Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Usbek to the Same
THE PROHIBITION of divorce is not the only cause of the depopulation of Christian countries: the great number of eunuchs which they have among them is another not less important.  1
  I mean those priests and dervishes of both sexes who devote themselves to perpetual continence: this is with the Christians the virtue of virtues; in which I fail to understand them, not perceiving how that can be a virtue which results in nothing.  2
  I find that their learned men distinctly contradict themselves, when they say that marriage is holy, and that celibacy, the opposite of marriage, is holier still; without considering that in matters of teaching and fundamental doctrines, the expedient is always the best.  3
  The number of people professing celibacy is enormous. Formerly fathers condemned their children to it from the cradle; now they dedicate themselves from the age of fourteen, which amounts to pretty much the same thing.  4
  The practice of continence has destroyed more men than plagues and the most sanguinary wars. In every religious house we see an unending family, where nobody is born, and which depends for its upkeep upon the rest of the world. These houses are always open, like so many pits, in which future generations are entombed.  5
  This is a very different policy from that of the Romans, who instituted penal laws against those who rebelled against marriage, and wished to enjoy a liberty so opposed to the public good.  6
  I am only referring here to Catholic countries. The Protestant religion grants the right of producing children to everybody; it permits neither priests nor dervishes; and if, in the establishment of that religion, which restored everything to an earlier order, its founders had not been constantly accused of incontinence, there can be no doubt that, after having made the practice of marriage universal, they would have lightened the yoke still further, and would have ended by removing entirely the barrier which separates, in this particular, the Nazarene and Mohammed.  7
  But however that may be, it is certain that their religion gives the Protestants a great advantage over the Catholics.  8
  I dare to say that, in the present state of Europe, it is not possible for the Catholic religion to exist there for five hundred years.  9
  Before the humiliation of the power of Spain, the Catholics were much stronger than the Protestants. Little by little the latter have arrived at an equality. The Protestants will become richer and more powerful, and the Catholics will grow weaker.  10
  The Protestant countries ought to be, and are, in fact, more populous than the Catholic ones; from which it follows, firstly, that their revenue is greater, because it increases in proportion to the number of those who pay taxes; secondly, that their lands are better cultivated; lastly, that commerce is more prosperous, because there are more people who have fortunes to make; and that, with increased wants, there is an increase of resources to supply them. When there are only people enough to cultivate the land, trade must perish; and if there are no more than are necessary to carry on trade, agriculture must go to the wall; that is to say, both would be ruined at the same time, because devotion to the one can only be at the expense of the other.  11
  As to Catholic countries, not only is agriculture abandoned, but industry itself is mischievous; it consists only in learning five or six words of a dead language. When a man has made this provision for himself, he need not trouble himself more about his fortune; in the cloister he finds a peaceful life, which would have cost him in the world, care and toil.  12
  This is not all. The dervishes hold in their hands almost all the wealth of the state; they are a miserly crew, always getting, and never giving; they are continually hoarding their income to acquire capital. All this wealth falls as it were into a palsy: it is not circulated, it is not employed in trade, in industry, or in manufactures.  13
  There is no Protestant prince who does not levy upon his people much heavier taxes than the Pope draws from his subjects; yet the latter are poor, while the former live in affluence. Commerce puts life into all ranks among the Protestants, and celibacy lays its hand of death upon all interests among the Catholics.

  PARIS, the 26th of the first moon of Chahban, 1718.

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