Monday, January 13, 2003

The Spirit of Laws - Book XVI




8.--Of the Separation of Women from Men

The prodigious number of wives possessed by those who live in rich and voluptuous countries is a consequence of the law of polygamy. Their separation from men, and their close confinement, naturally follow from the greatness of this number. Domestic order renders this necessary; thus an insolvent debtor seeks to conceal himself from the pursuit of his creditors. There are climates where the impulses of nature have such force that morality has almost none. If a man be left with a woman, the temptation and the fall will be the same thing; the attack certain, the resistance none. In these countries, instead of precepts, they have recourse to bolts and bars.

One of the Chinese classic authors considers the man as a prodigy of virtue who, finding a woman alone in a distant apartment, can forbear making use of force.21

9.--Of the Connection between domestic and political Government

In a republic the condition of citizens is moderate, equal, mild, and agreeable; everything partakes of the benefit of public liberty. An empire over the women cannot, amongst them, be so well exerted; and where the climate demands this empire, it is most agreeable to a monarchical government. This one of the reasons why it has ever been difficult to establish a popular government in the east.

On the contrary, the slavery of women is perfectly conformable to the genius of a despotic government, which delights treating all with severity. Thus at all times have we seen in Asia domestic slavery and despotic government walk hand in hand with an equal pace.

In a government which requires, above all things, that a particular regard be paid to its tranquillity, and where the extreme subordination calls for peace, it is absolutely necessary to shut up the women; for their intrigues would prove fatal to their husbands. A government which has not time to examine into the conduct of its subjects views them with a suspicious eye, only because they appear and suffer themselves to be known.

Let us only suppose that the levity of mind, the indiscretions, the tastes and caprices of our women, attended by their passions of a higher and a lower kind, with all their active fire, and in that full liberty with which they appear amongst us, were conveyed into an eastern government, where would be the father of a family who could enjoy a moment's repose? The men would be everywhere suspected, everywhere enemies; the state would be overturned, and the kingdom overflowed with rivers of blood.

10.--The Principle on which the Morals of the East are founded

In the case of a multiplicity of wives, the more a family ceases to be united, the more ought the laws to reunite its detached parts in a common centre; and the greater the diversity of interests, the more necessary is it for the laws to bring them back to a common interest. This is more particularly done by confinement. The women should not only be separated from the men by the walls of the house, but they ought also be separated in the same enclosure, in such a manner that each may have a distinct household in the same family. Hence each derives all that relates to the practice of morality, modesty, chastity, reserve, silence, peace, dependence, respect, and love; and, in short, a general direction of her thoughts to that which, in its own nature, is a thing of the greatest importance, a single and entire attachment to her family.

Women have naturally so many duties to fulfil--duties which are peculiarly theirs, that they cannot be sufficiently excluded from everything capable of inspiring other ideas; from everything that goes by the name of amusements; and from everything which we call business.

We find the manners more pure in the several parts of the East, in proportion as the confinement of women is more strictly observed. In great kingdoms there are necessarily great lords. The greater their wealth, the more enlarged is their ability of keeping their wives in an exact confinement, and of preventing them from entering again into society. Hence it proceeds that in the empires of Turkey, Persia, of the Mogul, China, and Japan, the manners of their wives are admirable.

But the case is not the same in India, where a multitude of islands and the situation of the land have divided the country into an infinite number of petty states, which from causes that we have not here room to mention are rendered despotic.

There are none there but wretches, some pillaging and others pillaged. Their grandees have very moderate fortunes, and those whom they call rich have only a bare subsistence. The confinement of their women cannot, therefore, be very strict; nor can they make use of any great precautions to keep them within due bounds; hence it proceeds that the corruption of their manners is scarcely to be conceived.

We may there see to what an extreme the vices of a climate indulged in full liberty will carry licentiousness. It is there that nature has a force, and modesty a weakness, which exceed all comprehension. At Patan22 the wanton desires of the women are so outrageous, that the men are obliged to make use of a certain apparel to shelter them from their designs.23 According to Mr. Smith,24 things are not better conducted in the petty kingdoms of Guinea. In these countries the two sexes lose even those laws which properly belong to each.

11.--Of domestic Slavery independently of Polygamy

It is not only a plurality of wives which in certain places of the East requires their confinement, but also the climate itself. Those who consider the horrible crimes, the treachery, the dark villainies, the poisonings, the assassinations, which the liberty of women has occasioned at Goa and in the Portuguese settlements in the Indies, where religion permits only one wife; and who compare them with the innocence and purity of manners of the women of Turkey, Persia, Hindostan, China, and Japan, will clearly see that it is frequently as necessary to separate them from the men, when they have but one, as when they have many.

These are things which ought to be decided by the climate. What purpose would it answer to shut up women in our northern countries, where their manners are naturally good; where all their passions are calm; and where love rules over the heart with so regular and gentle an empire that the least degree of prudence is sufficient to conduct it?

It is a happiness to live in those climates which permit such freedom of converse, where that sex which has most charms seems to embellish society, and where wives, reserving themselves for the pleasures of one, contribute to the amusement of all.

12.--0f natural Modesty

All nations are equally agreed in fixing contempt and ignominy on the incontinence of women. Nature has dictated this to all. She has established the attack, and she has established too the resistance; and having implanted desires in both, she has given to the one boldness, and to the other shame. To individuals she has granted a long succession of years to attend to their preservation: but to continue the species, she has granted only a moment.

It is then far from being true that to be incontinent is to follow the laws of nature; on the contrary, it is a violation of these laws, which can be observed only by behaving with modesty and discretion.

Besides, it is natural for intelligent beings to feel their imperfections. Nature has, therefore, fixed shame in our minds --a shame of our imperfections.

When, therefore, the physical power of certain climates violates the natural law of the two sexes, and that of intelligent beings, it belongs to the legislature to make civil laws, with a view to opposing the nature of the climate and reestablishing the primitive laws.



21 "It is an admirable touch-stone, to find by oneself a treasure, and to know the right owner; or to see a beautiful woman in a lonely apartment; or to hear the cries of an enemy, who must perish without our assistance." Translation of a Chinese piece of morality, which may be seen in Du Halde, vol: iii. p. 151.

22 "Collection of voyages for the establishment of an India Company," vol. ii. p. 2.

23 In the Maldivian isles the fathers marry their daughters at ten and eleven years of age, because it is a great sin, say they, to suffer them to endure the want of a husband. See Pirard, cap. xii. At Bantam, as soon as a girl is twelve or thirteen years old, she must be married, if they would not have her lead a debauched life. "Collection of Voyages for the establishment of an India Company," p. 348.

24 "Voyage to Guinea," part second. "When the women happen to meet with a man, they lay hold of him, and threaten to make a complaint to their husbands if he slight their addresses They steal into a man's bed, and wake him; and if he refuses to comply with their desires, they threaten to suffer themselves to be caught in flagranti."

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