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Montesquieu, Charles de - History

Montesquieu, Charles de - History


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How did Baron de Montesquieu impact the world?

Effects on the Modern World: Montesquieu's writing and ideologies in his book The Spirit of the Laws had a major impact on modern society, helping create the bases for the democratic institutions after the French revolution, and can even be seen in the constitution of the United States of America.

One may also ask, what impact did Baron de Montesquieu have on the creation of the Constitution? The writers of the Constitution were open to a different philosophy of Enlightenment. Montesquieu's philosophy was that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The only was to prevent people and government from becoming corrupt is to limit the amount of power, any one person or part of government has.

Consequently, why was Baron de Montesquieu important?

Montesquieu called the idea of dividing government power into three branches the "separation of powers." He thought it most important to create separate branches of government with equal but different powers. That way, the government would avoid placing too much power with one individual or group of individuals.


Fame as Political Thinker

In 1721, Montesquieu gained fame with the publication of the Persian Letters, a politically biting satire of religions, monarchies and the rich French under the guise of an epistolary novel, although he disdained calling it that. He moved to Paris, traveled extensively, and continued to publish, switching to political treatises such as a consideration of the fall of Rome.

His masterwork, The Spirit of Laws, published in 1748, had enormous influence on how governments should work, eschewing classical definitions of government for new delineations. He also established the idea of a separation of powers — legislative, executive and judicial — to more effectively propagate liberty. Although the Catholic Church put Spirit on its list of banned books, the work influenced France&aposs Declaration of the Rights of Man (Declaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen) and the U.S. Constitution. Montesquieu later published his Dnse de L𠆞sprit des Lois in 1750.


Montesquieu

(1689–1755). The French political philosopher Montesquieu developed the theory that governmental powers should be divided between executive, legislative, and judicial bodies. In the late 1780s his theory became a reality when it was adopted as one of the fundamental principles of the U.S. governmental system.

Charles-Louis de Secondat was born on Jan. 18, 1689, near Bordeaux, France. He was educated at the College de Juilly and studied law at the University of Bordeaux. When his uncle died in 1716, Charles-Louis became the baron of Montesquieu.

In 1721 Montesquieu published his first book, Lettres persanes (Persian Letters), which used the experiences of two fictitious Persian travelers to poke fun at the French government and social classes. The following year he went to Paris, where he moved in court circles, and in 1728 he became a member of the Académie Française, a prestigious intellectual society. Montesquieu sought to increase his knowledge by traveling through Europe.

Upon his return he began a major work on law and politics, comparing the governments of various countries. In 1748, after years of work, L’Esprit des lois (The Spirit of Laws) appeared. To Montesquieu, abuse of power, slavery, and intolerance were evil. His book reflects his idea that government can avoid these evils by separating power into executive, legislative, and judicial branches, by governing with honor rather than through fear, and by upholding human dignity. His book was controversial but also very influential. It inspired France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and the U.S. Constitution. Montesquieu published a defense of L’Esprit des lois in 1750 and in his last years was a contributor to the Encyclopédie. He died in Paris on Feb. 10, 1755.


4. The Spirit of the Laws

Montesquieu's aim in The Spirit of the Laws is to explain human laws and social institutions. This might seem like an impossible project: unlike physical laws, which are, according to Montesquieu, instituted and sustained by God, positive laws and social institutions are created by fallible human beings who are "subject . to ignorance and error, [and] hurried away by a thousand impetuous passions" (SL 1.1). One might therefore expect our laws and institutions to be no more comprehensible than any other catalog of human follies, an expectation which the extraordinary diversity of laws adopted by different societies would seem to confirm.

Nonetheless, Montesquieu believes that this apparent chaos is much more comprehensible than one might think. On his view, the key to understanding different laws and social systems is to recognize that they should be adapted to a variety of different factors, and cannot be properly understood unless one considers them in this light. Specifically, laws should be adapted "to the people for whom they are framed. to the nature and principle of each government, . to the climate of each country, to the quality of its soil, to its situation and extent, to the principal occupation of the natives, whether husbandmen, huntsmen or shepherds: they should have relation to the degree of liberty which the constitution will bear to the religion of the inhabitants, to their inclinations, riches, numbers, commerce, manners, and customs. In fine, they have relations to each other, as also to their origin, to the intent of the legislator, and to the order of things on which they are established in all of which different lights they ought to be considered" (SL 1.3). When we consider legal and social systems in relation to these various factors, Montesquieu believes, we will find that many laws and institutions that had seemed puzzling or even perverse are in fact quite comprehensible.

Understanding why we have the laws we do is important in itself. However, it also serves practical purposes. Most importantly, it will discourage misguided attempts at reform. Montesquieu is not a utopian, either by temperament or conviction. He believes that to live under a stable, non-despotic government that leaves its law-abiding citizens more or less free to live their lives is a great good, and that no such government should be lightly tampered with. If we understand our system of government, and the ways in which it is adapted to the conditions of our country and its people, we will see that many of its apparently irrational features actually make sense, and that to 'reform' these features would actually weaken it. Thus, for instance, one might think that a monarchical government would be strengthened by weakening the nobility, thereby giving more power to the monarch. On Montesquieu's view, this is false: to weaken those groups or institutions which check a monarch's power is to risk transforming monarchy into despotism, a form of government that is both abhorrent and unstable.

Understanding our laws will also help us to see which aspects of them are genuinely in need of reform, and how these reforms might be accomplished. For instance, Montesquieu believes that the laws of many countries can be made be more liberal and more humane, and that they can often be applied less arbitrarily, with less scope for the unpredictable and oppressive use of state power. Likewise, religious persecution and slavery can be abolished, and commerce can be encouraged. These reforms would generally strengthen monarchical governments, since they enhance the freedom and dignity of citizens. If lawmakers understand the relations between laws on the one hand and conditions of their countries and the principles of their governments on the other, they will be in a better position to carry out such reforms without undermining the governments they seek to improve.

4.1 Forms of Government

Montesquieu holds that there are three types of governments: republican governments, which can take either democratic or aristocratic forms monarchies and despotisms. Unlike, for instance, Aristotle, Montesquieu does not distinguish forms of government on the basis of the virtue of the sovereign. The distinction between monarchy and despotism, for instance, depends not on the virtue of the monarch, but on whether or not he governs "by fixed and established laws" (SL 2.1). Each form of government has a principle, a set of "human passions which set it in motion" (SL 3.1) and each can be corrupted if its principle is undermined or destroyed.

In a democracy, the people are sovereign. They may govern through ministers, or be advised by a senate, but they must have the power of choosing their ministers and senators for themselves. The principle of democracy is political virtue, by which Montesquieu means "the love of the laws and of our country" (SL 4.5), including its democratic constitution. The form of a democratic government makes the laws governing suffrage and voting fundamental. The need to protect its principle, however, imposes far more extensive requirements. On Montesquieu's view, the virtue required by a functioning democracy is not natural. It requires "a constant preference of public to private interest" (SL 4.5) it "limits ambition to the sole desire, to the sole happiness, of doing greater services to our country than the rest of our fellow citizens" (SL 5.3) and it "is a self-renunciation, which is ever arduous and painful" (SL 4.5). Montesquieu compares it to monks' love for their order: "their rule debars them from all those things by which the ordinary passions are fed there remains therefore only this passion for the very rule that torments them. . the more it curbs their inclinations, the more force it gives to the only passion left them" (SL 5.2). To produce this unnatural self-renunciation, "the whole power of education is required" (SL 4.5). A democracy must educate its citizens to identify their interests with the interests of their country, and should have censors to preserve its mores. It should seek to establish frugality by law, so as to prevent its citizens from being tempted to advance their own private interests at the expense of the public good for the same reason, the laws by which property is transferred should aim to preserve an equal distribution of property among citizens. Its territory should be small, so that it is easy for citizens to identify with it, and more difficult for extensive private interests to emerge.

Democracies can be corrupted in two ways: by what Montesquieu calls "the spirit of inequality" and "the spirit of extreme equality" (SL 8.2). The spirit of inequality arises when citizens no longer identify their interests with the interests of their country, and therefore seek both to advance their own private interests at the expense of their fellow citizens, and to acquire political power over them. The spirit of extreme equality arises when the people are no longer content to be equal as citizens, but want to be equal in every respect. In a functioning democracy, the people choose magistrates to exercise executive power, and they respect and obey the magistrates they have chosen. If those magistrates forfeit their respect, they replace them. When the spirit of extreme equality takes root, however, the citizens neither respect nor obey any magistrate. They "want to manage everything themselves, to debate for the senate, to execute for the magistrate, and to decide for the judges" (SL 8.2). Eventually the government will cease to function, the last remnants of virtue will disappear, and democracy will be replaced by despotism.

In an aristocracy, one part of the people governs the rest. The principle of an aristocratic government is moderation, the virtue which leads those who govern in an aristocracy to restrain themselves both from oppressing the people and from trying to acquire excessive power over one another. In an aristocracy, the laws should be designed to instill and protect this spirit of moderation. To do so, they must do three things. First, the laws must prevent the nobility from abusing the people. The power of the nobility makes such abuse a standing temptation in an aristocracy to avoid it, the laws should deny the nobility some powers, like the power to tax, which would make this temptation all but irresistible, and should try to foster responsible and moderate administration. Second, the laws should disguise as much as possible the difference between the nobility and the people, so that the people feel their lack of power as little as possible. Thus the nobility should have modest and simple manners, since if they do not attempt to distinguish themselves from the people "the people are apt to forget their subjection and weakness" (SL 5.8). Finally, the laws should try to ensure equality among the nobles themselves, and among noble families. When they fail to do so, the nobility will lose its spirit of moderation, and the government will be corrupted.

