Smyrna there is not a single town worth mentioning.  I was amazed to see the weakness of the Ottoman Empire.  It is a diseased body, preserved not by gentle and moderate treatment, but by violent remedies which ceaselessly fatigue and undermine it. …These barbarians have paid so little attention to technical knowledge that they have even neglected the art of war. Comments on…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 24 – Rica to Ibben, At Smyrna

By , July 23, 2011 5:52 am

This is the fourth post in a series of posts examining excerpts of 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 24: Moreover, this king is a great magician.  He exerts authority even over the minds of his subjects; he makes them think what he wants.  If there are only a million crowns in the exchequer, and he needs two million, all he has to do is persuade them that one crown is worth two, and they believe it.  If he is involved in a difficult war without any money, all he has to do is get it in their heads that a…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 29 – Rica to Ibben, at Smryna

By , July 23, 2011 6:45 am

This is the fifth post in a series of posts examining excerpts of Charles Montesquieu’s book Persian Letters.  Each post in this series examines a selected excerpt for study and discussion.  The following are excerpts from Letter 29: The Pope is the chief of the Christians; he is an ancient idol, worshipped now from habit.  Once he was formidable even to princes, for he would depose them as easily as our magnificent sultans depose the kings of Iremetia or Georgia.  But nobody fears him any longer.  He claims to be the successor of one of the earliest Christians, called Saint Peter, and it is certainly a rich succession, for his treasure is immense and he has a great country under…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 35 – Usbek to Jemshid, his cousin, a dervish at the illustrious monastery of Tabriz

By , July 23, 2011 9:42 am

This is the sixth 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 35: Whatever you do, truth will always emerge, shining through the darkness which surrounds it.  A day will come when the Eternal will see only the true believers on the earth; time, which consumes all things, will destroy error itself; all men will see with amazement that they are under the same flag; everything, even the Law, will be accomplished: the sacred books will be removed from the earth, and carried away to the celestial archives. Comments on the excerpt above: This…

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

By , July 30, 2011 5:17 am

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: 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…

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

By , July 30, 2011 6:02 am

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…

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

By , July 30, 2011 6:30 am

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: This quote is…

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

By , July 30, 2011 6:49 am

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…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 50 – Rica to ***

By , August 10, 2011 6:13 pm

This is the eleventh 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 50: Everywhere I see people who talk continually about themselves.  Their conversation is a mirror which always shows their own conceited faces.  They will talk to you about the tiniest events in their lives, which they expect to be magnified in your eyes by the interest that they themselves take in them.  They have done everything, seen everything, said everything, and thought of everything.  They are a universal pattern, the subject of unending comparisons, an inexhaustible fount of examples.  Oh, how empty…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 59 – Rica to Usbek, at ***

By , August 10, 2011 6:52 pm

This is the twelfth 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 59: It seems to me, Usbek, that all our judgments are made with reference covertly to ourselves, I do not find it surprising that the negroes paint the devil sparkling white, and their gods black as coal, or that certain tribes have a Venus with her breasts hanging down to her thighs, or in brief that all the idolatrous peoples represent their gods with human faces, and endow them with all their own impulses.  It has been well said that if triangles…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 60 – Usbek to Ibben, at Smyrna

By , August 13, 2011 6:07 pm

This is the thirteenth 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 60: Among the Christians as with the Muslims, the Jews display that invincibly stubborn religious conviction which verges on folly.  The Jewish religion is an aged tree-trunk which has covered the earth with the two branches that it has produced – Islam and Christianity; or rather, it is a mother who has given birth to two daughters, and they have inflicted a thousand wounds on her; for where religion is concerned, those most closely related are the greatest enemies.  But despite the…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 61 – Usbek to Rhedi, at Venice

By , August 14, 2011 5:44 am

This is the fourteenth 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 61: The other day I visited a famous church called Norte-Dame.  While I was admiring the magnificence of the building I happened to get into conversation with a clergyman who like me had been brought there by curiosity.  The conversation fell upon the tranquility of his calling. ‘Most people,’ he said ‘envy our pleasant life, and they are right.  However, it has its disagreeable side.  We are not so cut off from the outside world that we do not have to appear…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 85 – Usbek to Mirza, at Isfahan

By , August 14, 2011 6:18 am

This is the fifteenth 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 85: The persecutions that our Muslim zealots have inflicted on the Gabars have forced large numbers of them to emigrate to India, causing Persia to lose a nation which was dedicated to agriculture: they were the only people capable of doing the work necessary to overcome the sterility of our soil. All that the zealots needed to do was to strike a second blow and wreck our industry, thus ensuring that the empire fell of its own accord, and with it, by…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 95 – Usbek to Rhedi, at Venice

By , August 14, 2011 12:36 pm

This is the sixteenth 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 95: There are only two cases in which a war is just:  first, in order to resist the aggression of an enemy, and second, in order to help an ally who has been attacked. …Conquest itself confers no rights.  If the population survives, conquest provides assurance that peace will be maintained and that amends will be made for the wrong that had been committed; and if the population is destroyed, or scattered, it is a monument to tyranny. Men regard peace treaties…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 96 – The First Eunuch to Usbek, at Paris

By , August 19, 2011 7:17 am

This is the seventeenth 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 96: I am a connoisseur of women, the more so because they cannot catch me off my guard.  With me, the impulses of the emotions do not distract the eye. I have never seen beauty so regular and perfect.  The brilliance of her eyes brings her face to life, and enhances the quality of a complexion which could eclipse all the splendours of Circassia. Comments on the excerpt above: What man has not thought he possesses the same skill as a eunuch…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 98 – Usbek to Ibben, at Smyrna

By , August 20, 2011 9:39 am

This is the eighteenth 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 98: I find, Ibben, that Providence is to be admired for the manner in which it shares out wealth: if it had been granted only to good people, it would not have been possible to differentiate clearly enough between it and virtue, and its worthlessness would not have been fully appreciated.  But when you consider which people have accumulated the largest amounts of it, you come at last, through despising rich men, to despise riches. Comments on the excerpt above: I find…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 107 – Rica to Ibben, at Smyrna

By , August 28, 2011 5:53 am

This is the nineteenth 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 107: They say it is impossible to tell the character of Western kings until they have been subjected to two great ordeals, their mistress and their confessor.  It will not be long before we see both of them hard at work to seize control of the king’s mind; it will be a mighty struggle.  For under a young prince, these two powers are always rivals, though they are reconciled and join forces under an old one.  Under a young prince, the dervish…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 115 – Usbek to Rhedi, at Venice

By , September 17, 2011 6:14 am

This is the twentieth 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 115: It was not the same with the Romans.  The republic used its slave population to incalculable advantage.  Each slave was given an allowance, which he had on the conditions imposed by his master:  he used it to work with, taking up whatever his own abilities suggested.  One would go in for banking, another for shipping, one became a retailer, another applied himself to a technical trade, or farmed out lands and improved them; but there was no one who failed to…

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Persian Letter Series: Letter 117 – Usbek to Rhedi, at Venice

By , October 6, 2011 2:04 pm

This is the twenty first 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 117: Protestant countries ought to be, and are in reality, more populous than Catholic ones.  It follows, first, that revenue from taxes is higher, because it increases proportionately to the number of taxpayers; second that the land is better cultivated; third, that business is in a more flourishing state, because there are more people with their fortunes to make, and because, although their needs are greater, there are also more resources.  When the number of people is only enough for the cultivation…

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