The Law of Nations or the Principles of Natural Law (1758)

Emmerich de Vattel

Of the Glory of a Nation

§ 186. Advantages of glory.
THE glory of a nation is intimately connected with its power, and indeed forms a considerable part of it. It is this brilliant advantage that procures it the esteem of other nations, and renders it respectable to its neighbors. A nation whose reputation is well established — especially one whose glory is illustrious — is courted by all sovereigns; they desire its friendship, and are afraid of offending it. Its friends, and those who wish to become so, favor its enterprises; and those who envy its prosperity are afraid to show their ill-will.

§ 187. Duty of the nation.
It is, then, of great advantage to a nation to establish its reputation and glory; hence, this becomes one of the most important of the duties it owes to itself. True glory consists in the favorable opinion of men of wisdom and discernment; it is acquired by the virtues or good qualities of the head and the heart, and by great actions, which are the fruits of those virtues. A nation may have a two-fold claim to it; — first, by what it does in its national character, by the conduct of those who have the administration of its affairs, and are invested with its authority and government; and, secondly, by the merit of the individuals of whom the nation is composed.

§ 188. Duty of the prince.
A prince, a sovereign of whatever kind, being bound to exert every effort for the good of the nation, is doubtless obliged to extend its glory as far as lies in his power. We have seen that his duty is to labor after the perfection of the state, and of the people who are subject to him; by that means he will make them merit a good reputation and glory. He ought always to have this object in view, in every thing he undertakes, and in the use he makes of his power. Let him, in all his actions, display justice, moderation, and greatness of soul, and he will thus acquire for himself and his people a name respected by the universe, and not less useful than glorious. The glory of Henry IV, saved France. In the deplorable state in which he found affairs, his virtues gave animation to the loyal part of his subjects, and encouraged foreign nations to lend him their assistance, and to enter into an alliance with him against the ambitious Spaniards. In his circumstances, a weak prince of little estimation would have been abandoned by all the world; people would have been afraid of being involved in his ruin.

Besides the virtues which constitute the glory of princes as well as of private persons, there is a dignity and decorum that particularly belong to the supreme rank, and which a sovereign ought to observe with the greatest care. He cannot neglect them without degrading himself, and casting a stain upon the state. Every thing that emanates from the throne ought to bear the character of purity, nobleness, and greatness. What an idea do we conceive of a people, when we see their sovereign display, in his public acts, a meanness of sentiment by which a private person would think himself disgraced! All the majesty of the nation resides in the person of the prince; what, then, must become of it, if he prostitutes it, or suffers it to be prostituted by those who speak and act in his name? The minister who puts into his master’s mouth a language unworthy of him, deserves to be turned out of office with every mark of ignominy.

§ 189. Duty of the citizens.
The reputation of individuals is, by a common and natural mode of speaking and thinking, made to reflect on the whole nation. In general, we attribute a virtue or a vice to a people, when that vice or that virtue is frequently observed among them. We say that a nation is warlike, when it produces a great number of brave warriors; that it is learned, when there are many learned men among the citizens; and that it excels in the arts, when it produces many able artists. On the other hand, we call it cowardly, lazy, or stupid, when men of those characters are more numerous there than elsewhere. The citizens, being obliged to labor with all their might to promote the welfare and advantage of their country, not only owe to themselves the care of deserving a good reputation, but they also owe it to the nation, whose glory is so liable to be influenced by theirs. Bacon, Newton, Descartes, Leibnitz, and Bernoulli, have each done honor to his native country, and essentially benefitted it by the glory he acquired. Great ministers, and great generals — an Oxenstiern, a Turenne, a Marlborough, a Ruyter — serve their country in a double capacity, both by their actions and by their glory. On the other hand, the fear of reflecting a disgrace on his country will furnish the good citizen with a new motive for abstaining from every dishonorable action. And the prince ought not to suffer his subjects to give themselves up to vices capable of bringing infamy on the nation, or even of simply tarnishing the brightness of its glory; he has a right to suppress and to punish scandalous enormities, which do a real injury to the state.

§ 190. Example of the Swiss.
The example of the Swiss is very capable of showing how advantageous glory may prove to a nation.1 The high reputation they have acquired for their valor, and which they still gloriously support, has preserved them in peace for above two centuries, and rendered all the powers of Europe desirous of their assistance. Louis XI., while dauphin, was witness of the prodigies of valor they performed at the battle of St. Jacques, near Basle, and he immediately formed the design of closely attaching to his interest so intrepid a nation.2 The twelve hundred gallant heroes, who on this occasion attacked an army of between fifty and sixty thousand veteran troops, first defeated the vanguard of the Armagnacs, which was eighteen thousand strong; afterwards, rashly engaging the main body of the army, they perished almost to a man, without being able to complete their victory.3 But, besides their terrifying the enemy, and preserving Switzerland from a ruinous invasion, they rendered her essential service by the glory they acquired for her arms. A reputation for an inviolable fidelity is no less advantageous to that nation; and they have at all times been jealous of preserving it. The canton of Zug punished with death that unworthy soldier who betrayed the confidence of the duke of Milan by discovering that prince to the French, when, to escape them, he had disguised himself in the habit of the Swiss, and placed himself in their ranks as they were marching out of Novara.4

§ 191. Attacking the glory of a nation is doing her an injury.
Since the glory of a nation is a real and substantial advantage, she has a right to defend it, as well as her other advantages. He who attacks her glory does her an injury; and she has a right to exact of him, even by force of arms, a just reparation. We cannot, then condemn those measures, sometimes taken by sovereigns to support or avenge the dignity of their crown. They are equally just and necessary. If, when they do not proceed from too lofty pretensions, we attribute them to a vain pride, we only betray the grossest ignorance of the art of reigning: and despise one of the firmest supports of the greatness and safety of a state.


     1.    This observation properly refers to ante, § 124, p. 54.
     2.    See the Memoirs of Comines.
     3.    Of this small army, “eleven hundred and fifty-eight were counted dead on the field, and thirty-two wounded. Twelve men only escaped, who were considered by their countrymen as cowards that had preferred a life of shame to the honor of dying for their country.” History of the Helvetic Confederacy, by M. de Watteville, vol. i. p. 250. — Tschudi, p. 425.
     4.    Vogel’s Historical and political Treatise of the Alliances between France and the Thirteen Cantons, p. 75, 76.