In a monarchy, one person governs "by fixed and established laws" (SL 2.1). According to Montesquieu, these laws "necessarily suppose the intermediate channels through which (the monarch's) power flows: for if there be only the momentary and capricious will of a single person to govern the state, nothing can be fixed, and, of course, there is no fundamental law" (SL 2.4). These 'intermediate channels' are such subordinate institutions as the nobility and an independent judiciary and the laws of a monarchy should therefore be designed to preserve their power. The principle of monarchical government is honor. Unlike the virtue required by republican governments, the desire to win honor and distinction comes naturally to us. For this reason education has a less difficult task in a monarchy than in a republic: it need only heighten our ambitions and our sense of our own worth, provide us with an ideal of honor worth aspiring to, and cultivate in us the politeness needed to live with others whose sense of their worth matches our own. The chief task of the laws in a monarchy is to protect the subordinate institutions that distinguish monarchy from despotism. To this end, they should make it easy to preserve large estates undivided, protect the rights and privileges of the nobility, and promote the rule of law. They should also encourage the proliferation of distinctions and of rewards for honorable conduct, including luxuries.

A monarchy is corrupted when the monarch either destroys the subordinate institutions that constrain his will, or decides to rule arbitrarily, without regard to the basic laws of his country, or debases the honors at which his citizens might aim, so that "men are capable of being loaded at the very same time with infamy and with dignities" (SL 8.7). The first two forms of corruption destroy the checks on the sovereign's will that separate monarchy from despotism the third severs the connection between honorable conduct and its proper rewards. In a functioning monarchy, personal ambition and a sense of honor work together. This is monarchy's great strength and the source of its extraordinary stability: whether its citizens act from genuine virtue, a sense of their own worth, a desire to serve their king, or personal ambition, they will be led to act in ways that serve their country. A monarch who rules arbitrarily, or who rewards servility and ignoble conduct instead of genuine honor, severs this connection and corrupts his government.

In despotic states "a single person directs everything by his own will and caprice" (SL 2.1). Without laws to check him, and with no need to attend to anyone who does not agree with him, a despot can do whatever he likes, however ill-advised or reprehensible. His subjects are no better than slaves, and he can dispose of them as he sees fit. The principle of despotism is fear. This fear is easily maintained, since the situation of a despot's subjects is genuinely terrifying. Education is unnecessary in a despotism if it exists at all, it should be designed to debase the mind and break the spirit. Such ideas as honor and virtue should not occur to a despot's subjects, since "persons capable of setting a value on themselves would be likely to create disturbances. Fear must therefore depress their spirits, and extinguish even the least sense of ambition" (SL 3.9). Their "portion here, like that of beasts, is instinct, compliance, and punishment" (SL 3.10), and any higher aspirations should be brutally discouraged.

Montesquieu writes that "the principle of despotic government is subject to a continual corruption, because it is even in its nature corrupt" (SL 8.10). This is true in several senses. First, despotic governments undermine themselves. Because property is not secure in a despotic state, commerce will not flourish, and the state will be poor. The people must be kept in a state of fear by the threat of punishment however, over time the punishments needed to keep them in line will tend to become more and more severe, until further threats lose their force. Most importantly, however, the despot's character is likely to prevent him from ruling effectively. Since a despot's every whim is granted, he "has no occasion to deliberate, to doubt, to reason he has only to will" (SL 4.3). For this reason he is never forced to develop anything like intelligence, character, or resolution. Instead, he is "naturally lazy, voluptuous, and ignorant" (SL 2.5), and has no interest in actually governing his people. He will therefore choose a vizier to govern for him, and retire to his seraglio to pursue pleasure. In his absence, however, intrigues against him will multiply, especially since his rule is necessarily odious to his subjects, and since they have so little to lose if their plots against him fail. He cannot rely on his army to protect him, since the more power they have, the greater the likelihood that his generals will themselves try to seize power. For this reason the ruler in a despotic state has no more security than his people.

Second, monarchical and republican governments involve specific governmental structures, and require that their citizens have specific sorts of motivation. When these structures crumble, or these motivations fail, monarchical and republican governments are corrupted, and the result of their corruption is that they fall into despotism. But when a particular despotic government falls, it is not generally replaced by a monarchy or a republic. The creation of a stable monarchy or republic is extremely difficult: "a masterpiece of legislation, rarely produced by hazard, and seldom attained by prudence" (SL 5.14). It is particularly difficult when those who would have both to frame the laws of such a government and to live by them have previously been brutalized and degraded by despotism. Producing a despotic government, by contrast, is relatively straightforward. A despotism requires no powers to be carefully balanced against one another, no institutions to be created and maintained in existence, no complicated motivations to be fostered, and no restraints on power to be kept in place. One need only terrify one's fellow citizens enough to allow one to impose one's will on them and this, Montesquieu claims, "is what every capacity may reach" (SL 5.14). For these reasons despotism necessarily stands in a different relation to corruption than other forms of government: while they are liable to corruption, despotism is its embodiment.

4.2 Liberty

Montesquieu is among the greatest philosophers of liberalism, but his is what Shklar has called "a liberalism of fear" (Shklar, Montesquieu, p. 89). According to Montesquieu, political liberty is "a tranquillity of mind arising from the opinion each person has of his safety" (SL 11.6). Liberty is not the freedom to do whatever we want: if we have the freedom to harm others, for instance, others will also have the freedom to harm us, and we will have no confidence in our own safety. Liberty involves living under laws that protect us from harm while leaving us free to do as much as possible, and that enable us to feel the greatest possible confidence that if we obey those laws, the power of the state will not be directed against us.

If it is to provide its citizens with the greatest possible liberty, a government must have certain features. First, since "constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it . it is necessary from the very nature of things that power should be a check to power" (SL 11.4). This is achieved through the separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers of government. If different persons or bodies exercise these powers, then each can check the others if they try to abuse their powers. But if one person or body holds several or all of these powers, then nothing prevents that person or body from acting tyrannically and the people will have no confidence in their own security.

Certain arrangements make it easier for the three powers to check one another. Montesquieu argues that the legislative power alone should have the power to tax, since it can then deprive the executive of funding if the latter attempts to impose its will arbitrarily. Likewise, the executive power should have the right to veto acts of the legislature, and the legislature should be composed of two houses, each of which can prevent acts of the other from becoming law. The judiciary should be independent of both the legislature and the executive, and should restrict itself to applying the laws to particular cases in a fixed and consistent manner, so that "the judicial power, so terrible to mankind, &hellip becomes, as it were, invisible", and people "fear the office, but not the magistrate" (SL 11.6).

Liberty also requires that the laws concern only threats to public order and security, since such laws will protect us from harm while leaving us free to do as many other things as possible. Thus, for instance, the laws should not concern offenses against God, since He does not require their protection. They should not prohibit what they do not need to prohibit: "all punishment which is not derived from necessity is tyrannical. The law is not a mere act of power things in their own nature indifferent are not within its province" (SL 19.14). The laws should be constructed to make it as easy as possible for citizens to protect themselves from punishment by not committing crimes. They should not be vague, since if they were, we might never be sure whether or not some particular action was a crime. Nor should they prohibit things we might do inadvertently, like bumping into a statue of the emperor, or involuntarily, like doubting the wisdom of one of his decrees if such actions were crimes, no amount of effort to abide by the laws of our country would justify confidence that we would succeed, and therefore we could never feel safe from criminal prosecution. Finally, the laws should make it as easy as possible for an innocent person to prove his or her innocence. They should concern outward conduct, not (for instance) our thoughts and dreams, since while we can try to prove that we did not perform some action, we cannot prove that we never had some thought. The laws should not criminalize conduct that is inherently hard to prove, like witchcraft and lawmakers should be cautious when dealing with crimes like sodomy, which are typically not carried out in the presence of several witnesses, lest they "open a very wide door to calumny" (SL 12.6).

Montesquieu's emphasis on the connection between liberty and the details of the criminal law were unusual among his contemporaries, and inspired such later legal reformers as Cesare Beccaria.

4.3 Climate and Geography

Montequieu believes that climate and geography affect the temperaments and customs of a country's inhabitants. He is not a determinist, and does not believe that these influences are irresistible. Nonetheless, he believes that the laws should take these effects into account, accommodating them when necessary, and counteracting their worst effects.

According to Montesquieu, a cold climate constricts our bodies' fibers, and causes coarser juices to flow through them. Heat, by contrast, expands our fibers, and produces more rarefied juices. These physiological changes affect our characters. Those who live in cold climates are vigorous and bold, phlegmatic, frank, and not given to suspicion or cunning. They are relatively insensitive to pleasure and pain Montesquieu writes that "you must flay a Muscovite alive to make him feel" (SL 14.2). Those who live in warm climates have stronger but less durable sensations. They are more fearful, more amorous, and more susceptible both to the temptations of pleasure and to real or imagined pain but they are less resolute, and less capable of sustained or decisive action. The manners of those who live in temperate climates are "inconstant", since "the climate has not a quality determinate enough to fix them" (SL 14.2). These differences are not hereditary: if one moves from one sort of climate to another, one's temperament will alter accordingly.

