Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Usbek to Rhedi, at Venice
IF there is a God, my dear Rhedi, He must of necessity be just; because, if He were not so, He would be the worst and most imperfect of all beings.  1
  Justice is a true relation existing between two things; a relation which is always the same, whoever contemplates it, whether it be God, or an angel, or lastly, man himself.  2
  It is true that men do not always perceive these relations: often indeed, when they do perceive them, they turn aside from them, their own interest being always that which they perceive most clearly. Justice cries aloud; but her voice is hardly heard in the tumult of the passions.  3
  Men act unjustly, because it is their interest to do so, and because they prefer their own satisfaction to that of others. They act always to secure some advantage to themselves: no one is a villain gratis; there is always a determining motive, and that motive is always an interested one.  4
  But it is not possible that God should ever commit an injustice. As soon as we grant that He perceives what is right, it becomes necessary that He should follow it: were it no so, as He has no need of anything and is sufficient to Himself, He would be the most wicked of all beings, having no motive for wickedness.  5
  And so, even if there were no God, we ought always to love righteousness; that is to say, we should endeavor to resemble that Being of whom we have so lofty an idea, and who, if He did exist, would of necessity be righteous. Freed as we would be from the yoke of religion, we would still be bound by that of justice.  6
  Here you have, Rhedi, that which makes me believe that justice is eternal and independent of human conditions. And, if it were dependent on them, it would be a truth so terrible that we would be compelled to hide it from ourselves.  7
  We are surrounded by men stronger than ourselves; they can injure us in a thousand different ways, and with impunity three times out of four: what a satisfaction it is for us to know that there is in the heart of all men, an innate principle which fights in our favor and shields us from their attempts!  8
  Without that we would be in continual terror; we would move among men as among lions; and we would never feel sure for an instant of our property, our honor, and our lives.  9
  All these considerations incense me against those doctors who represent God as a being who makes a tyrannical use of His power; who make Him act in a manner which we would ourselves eschew for fear of offending Him; who charge Him with all the imperfections which He punishes in us; and who, in their inconsistency, represent Him, now as a malicious being, and now as a being who hates evil and punishes it.  10
  When a man examines himself, what a satisfaction for him it is to find that he has a righteous heart. That delight, austere as it is, should ravish him: he perceives that he is a being as far above those who have it not, as he is above tigers and bears. Yes, Rhedi, were I sure of following always and inviolably that idea of righteousness which I have before my eyes, I would believe myself the best of men.

  PARIS, the 1st of the first moon of Gemmadi, 1715.

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