A hot climate can make slavery comprehensible. Montesquieu writes that "the state of slavery is in its own nature bad" (SL 15.1) he is particularly contemptuous of religious and racist justifications for slavery. However, on his view, there are two types of country in which slavery, while not acceptable, is less bad than it might otherwise be. In despotic countries, the situation of slaves is not that different from the situation of the despot's other subjects for this reason, slavery in a despotic country is "more tolerable" (SL 15.1) than in other countries. In unusually hot countries, it might be that "the excess of heat enervates the body, and renders men so slothful and dispirited that nothing but the fear of chastisement can oblige them to perform any laborious duty: slavery is there more reconcilable to reason" (SL 15.7). However, Montesquieu writes that when work can be done by freemen motivated by the hope of gain rather than by slaves motivated by fear, the former will always work better and that in such climates slavery is not only wrong but imprudent. He hopes that "there is not that climate upon earth where the most laborious services might not with proper encouragement be performed by freemen" (SL 15.8) if there is no such climate, then slavery could never be justified on these grounds.

The quality of a country's soil also affects the form of its government. Monarchies are more common where the soil is fertile, and republics where it is barren. This is so for three reasons. First, those who live in fruitful countries are more apt to be content with their situation, and to value in a government not the liberty it bestows but its ability to provide them with enough security that they can get on with their farming. They are therefore more willing to accept a monarchy if it can provide such security. Often it can, since monarchies can respond to threats more quickly than republics. Second, fertile countries are both more desirable than barren countries and easier to conquer: they "are always of a level surface, where the inhabitants are unable to dispute against a stronger power they are then obliged to submit and when they have once submitted, the spirit of liberty cannot return the wealth of the country is a pledge of their fidelity" (SL 18.2). Montesquieu believes that monarchies are much more likely than republics to wage wars of conquest, and therefore that a conquering power is likely to be a monarchy. Third, those who live where the soil is barren have to work hard in order to survive this tends to make them "industrious, sober, inured to hardship, courageous, and fit for war" (SL 18.4). Those who inhabit fertile country, by contrast, favor "ease, effeminacy, and a certain fondness for the preservation of life" (SL 18.4). For this reason, the inhabitants of barren countries are better able to defend themselves from such attacks as might occur, and to defend their liberty against those who would destroy it.

These facts give barren countries advantages that compensate for the infertility of their soil. Since they are less likely to be invaded, they are less likely to be sacked and devastated and they are more likely to be worked well, since "countries are not cultivated in proportion to their fertility, but to their liberty" (SL 18.3). This is why "the best provinces are most frequently depopulated, while the frightful countries of the North continue always inhabited, from their being almost uninhabitable" (SL 18.3).

Montesquieu believes that the climate and geography of Asia explain why despotism flourishes there. Asia, he thinks, has two features that distinguish it from Europe. First, Asia has virtually no temperate zone. While the mountains of Scandinavia shelter Europe from arctic winds, Asia has no such buffer for this reason its frigid northern zone extends much further south than in Europe, and there is a relatively quick transition from it to the tropical south. For this reason "the warlike, brave, and active people touch immediately upon those who are indolent, effeminate and timorous the one must, therefore, conquer, and the other be conquered" (SL 17.3). In Europe, by contrast, the climate changes gradually from cold to hot therefore "strong nations are opposed to the strong and those who join each other have nearly the same courage" (SL 17.3). Second, Asia has larger plains than Europe. Its mountain ranges lie further apart, and its rivers are not such formidable barriers to invasion. Since Europe is naturally divided into smaller regions, it is more difficult for any one power to conquer them all this means that Europe will tend to have more and smaller states. Asia, by contrast, tends to have much larger empires, which predisposes it to despotism.

4.4 Commerce

Of all the ways in which a country might seek to enrich itself, Montesquieu believes, commerce is the only one without overwhelming drawbacks. Conquering and plundering one's neighbors can provide temporary infusions of money, but over time the costs of maintaining an occupying army and administering subjugated peoples impose strains that few countries can endure. Extracting precious metals from colonial mines leads to general inflation thus the costs of extraction increase while the value of the extracted metals decreases. The increased availability of money furthers the development of commerce in other countries however, in the country which extracts gold and silver, domestic industry is destroyed.

Commerce, by contrast, has no such disadvantages. It does not require vast armies, or the continued subjugation of other peoples. It does not undermine itself, as the extraction of gold from colonial mines does, and it rewards domestic industry. It therefore sustains itself, and nations which engage in it, over time. While it does not produce all the virtues -- hospitality, Montesquieu thinks, is more often found among the poor than among commercial peoples -- it does produce some: "the spirit of commerce is naturally attended with that of frugality, economy, moderation, labor, prudence, tranquility, order, and rule" (SL 5.6). In addition, it "is a cure for the most destructive prejudices" (SL 20.1), improves manners, and leads to peace among nations.

In monarchies, Montesquieu believes, the aim of commerce is, for the most part, to supply luxuries. In republics, it is to bring from one country what is wanted in another, "gaining little" but "gaining incessantly" (SL 20.4). In despotisms, there is very little commerce of any kind, since there is no security of property. In a monarchy, neither kings nor nobles should engage in commerce, since this would risk concentrating too much power in their hands. By the same token, there should be no banks in a monarchy, since a treasure "no sooner becomes great than it becomes the treasure of the prince" (SL 20.10). In republics, by contrast, banks are extremely useful, and anyone should be allowed to engage in trade. Restrictions on which profession a person can follow destroy people's hopes of bettering their situation they are therefore appropriate only to despotic states.

While some mercantilists had argued that commerce is a zero-sum game in which when some gain, others necessarily lose, Montesquieu believes that commerce benefits all countries except those who have nothing but their land and what it produces. In those deeply impoverished countries, commerce with other countries will encourage those who own the land to oppress those who work it, rather than encouraging the development of domestic industries and manufacture. However, all other countries benefit by commerce, and should seek to trade with as many other nations as possible, "for it is competition which sets a just value on merchandise, and establishes the relation between them" (SL 20.9).

Montesquieu describes commerce as an activity that cannot be confined or controlled by any individual government or monarch. This, in his view, has always been true: "Commerce is sometimes destroyed by conquerors, sometimes cramped by monarchs it traverses the earth, flies from the places where it is oppressed, and stays where it has liberty to breathe" (SL 21.5). However, the independence of commerce was greatly enhanced when, during the medieval period, Jews responded to persecution and the seizure of their property by inventing letters of exchange. "Commerce, by this method, became capable of eluding violence, and of maintaining everywhere its ground the richest merchant having none but invisible effects, which he could convey imperceptibly wherever he pleased" (SL 21.20). This set in motion developments which made commerce still more independent of monarchs and their whims.

First, it facilitated the development of international markets, which place prices outside the control of governments. Money, according to Montesquieu, is "a sign which represents the value of all merchandise" (SL 22.2). The price of merchandise depends on the quantity of money and the quantity of merchandise, and on the amounts of money and merchandise that are in trade. Monarchs can affect this price by imposing tariffs or duties on certain goods. But since they cannot control the amounts of money and merchandise that are in trade within their own countries, let alone internationally, a monarch "can no more fix the price of merchandise than he can establish by a decree that the relation 1 has to 10 is equal to that of 1 to 20" (SL 22.7). If a monarch attempts to do so, he courts disaster: "Julian's lowering the price of provisions at Antioch was the cause of a most terrible famine" (SL 22.7).

Second, it permitted the development of international currency exchanges, which place the exchange rate of a country's currency largely outside the control of that country's government. A monarch can establish a currency, and stipulate how much of some metal each unit of that currency shall contain. However, monarchs cannot control the rates of exchange between their currencies and those of other countries. These rates depend on the relative scarcity of money in the countries in question, and they are "fixed by the general opinion of the merchants, never by the decrees of the prince" (SL 22.10). For this reason "the exchange of all places constantly tends to a certain proportion, and that in the very nature of things" (SL 22.10).

Finally, the development of international commerce gives governments a great incentive to adopt policies that favor, or at least do not impede, its development. Governments need to maintain confidence in their creditworthiness if they wish to borrow money this deters them from at least the more extreme forms of fiscal irresponsibility, and from oppressing too greatly those citizens from whom they might later need to borrow money. Since the development of commerce requires the availability of loans, governments must establish interest rates high enough to encourage lending, but not so high as to make borrowing unprofitable. Taxes must not be so high that they deprive citizens of the hope of bettering their situations (SL 13.2), and the laws should allow those citizens enough freedom to carry out commercial affairs.

In general, Montesquieu believes that commerce has had an extremely beneficial influence on government. Since commerce began to recover after the development of letters of exchange and the reintroduction of lending at interest, he writes:

4.5 Religion

Religion plays only a minor part in the Spirit of the Laws. God is described in Book 1 as creating nature and its laws having done so, He vanishes, and plays no further explanatory role. In particular, Montesquieu does not explain the laws of any country by appeal to divine enlightenment, providence, or guidance. In the Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu considers religions "in relation only to the good they produce in civil society" (SL 24.1), and not to their truth or falsity. He regards different religions as appropriate to different environments and forms of government. Protestantism is most suitable to republics, Catholicism to monarchies, and Islam to despotisms the Islamic prohibition on eating pork is appropriate to Arabia, where hogs are scarce and contribute to disease, while in India, where cattle are badly needed but do not thrive, a prohibition on eating beef is suitable. Thus, "when Montezuma with so much obstinacy insisted that the religion of the Spaniards was good for their country, and his for Mexico, he did not assert an absurdity" (SL 24.24).

Religion can help to ameliorate the effects of bad laws and institutions it is the only thing capable of serving as a check on despotic power. However, on Montesquieu's view it is generally a mistake to base civil laws on religious principles. Religion aims at the perfection of the individual civil laws aim at the welfare of society. Given these different aims, what these two sets of laws should require will often differ for this reason religion "ought not always to serve as a first principle to the civil laws" (SL 26.9). The civil laws are not an appropriate tool for enforcing religious norms of conduct: God has His own laws, and He is quite capable of enforcing them without our assistance. When we attempt to enforce God's laws for Him, or to cast ourselves as His protectors, we make our religion an instrument of fanaticism and oppression this is a service neither to God nor to our country.

If several religions have gained adherents in a country, those religions should all be tolerated, not only by the state but by its citizens. The laws should "require from the several religions, not only that they shall not embroil the state, but that they shall not raise disturbances among themselves" (SL 25.9). While one can try to persuade people to change religions by offering them positive inducements to do so, attempts to force others to convert are ineffective and inhumane. In an unusually scathing passage, Montesquieu also argues that they are unworthy of Christianity, and writes: "if anyone in times to come shall dare to assert, that in the age in which we live, the people of Europe were civilized, you (the Inquisition) will be cited to prove that they were barbarians and the idea they will have of you will be such as will dishonor your age, and spread hatred over all your contemporaries" (SL 25.13).


Baron Montesquieu

Charles-Louis de Secondat, better known as Baron Montesquieu (1689-1755) was a lawyer, aristocrat and one of the leading figures of the French Enlightenment.

Montesquieu was born into a noble family in south-western France, where his family was significantly involved in provincial government. The young Montesquieu trained as a lawyer and spent time in Paris, becoming a visible member of the city’s intellectual set.

In 1715, Montesquieu became president of the Bordeaux parlement, an office he effectively inherited from his father. In 1726 he sold his position in the parlement to travel and write. His travels included an extended period in England, where Montesquieu was a keen student of the British political system.

Montesquieu’s early writings reveal him as liberal, a deist and a supporter of constitutional monarchy. Montesquieu was no radical democrat: he believed that law and government were best left to educated elites.

In 1748, Montesquieu published his most famous work, De l’Esprit des Lois (“The Spirit of the Laws”), a comparison of different political systems.

In this work, Montesquieu developed and refined the idea of the separation of powers, previously explored by English writer John Locke. He argued that government is most effective when divided into three discrete branches: executive, legislative and judicial. Each should have constitutionally separated powers that prevent one branch from gaining dominance over the other two, thus preventing any prospect of tyranny.

The Spirit of the Laws was widely read across Europe and became arguably the most important work of political theory of the 18th century. It had a profound impact both on the American Revolution and on French revolutionary ideas.

Montesquieu became blind shortly after its publication and spent his last years in seclusion, dying in 1755.


Main keywords of the article below: enlightenment, influential, political, man, french, lawyer, letters, philosophers, montesquieu, age.

KEY TOPICS
Montesquieu was a French lawyer, man of letters, and one of the most influential political philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. [1] Baron de Montesquieu was a French political analyst who lived during the Age of Enlightenment. [2]

French philosopher Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède and de Montesquieu, was a highly influential political thinker during the Age of Enlightenment. [3] Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Br and de Montesquieu, was born in the Aquitaine region of France on January 18, 1689, during the Age of Enlightenment. [3]

Montesquieu's importance today is based on his writing and the impact he had on the overall Age of Enlightenment that swept across Europe. [4]


Montesquieu was a French political philosopher of the Enlightenment period, whose articulation of the theory of separation of powers is implemented in many constitutions throughout the world. [1] Montesquieu was one of the first of the Enlightenment philosophers to prescribe both universal and specific laws to individual societies and their governments. [5] The baron de Montesquieu, the first of the great Enlightenment authors, demonstrated a liberal approach to the world fitting in with an innovative pluralist and relativist view of society. [6] For even among the great thinkers of the French Enlightenment, the baron de Montesquieu stands out as an especially impassioned advocate for moderation. [7] …historians of the French Enlightenment, Montesquieu (1689-1755) and Voltaire (1694-1778), responded in different ways to the scientific impulse. [6] The major figures of the Enlightenment included Beccaria, Diderot, Hume, Kant, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Adam Smith, and Voltaire. [8] Two Enlightenment authors who had an especially profound impact on the future revolutionaries were Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78). [6] Montesquieu and Rousseau were two of the philosophes during the Enlightenment that had a profound impact on Europe and the world. [5] Montesquieu does not explain the laws of any country by appeal to divine enlightenment, providence, or guidance. [9] The whole framework of our Constitution is based on what Montesquieu thought of during the enlightenment period. [7] Shackleton, Robert, 1988, Essays on Montesquieu and the Enlightenment, David Gilman and Martin Smith (eds.), Oxford: Voltaire Foundation at the Taylor Institution. [9]

Enlightenment scholars sought to curtail the political power of organized religion and thereby prevent another age of intolerant religious war. [8] The Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason in French : le Siècle des Lumières, lit. [8] The Age of Enlightenment was preceded by and closely associated with the scientific revolution. [8] The prime example of reference works that systematized scientific knowledge in the age of Enlightenment were universal encyclopedias rather than technical dictionaries. [8] "For Kant, Enlightenment was mankind's final coming of age, the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance". [8] According to historian Roy Porter, the liberation of the human mind from a dogmatic state of ignorance is the epitome of what the Age of Enlightenment was trying to capture. [8]

Another text influenced by Enlightenment values was Charles Burney's A General History of Music: From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period (1776), which was a historical survey and an attempt to rationalize elements in music systematically over time. [8] During the Age of Enlightenment, literature was at its peak from the many entertainments available during this time period. [7] It expanded rapidly during the Age of Enlightenment, reaching practically every country in Europe. [8] There is little consensus on the precise beginning of the Age of Enlightenment, though the beginning of the 18th century (1701) or the middle of the 17th century (1650) are often used as epochs. [8] The cultural exchange during the Age of Enlightenment ran in both directions across the Atlantic. [8] Encyclopedias and dictionaries also became more popular during the Age of Enlightenment as the number of educated consumers who could afford such texts began to multiply. [8]

The Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote from London that the work would win the admiration of all the ages an Italian friend spoke of reading it in an ecstasy of admiration the Swiss scientist Charles Bonnet said that Montesquieu had discovered the laws of the intellectual world as Newton had those of the physical world. [6] In an unusually scathing passage, Montesquieu also argues that they are unworthy of Christianity, and writes: "if anyone in times to come shall dare to assert, that in the age in which we live, the people of Europe were civilized, you (the Inquisition) will be cited to prove that they were barbarians and the idea they will have of you will be such as will dishonor your age, and spread hatred over all your contemporaries" (SL 25.13). [9] After losing both parents at an early age, he became a ward of his uncle, the Baron de Montesquieu. [1]


Foremost in France among proponents of the Enlightenment were baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, and comte de Buffon Baron Turgot and other physiocrats and Jean Jacques Rousseau, who greatly influenced romanticism. [10] A huge proponent of the Enlightenment, Montesquieu suggested the theory of the separation of powers in order to obtain a political system of checks and balances, promoting order and equality. [11] While the scientific revolution predates the Age of Enlightenment, this period saw significant advances in the circulation and availability of scientific knowledge, mostly due to the rapid proliferation of books and newspapers among an increasingly literate populace. 10 Debate societies, book clubs and coffeehouses sprang up in the cities, exposing broader social strata to the newest ideas and bringing the academic ideals of open debate into the public sphere. [12] The Enlightenment discovery or construction of science, in this sense, owed everything to the idea of a heroic age of scientific achievement just behind it, in the development of modern astronomy and physics from Nicolaus Copernicus to Newton. [10] This passage appeared in the entry on “ Giambattista Vico ” in the first edition of the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968), published in an age in which the Enlightenment had fallen on such hard times that it did not even rate a separate entry in that Encyclopedia. [10] Science, culture and the arts were influenced heavily by the ideals and values of the Age of Enlightenment, and other nation's wars for independence from colonial rulers, such as those in South America, were soon to follow. [11] Charls-Louis de Secondat, better known as "the Baron of Montesquieu’, was a French philosopher, lawyer, statesman, and winemaker during the Age of Enlightenment. [13] Enlightenment (Age of Reason) Intellectual temper of Western Europe in the 18th century. [10] The Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was a philosophical movement that took place primarily in Europe and, later, in North America, during the late 17 th and early 18 th century. [14] The Enlightenment or The Age of Enlightenment (an approximation of the German Aufklärung ) was an era in the 17 th to 18 th century that occurred following the Renaissance, and describes the period when Western philosophy switched to advocating reason as a primary source of authority. [12] The Encyclopdie of Denis Diderot epitomized the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, as it is also called. [10] The upheaval of the Age Enlightenment would ripple around the world, and not just in political arenas. [11] France is another country whose revolution was sparked (at least in part) by the fiery passions stirred up during the Age of Enlightenment. [11] It was Kant himself who answered the question, "Do we now live in an enlightened age?" by saying: "No, but we live in an age of enlightenment" — a judgment that perhaps remains as true today as when it was first rendered. [10] The Age of Enlightenment influenced many legal codes and governmental structures that are still in place today. [11] Politically, the Age of Revolutions afforded opportunities for state construction beyond what any Enlightenment thinker had envisaged. [10]


Considerations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur decadence ("Reflections on the Causes of the Grandeur and Declension of the Romans," 1734) and De l’esprit des loix ("The Spirit of the Laws," 1748) are among the greatest works in the history of political philosophy and established Montesquieu as a philosopher of the Enlightenment. [15] Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (January 18, 1689 - February 10, 1755), more commonly known as Montesquieu, was a French political thinker and jurist, who lived during the Enlightenment and made significant contributions to modern political sociology and the philosophy of history. [15]

Enlightenment philosophers John Locke, Charles Montesquieu, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all developed theories of government in which some or even all the people would govern. [16] Major elements of our democracy, such as "separation of powers" and "checks and balances" came from Enlightenment writers like Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and Voltaire. [17]

Since the ideals of the Enlightenment often opposed the absolute monarchies of Europe, governments often censored Montesquieu's work. [4] Regardless, the 'Spirit of the Laws' was widely read across Europe, especially in Britain and America, and became one of the most influential works of the entire Age of Enlightenment. [4] The Enlightenment (or Age of Enlightenment) was an intellectual movement that began in western Europe in the mid-1600s and continued until the late 18th century. [18] Today he is best known for his role as a writer and philosopher in the Age of Enlightenment alongside others, such as: John Locke, Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. [4] A new age with fresh ideas was emerging--the European Enlightenment. [16] In this regard, this age is the age of enlightenment, the century of Frederick. [19]

Socially and financially secure at the age of 27, Montesquieu devoted his time to his judicial duties (for which he made a careful study of Roman law), the administration of his property, and the study of the sciences at the newly-formed academy of Bordeaux. [15] The Enlightenment's leading intellectuals included Sir Isaac Newton, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. [20]

The Republic of Letters was the sum of a number of Enlightenment ideals: an egalitarian realm governed by knowledge that could act across political boundaries and rival state power. [8] In each case, Enlightenment values became accepted and led to significant political and administrative reforms that laid the groundwork for the creation of modern states. [8] The Enlightenment brought political modernization to the West, in terms of introducing democratic values and institutions and the creation of modern, liberal democracies. [8] The focus of the Scottish Enlightenment ranged from intellectual and economic matters to the specifically scientific as in the work of William Cullen, physician and chemist James Anderson, an agronomist Joseph Black, physicist and chemist and James Hutton, the first modern geologist. [8] Most work on the Enlightenment emphasizes the ideals discussed by intellectuals, rather than the actual state of education at the time. [8] This intellectual elite was favoured by the state, but that might be reversed if the process of the Enlightenment proved politically or socially destabilizing. [8] In several nations, rulers welcomed leaders of the Enlightenment at court and asked them to help design laws and programs to reform the system, typically to build stronger states. [8]

The Enlightenment carried the idea that economic change and political reform were possible. [7] The ideas of the Enlightenment played a major role in inspiring the French Revolution, which began in 1789. [8] While the Philosophes of the French Enlightenment were not revolutionaries and many were members of the nobility, their ideas played an important part in undermining the legitimacy of the Old Regime and shaping the French Revolution. [8]

It helped spread the ideas of the Enlightenment across Europe and beyond. [8] Thomas Jefferson closely followed European ideas and later incorporated some of the ideals of the Enlightenment into the Declaration of Independence (1776). [8] As the Enlightenment was ending, Romantic philosophers argued that excessive dependence on reason was a mistake perpetuated by the Enlightenment because it disregarded the bonds of history, myth, faith, and tradition that were necessary to hold society together. [8] Rose Rosengard Subotnik's Deconstructive Variations (subtitled Music and Reason in Western Society ) compares Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (1791) using the Enlightenment and Romantic perspectives and concludes that the work is "an ideal musical representation of the Enlightenment". [8]

In 1792, he presented a project for the reformation of the education system, aiming to create a hierarchical structure, under the authority of experts who would work as the guardians of the Enlightenment and who, independent of power, would be the guarantors of public liberties. [1] Earlier philosophers whose work influenced the Enlightenment included Bacon, Descartes, Locke, and Spinoza. [8] Cesare Beccaria, a jurist, criminologist, philosopher and politician and one of the great Enlightenment writers, became famous for his masterpiece Of Crimes and Punishments (1764), later translated into 22 languages, which condemned torture and the death penalty and was a founding work in the field of penology and the Classical School of criminology by promoting criminal justice. [8] During the Enlightenment, women also began producing popular scientific works themselves. [8] The Scientific revolution and The Enlightenment period overlapped by a hundred years and were co-occurring between 1650-1750. [7] After the Revolution, the Enlightenment was followed by the intellectual movement known as Romanticism. [8] The German scholar Ernst Cassirer called the Enlightenment "a part and a special phase of that whole intellectual development through which modern philosophic thought gained its characteristic self-confidence and self-consciousness". [8] The Enlightenment Past: reconstructing 18th-century French thought. (2008). [8] Many women played an essential part in the French Enlightenment, due to the role they played as salonnières in Parisian salons, as the contrast to the male philosophes. [8]

The history of Academies in France during the Enlightenment begins with the Academy of Science, founded in 1635 in Paris. [8] In France, the central doctrines of the Enlightenment philosophers were individual liberty and religious tolerance, in opposition to an absolute monarchy and the fixed dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. [8] In 1783, Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn referred to Enlightenment as a process by which man was educated in the use of reason. [8] One of the most radical and controversial figures of the Enlightenment philosophers, Rousseau was a prolific writer, composer, and theorist on education. [5] The Café Procope in particular became a centre of Enlightenment, welcoming such celebrities as Voltaire and Rousseau. [8] The people who participated in the Republic of Letters, such as Diderot and Voltaire, are frequently known today as important Enlightenment figures. [8] Alexis de Tocqueville described the French Revolution as the inevitable result of the radical opposition created in the 18th century between the monarchy and the men of letters of the Enlightenment. [8] As to its end, most scholars use the last years of the century, often choosing the French Revolution of 1789 or the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars (1804-1815) as a convenient point in time with which to date the end of the Enlightenment. [8] French historians usually place the period, called the Siècle des Lumières ("Century of Enlightenments"), between 1715 and 1789, from the beginning of the reign of Louis XV until the French Revolution. [8]

Enlightenment era religious commentary was a response to the preceding century of religious conflict in Europe, especially the Thirty Years' War. [8] In other parts of Europe, the universities and schools of France and most of Europe were bastions of traditionalism and were not hospitable to the Enlightenment. [8] They promoted the ideals of the Enlightenment and helped diffuse these values across Britain and France and other places. [8]

Intellectuals such as Robert Darnton and Jürgen Habermas have focused on the social conditions of the Enlightenment. [8] Some surveys of the entire Enlightenment include England and others ignore it, although they do include coverage of such major intellectuals as Joseph Addison, Edward Gibbon, John Locke, Isaac Newton, Alexander Pope, Joshua Reynolds and Jonathan Swift. [8] Before the Enlightenment, most intellectual debates revolved around "confessional"- that is, Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist) or Anglican issues and the main aim of these debates was to establish which bloc of faith ought to have the "monopoly of truth and a God-given title to authority". [8] The leaders of the Enlightenment were not especially democratic, as they more often look to absolute monarchs as the key to imposing reforms designed by the intellectuals. [8] In the Scottish Enlightenment, Scotland's major cities created an intellectual infrastructure of mutually supporting institutions such as universities, reading societies, libraries, periodicals, museums and masonic lodges. [8] Broadly speaking, Enlightenment science greatly valued empiricism and rational thought and was embedded with the Enlightenment ideal of advancement and progress. [8] Science played an important role in Enlightenment discourse and thought. [8] Enlightenment, understood in the widest sense as the advance of thought, has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters. [8] It also made the notion of progress a central concern of Enlightenment thought. [1]

Coffeehouses were especially important to the spread of knowledge during the Enlightenment because they created a unique environment in which people from many different walks of life gathered and shared ideas. [8] A number of novel ideas about religion developed with the Enlightenment, including deism and talk of atheism. [8] Recently, musicologists have shown renewed interest in the ideas and consequences of the Enlightenment. [8] Not until the late nineteenth century did English scholars agree they were talking about "the Enlightenment". [8] The majority of textbooks on British history make little or no mention of an English Enlightenment. [8] D'Alembert's Preliminary Discourse of l'Encyclopédie provides a history of the Enlightenment which comprises a chronological list of developments in the realm of knowledge - of which the Encyclopédie forms the pinnacle. [8] The Enlightenment played a distinctive, if small, role in the history of Italy. [8] Enlightenment historiography began in the period itself, from what Enlightenment figures said about their work. [8] The works were part of an Enlightenment movement to systematize knowledge and provide education to a wider audience than the elite. [8]

As a spillover of the Enlightenment, nonsecular beliefs expressed first by Quakers and then by Protestant evangelicals in Britain and the United States emerged. [8] The first scientific and literary journals were established during the Enlightenment. [8] Scientific progress during the Enlightenment included the discovery of carbon dioxide (fixed air) by the chemist Joseph Black, the argument for deep time by the geologist James Hutton and the invention of the steam engine by James Watt. [8] Bertrand Russell saw the Enlightenment as a phase in a progressive development which began in antiquity and that reason and challenges to the established order were constant ideals throughout that time. [8] Because of the focus on reason over superstition, the Enlightenment cultivated the arts. [8] Philadelphia's Enlightenment, 1740-1800: Kingdom of Christ, Empire of Reason. 2001. 199 pp. [8]

It lacked the skeptical and critical spirit of the European Enlightenment. [8] The national Enlightenment differed from its Western European counterpart in that it promoted further modernization of all aspects of Russian life and was concerned with attacking the institution of serfdom in Russia. [8] The Enlightenment took hold in most European countries, often with a specific local emphasis. [8]

The philosophers of the Enlightenment accepted him as one of their own, as indeed he was. [6] It is argued by several historians and philosophers that the beginning of the Enlightenment is when Descartes shifted the epistemological basis from external authority to internal certainty by his cogito ergo sum published in 1637. [8] Frederick the Great, the king of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, saw himself as a leader of the Enlightenment and patronized philosophers and scientists at his court in Berlin. [8]

While the public sphere is generally an integral component of the social study of the Enlightenment, other historians have questioned whether the public sphere had these characteristics. [8] The salon was the principal social institution of the republic and "became the civil working spaces of the project of Enlightenment". [8] The increased consumption of reading materials of all sorts was one of the key features of the "social" Enlightenment. [8]

The influence of science also began appearing more commonly in poetry and literature during the Enlightenment. [8] One of the most important developments that the Enlightenment era brought to the discipline of science was its popularization. [8] "Inventing the Enlightenment: Anti-Jacobins, British Hegelians, and the 'Oxford English Dictionary ' ". [8] The very existence of an English Enlightenment has been hotly debated by scholars. [8]

The extensive, yet affordable encyclopedia came to represent the transmission of Enlightenment and scientific education to an expanding audience. [8] The Enlightenment was marked by an emphasis on the scientific method and reductionism, along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy--an attitude captured by the phrase Sapere aude, "Dare to know". [8] During the Enlightenment, some societies created or retained links to universities, but contemporary sources distinguished universities from scientific societies by claiming that the university's utility was in the transmission of knowledge while societies functioned to create knowledge. [8]

René Descartes ' rationalist philosophy laid the foundation for enlightenment thinking. [8] Many of the leading universities associated with Enlightenment progressive principles were located in northern Europe, with the most renowned being the universities of Leiden, Göttingen, Halle, Montpellier, Uppsala and Edinburgh. [8] The German Enlightenment won the support of princes, aristocrats and the middle classes and it permanently reshaped the culture. [8] The Enlightenment has been frequently linked to the French Revolution of 1789. [8] French historians traditionally place the Enlightenment between 1715 (the year that Louis XIV died) and 1789 (the beginning of the French Revolution ). [8] By the late Enlightenment, there was a rising demand for a more universal approach to education, particularly after the American and French Revolutions. [8]

Her focus on the rights of women does distinguish Wollstonecraft from most of her male Enlightenment counterparts. [1] She used her own interpretation of Enlightenment ideals, assisted by notable international experts such as Voltaire (by correspondence) and in residence world class scientists such as Leonhard Euler and Peter Simon Pallas. [8] The period of Polish Enlightenment began in the 1730s-1740s and especially in theatre and the arts peaked in the reign of King Stanisław August Poniatowski (second half of the 18th century). [8] Though many of these philosophical ideals were picked up by Catholics, Russell argues that by the 18th century the Enlightenment was the principal manifestation of the schism that began with Martin Luther. [8]

Montesquieu, in full Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, (born January 18, 1689, Ch teau La Brède, near Bordeaux, France--died February 10, 1755, Paris), French political philosopher whose principal work, The Spirit of Laws, was a major contribution to political theory. [6] On his return to France in 1731, troubled by failing eyesight, Montesquieu returned to La Brède and began work on his masterpiece, The Spirit of the Laws. [9]

In this political treatise, Montesquieu pleaded in favor of a constitutional system of government and the separation of powers, the ending of slavery, the preservation of civil liberties and the law, and the idea that political institutions should reflect the social and geographical aspects of each community. [1] The political philosopher Montesquieu introduced the idea of a separation of powers in a government, a concept which was enthusiastically adopted by the authors of the United States Constitution. [8]

The Americans closely followed English and Scottish political ideas, as well as some French thinkers such as Montesquieu. [8] The French political anthropologist Georges Balandier considered Montesquieu to be "the initiator of a scientific enterprise that for a time performed the role of cultural and social anthropology". [21] In Spirit, Montesquieu analyzed the French government and the spirit behind French laws. [2] The Spirit of the Laws is a treatise on political theory that was first published anonymously by Montesquieu in 1748. [1] Montesquieu, of course, left his greatest mark on the philosophy of the governance through his great work The Spirit of the Laws. [7] Montesquieu was ahead of his time in advocating major reform of slavery in The Spirit of the Laws. [21] In the Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu considers religions "in relation only to the good they produce in civil society" (SL 24.1), and not to their truth or falsity. [9] In De l’esprit des loix (1748 The Spirit of Laws ), Montesquieu explored the natural order that he believed underlay polities as well as economies. [6]

The principle of democracy is political virtue, by which Montesquieu means "the love of the laws and of our country" (SL 4.5), including its democratic constitution. [9] Montesquieu is credited as being among the progenitors, which include Herodotus and Tacitus, of anthropology, as being among the first to extend comparative methods of classification to the political forms in human societies. [21] Misinterpreting the English government as made up of three separate parts (in reality in the English government, the legislative and judiciary were combined in the power of parliament), Montesquieu discussed both his most favorite form of government (separation of power, especially in a constitutional monarchy), and the different types of government that suited the specific situations of a country, i.e., its size, population, climate, soil, etc. [5] Montesquieu holds that there are three types of governments: republican governments, which can take either democratic or aristocratic forms monarchies and despotisms. [9] Unlike, for instance, Aristotle, Montesquieu does not distinguish forms of government on the basis of the virtue of the sovereign. [9] Abandoning the classical divisions of his predecessors into monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, Montesquieu produced his own analysis and assigned to each form of government an animating principle: the republic, based on virtue the monarchy, based on honour and despotism, based on fear. [6] Montesquieu argues that the executive, legislative, and judicial functions of government (the so-called tripartite system) should be assigned to different bodies, so that attempts by one branch of government to infringe on political liberty might be restrained by the other branches (checks and balances). [1] Political scientist Donald Lutz found that Montesquieu was the most frequently quoted authority on government and politics in colonial pre-revolutionary British America, cited more by the American founders than any source except for the Bible. [21] These works made Montesquieu the most regarded author and quoted authority on government and politics in pre-revolutionary times. [2] From average republican arguments that laws had to fit to the standards attached to the kind of government for the people Montesquieu had to add three arguments. [7] For instance, Montesquieu believes that the laws of many countries can be made be more liberal and more humane, and that they can often be applied less arbitrarily, with less scope for the unpredictable and oppressive use of state power. [9] According to Montesquieu, these laws "necessarily suppose the intermediate channels through which (the monarch's) power flows: for if there be only the momentary and capricious will of a single person to govern the state, nothing can be fixed, and, of course, there is no fundamental law" (SL 2.4). [9] In the British constitutional system, Montesquieu discerned a separation of powers among the monarch, Parliament, and the courts of law. [1] Montesquieu covered many topics, including the law, social life, and the study of anthropology, and provided more than 3,000 commendations. [1] Montesquieu withdrew from the practice of law to devote himself to study and writing. [21]

Montesquieu wrote that French society was divided into the 'trias politica ': the monarchy, the aristocracy and the commons. [2] While addressing French readers of his General Theory, John Maynard Keynes described Montesquieu as "the real French equivalent of Adam Smith, the greatest of your economists, head and shoulders above the physiocrats in penetration, clear-headedness and good sense (which are the qualities an economist should have)." [21]

They really did not Charles-Louis Secondat, baron de Montesquieu thought of the system of checks and balances plus the three branches of government. [7] Born Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brede et de Montesquieu, Montesquieu was born in France in January, 1689, and died in February 1755. [2] Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, was born on January 19th, 1689 at La Brède, near Bordeaux, to a noble and prosperous family. [9]

In 1716 he inherited from his uncle the title Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu and the office of Président à Mortier in the Parlement of Bordeaux, which was at the time chiefly a judicial and administrative body. [9] Montesquieu was born at the Ch teau de la Brède in southwest France, 25 kilometres (16mi) south of Bordeaux. [21] In France, the long-reigning Louis XIV died in 1715, and was succeeded by five year-old Louis XV. These national transformations had a great impact on Montesquieu, who would refer to them repeatedly in his work. [1] Montesquieu worried that in France the intermediate powers (i.e., the nobility) which moderated the power of the prince were being eroded. [21] Montesquieu, portrait by an unknown artist, c. 1727: Montesquieu is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers, which is implemented in many constitutions throughout the world. [1] Montesquieu saw two types of governmental power existing: the sovereign and the administrative. [21] If the legislative branch appoints the executive and judicial powers, as Montesquieu indicated, there will be no separation or division of its powers, since the power to appoint carries with it the power to revoke. [21] Montesquieu argues that the legislative power alone should have the power to tax, since it can then deprive the executive of funding if the latter attempts to impose its will arbitrarily. [9] Montesquieu believes that monarchies are much more likely than republics to wage wars of conquest, and therefore that a conquering power is likely to be a monarchy. [9] In that way, Montesquieu believed, no power should become stronger than another. [2]

According to Montesquieu, political liberty is "a tranquillity of mind arising from the opinion each person has of his safety" (SL 11.6). [9] Montesquieu defines three main political systems: republican, monarchical, and despotic. [1]

Because he decided that universal rules governing society manifested in the form of specific rules suited to specific countries, Montesquieu was sometimes called the father of modern anthropology. [5] Montesquieu also intends what modern legal scholars might call the rights to "robust procedural due process," including the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence, and the proportionality in the severity of punishment. [1] By placing an emphasis on environmental influences as a material condition of life, Montesquieu prefigured modern anthropology's concern with the impact of material conditions, such as available energy sources, organized production systems, and technologies, on the growth of complex socio-cultural systems. [21]

Montesquieu writes that "the principle of despotic government is subject to a continual corruption, because it is even in its nature corrupt" (SL 8.10). [9] Montesquieu describes commerce as an activity that cannot be confined or controlled by any individual government or monarch. [9] In general, Montesquieu believes that commerce has had an extremely beneficial influence on government. [9] Montesquieu wanted to make a government where the people had a say in what happened and there wasn't a single person in charge. [7]

While Montesquieu was not the first writer to try to imagine how European culture might look to travellers from non-European countries, he used that device with particular brilliance. [9] Human beings are selfish, (influence of Christianity, of Montesquieu, etc.) that is why the checks and balances system that he admired in the English system. [5] Montesquieu is among the greatest philosophers of liberalism, but his is what Shklar has called "a liberalism of fear" (Shklar, Montesquieu, p. 89). [9] Althusser, Louis, 2007, Politics and History: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx, Ben Brewster (trans.), London: Verso. [9] These national transformations had a great impact on Montesquieu he would refer to them repeatedly in his work. [21] A definitive edition of Montesquieu's works is being published by the Société Montesquieu. [21] Montesquieu's political treatise had an enormous influence on the work of many others, most notably the founding fathers of the United States Constitution, and Alexis de Tocqueville, who applied Montesquieu's methods to a study of American society in Democracy in America. [1] Usbek is particularly given to such musings, and he shares many of Montesquieu's own preoccupations: with the contrast between European and non-European societies, the advantages and disadvantages of different systems of government, the nature of political authority, and the proper role of law. [9] Montesquieu's political anthropology gave rise to his theories on government. [21] From a sociological perspective Louis Althusser, in his analysis of Montesquieu's revolution in method, alluded to the seminal character of anthropology's inclusion of material factors, such as climate, in the explanation of social dynamics and political forms. [21] According to social anthropologist D. F. Pocock, Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws was "the first consistent attempt to survey the varieties of human society, to classify and compare them and, within society, to study the inter-functioning of institutions." [21] Montesquieu's aim in The Spirit of the Laws is to explain human laws and social institutions. [9]

Montesquieu's two most important works are the Persian Letters and The Spirit of the Laws. [9] Another example of Montesquieu's anthropological thinking, outlined in The Spirit of the Laws and hinted at in Persian Letters, is his meteorological climate theory, which holds that climate may substantially influence the nature of man and his society. [21] When Catherine the Great wrote her Nakaz (Instruction) for the Legislative Assembly she had created to clarify the existing Russian law code, she avowed borrowing heavily from Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws, although she discarded or altered portions that did not support Russia's absolutist bureaucratic monarchy. [21]

Montesquieu's political liberty is what we might call today personal security, especially insofar as this is provided for through a system of dependable and moderate laws. [1]

Montesquieu's most influential work divided French society into three classes (or trias politica, a term he coined): the monarchy, the aristocracy, and the commons. [21] Following the American revolution, Montesquieu's work remained a powerful influence on many of the American founders, most notably James Madison of Virginia, the "Father of the Constitution ". [21] The book was originally published anonymously partly because Montesquieu's works were subject to censorship, but its influence outside France grew with rapid translation into other languages. [1]

Montesquieu traveled the world and eventually returned to France. [2] When Montesquieu wrote the Persian Letters, travellers' accounts of their journeys to hitherto unknown parts of the world, and of the peculiar customs they found there, were very popular in Europe. [9] In 1721 Montesquieu published the Persian Letters, which was an instant success and made Montesquieu a literary celebrity. (He published the Persian Letters anonymously, but his authorship was an open secret.) [9]

In 1716 his uncle, Jean-Baptiste, baron de Montesquieu, died and left to his nephew his estates, with the barony of Montesquieu, near Agen, and the office of deputy president in the Parlement of Bordeaux. [6] In 1716, his uncle died, leaving Montesquieu his title of Baron de Montesquieu. [2] His father died in 1713 and he became a ward of his uncle, the Baron de Montesquieu. [21] While in school, his father died and he was placed in the guardianship of his uncle, the Baron de Montesquieu. [2]

While it does not produce all the virtues -- hospitality, Montesquieu thinks, is more often found among the poor than among commercial peoples -- it does produce some: "the spirit of commerce is naturally attended with that of frugality, economy, moderation, labor, prudence, tranquility, order, and rule" (SL 5.6). [9] Democracies can be corrupted in two ways: by what Montesquieu calls "the spirit of inequality" and "the spirit of extreme equality" (SL 8.2). [9]

Montesquieu writes that "the state of slavery is in its own nature bad" (SL 15.1) he is particularly contemptuous of religious and racist justifications for slavery. [9] Montesquieu now sought to reinforce his literary achievement with social success. [6] During his travels Montesquieu did not avoid the social pleasures that he had sought in Paris, but his serious ambitions were strengthened. [6]

On Montesquieu's view, this is false: to weaken those groups or institutions which check a monarch's power is to risk transforming monarchy into despotism, a form of government that is both abhorrent and unstable. [9] On Montesquieu's view it is generally a mistake to base civil laws on religious principles. [9] Montesquieu's emphasis on the connection between liberty and the details of the criminal law were unusual among his contemporaries, and inspired such later legal reformers as Cesare Beccaria. [9]

Montesquieu's philosophy of history minimized the role of individual persons and events. [21] Almost all the Europeans in the Persian Letters are ridiculous most of those who are not appear only to serve as a mouthpiece for Montesquieu's own views. [9] Montesquieu's early life occurred at a time of significant governmental change. [21] During Montesquieu's time in Parliament, he heard criminal proceedings and supervised prisons. [2]

John Locke, one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, based his governance philosophy in social contract theory, a subject that permeated Enlightenment political thought. [8] John Locke, an English philosopher and physician, is regarded as one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, whose work greatly contributed to the development of the notions of social contract and natural rights. [1] John Locke was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers, and commonly known as the "Father of Liberalism." [1] Mary Wollstonecraft was an English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights, whose focus on women's rights, and particularly women's access to education, distinguished her from most of male Enlightenment thinkers. [1]

Hume and other Scottish Enlightenment thinkers developed a " science of man ", which was expressed historically in works by authors including James Burnett, Adam Ferguson, John Millar and William Robertson, all of whom merged a scientific study of how humans behaved in ancient and primitive cultures with a strong awareness of the determining forces of modernity. [8] In his Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences, Rousseau argued, in opposition to the dominant stand of Enlightenment thinkers, that the arts and sciences corrupt human morality. [1] His writings influenced Voltaire and Rousseau, many Scottish enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. [1]

Prussia took the lead among the German states in sponsoring the political reforms that Enlightenment thinkers urged absolute rulers to adopt. [8] Enlightenment ideas ( oświecenie ) emerged late in Poland, as the Polish middle class was weaker and szlachta (nobility) culture ( Sarmatism ) together with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth political system ( Golden Liberty ) were in deep crisis. [8] In the 1970s, study of the Enlightenment expanded to include the ways Enlightenment ideas spread to European colonies and how they interacted with indigenous cultures and how the Enlightenment took place in formerly unstudied areas such as Italy, Greece, the Balkans, Poland, Hungary and Russia. [8]

Several Americans, especially Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, played a major role in bringing Enlightenment ideas to the New World and in influencing British and French thinkers. [8] In England, the Royal Society of London also played a significant role in the public sphere and the spread of Enlightenment ideas. [8] Between the 1600’s and 1790’s enlightenment thinkers changed society with the new concept of putting power in the peoples’ hands. [7] These ideas added to those expressed by Enlightenment thinkers, leading many in Britain to believe that slavery was "not only morally wrong and economically inefficient, but also politically unwise." [8] Enlightenment thinkers frequently contrasted their conception of the "public" with that of the people: Condorcet contrasted "opinion" with populace, Marmontel "the opinion of men of letters" with "the opinion of the multitude" and d'Alembert the "truly enlightened public" with "the blind and noisy multitude". [8] This view went much further than the views of other major Enlightenment thinkers, including the champions of women's rights. [1]

Once inside, spectators were able to participate in a largely egalitarian form of sociability that helped spread Enlightenment ideas. [8]

Of a total of 2,300 prize competitions offered in France, women won 49--perhaps a small number by modern standards, but very significant in an age in which most women did not have any academic training. [8] He was the first to emphasize the debt of medieval culture to Middle Eastern civilization, and consistently exposed the intolerance and frauds of the church over the ages. [1] The whole containing the history of the most illustrious persons of all ages and nations particularly those of Great Britain and Ireland, distinguished by their rank, actions, learning and other accomplishments. [8] Leading deists included Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason and by Thomas Jefferson in his short Jefferson Bible - from which all supernatural aspects were removed. [8] In reference to this growth, Bernard de Fontenelle coined the term "the Age of Academies" to describe the 18th century. [8]


It very striking that the first great classic of feminist philosophy, Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), was written by an English radical who, while she identified very closely with the French Enlightenment and admired Rousseau, owed the publication of her work to a very different political context — that of the French Revolution. [10] By the mid-eighteenth century, the basic conceptual vocabulary of the natural rights tradition — "natural rights," "state of nature," "civil society," " social contract " — had entered the mainstream of Enlightenment political thought, which embraced, nearly unanimously, the belief that the only legitimate basis of political authority was consent. [10]

RANKED SELECTED SOURCES(24 source documents arranged by frequency of occurrence in the above report)


Montesquieu and the Separation of Powers

The name most associated with the doctrine of the separation of powers is that of Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron Montesquieu. His influence upon later thought and upon the development of institutions far outstrips, in this connection, that of any of the earlier writers we have considered. It is clear, however, that Montesquieu did not invent the doctrine of the separation of powers, and that much of what he had to say in Book XI, Chapter 6 of the De l’Esprit des Loix was taken over from contemporary English writers, and from John Locke.1 Montesquieu, it is true, contributed new ideas to the doctrine he emphasized certain elements in it that had not previously received such attention, particularly in relation to the judiciary, and he accorded the doctrine a more important position than did most previous writers. However, the influence of Montesquieu cannot be ascribed to his originality in this respect, but rather to the manner and timing of the doctrine’s development in his hands.

Long before the publication of De l’Esprit des Loix Montesquieu had become widely known and respected through the publication of the Lettres persanes and the Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains. The appearance of his great work was awaited with impatience, and, once published, it quickly ran through several editions. When the work appeared it was clearly not a piece of transient political propaganda, as had been many of the writings we have so far surveyed—it was the result of twenty years of preparation, and was intended as a scientific study of government, encompassing the whole length and breadth of history, and accounting for all the factors affecting the political life of man. Montesquieu, in his Preface, made it clear what the work contained:2 “I have laid down the first principles, and have found that the particular cases follow naturally from them that the histories of all nations are only consequences of them and that every particular law is connected with another law, or depends on some other of a more general extent.” These principles are not drawn from the writer’s prejudices, but “from the nature of things.” Montesquieu intends to show the way in which the laws of each State are related to the nature and principles of its form of government, to the climate, soil, and economy of the country, and to its manners and customs.3 Such a scientific approach rules out the expression of personal likes and dislikes: “Every nation will here find the reasons on which its maxims are founded.” No absolute solutions are proposed, only the necessary relationships between the form of government and the laws are exposed. This claim to scientific detachment gives to Montesquieu’s work a status that no political pamphleteer could claim. The doctrine of the separation of powers is embedded in this examination of cause and effect in the political system. It is no longer an isolated doctrine, taken up when political advantage makes it expedient, and put off when no longer needed it is part of the relationships of a particular type of legal system and furthermore, it is a necessary characteristic of that system which has political liberty as its direct aim. De l’Esprit des Loix was hailed as the first systematic treatise on politics since Aristotle not a desiccated, boring treatise for the expert alone, but rather as a work the brilliant style of which made it an object of attention for all educated men. Indeed, Voltaire caustically remarked that it was Montesquieu’s style alone which retrieved a work so full of error.4

De l’Esprit des Loix was published in 1748, and so became available at the beginning of a period of great change and development in Europe and America. Ideas which had blossomed in the English Civil War, but which had been premature and unrealistic in terms of the then existing society, could now find fertile ground in the British colonies of North America and in France. Within the next fifty years men were to be called upon to create new institutions, to attempt to establish new systems of government. Where better look for help than in a manual where the principles of all governments were set out, and where none were more sympathetically treated than those forms of government that set bounds to the exercise of arbitrary power. For although Montesquieu claimed to be disinterested, his affection for moderate government shines through the whole work, whether it be a moderate monarchy or a moderate republic he is describing. But Montesquieu’s approach did lead to a good deal of confused speculation about his own loyalties. Was he advocating monarchy as the best system of government, or did he believe in a mixed system, or was he a good republican? Evidence for all these points of view can be found in his great work, and, indeed, it was the very fact that the De l’Esprit des Loix can be pressed into service in support of widely differing views that added to its influence. By the end of the eighteenth century Montesquieu was being quoted as an authority in England, France, and America, as conclusive evidence of the rightness of very different systems of government.

Montesquieu started from a rather gloomy view of human nature, in which he saw man as exhibiting a general tendency towards evil, a tendency that manifests itself in selfishness, pride, envy, and the seeking after power.5 Man, though a reasoning animal, is led by his desires into immoderate acts. Of the English, Montesquieu wrote that “A people like this, being always in ferment, are more easily conducted by their passions than by reason, which never produced any great effect in the mind of man.”6 In the realm of politics this is of the greatest consequence: “Constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as it will go.”7 However, this tendency towards the abuse of power can be moderated by the constitution of the government and by the laws, for, although by no means a starry-eyed utopian, Montesquieu, like the Greeks, believed that the nature of the State’s constitution is of the greatest consequence. Thus Montesquieu commenced his work with a description of the three different types of government, their nature and their principles, for if he could establish these, then the laws would “flow thence as from their source.”8 Let us look at the way in which Montesquieu dealt with this problem of the control of power.

He defined three types of government: republican, monarchical, and despotic. In the first the people is possessed of the supreme power in a monarchy a single person governs by fixed and established laws in a despotic government a single person directs everything by his own will and caprice.9 Republican government can be subdivided into aristocracy and democracy, the former being a State in which the supreme power is in the hands of a part of the people, not, as in a democracy, in the body of the people. In a despotic government there can be no check to the power of the prince, no limitations to safeguard the individual—the idea of the separation of powers in any form is foreign to despotic governments. In an aristocracy also, though it be a moderate government, the legislative and executive authority are in the same hands.10 However, in a democracy, Montesquieu argued, the corruption of the government sets in when the people attempt to govern directly and try “to debate for the senate, to execute for the magistrate, and to decide for the judges.”11 Montesquieu implied, then, that some form of separation of powers is necessary to a democracy, but he did not develop this point. The relevance of this to modern states is in any case rather slight, as Montesquieu believed that democracy was only suitable to small societies.12 The most extended treatment he gives of institutional checks to power, therefore, is to be found in his discussion of monarchy and of the English Constitution. These two discussions, though obviously connected in spirit, seem to be drawn from quite different sources, and to depend upon different principles. Each system is praised for its virtues, but it is difficult to say that Montesquieu clearly favoured one above the other. Here we have the source of the confusions on this subject.

The different elements in Montesquieu’s approach to the control of power can be attributed to his two major sources of inspiration. On the one hand the influence of English writers, especially Locke and Bolingbroke, is clear.13 From the time of the Civil War onwards the volume of translations of English works on politics, and of French commentaries on England, had grown, until in the early eighteenth century it reached large proportions. Dedieu points to the importance of the exiled Huguenot journalists, lauding the virtues of the Glorious Revolution, to the writings of anglophile Frenchmen, and to the work of historians who emphasized the role of the English Parliament as a balance to the power of the Crown.14 In particular Rapin-Thoyras, in his Histoire d’Angleterre in 1717, emphasized the importance of a balanced constitution and mixed government. Voltaire in 1734 published a French edition of his English Letters, in which he wrote of the “mélange dans le gouvernement d’Angleterre, ce concert entre les Communes, les Lords et le Roy.”15 These, together with Montesquieu’s travels in England, his acquaintance with Bolingbroke, and his knowledge of the writings in the Craftsman, the paper for which Bolingbroke wrote,16 are the sources of the main ideas to be found in his chapter on the English Constitution.

There are other sources, nearer at home, however, for Montesquieu’s attitude towards monarchy. Here, as in his description of the English Constitution, Montesquieu was concerned with the control of arbitrary power, but in a different way, and in a different context. As an aristocrat, and président à mortier of the parlement of Bordeaux, he could look back upon a long tradition of French resistance to the idea of despotism, not along the lines of the English developments, but in terms of the power of the parlements, and of the aristocracy and clergy of France as checks upon the royal authority.17 Bodin, though asserting the indivisibility of the sovereign power of the King, nevertheless had advocated that the parlements should have the power of remonstrance and of enregistering royal enactments, so that they might judge these in the light of justice and equity.18 The parlements had from time to time asserted their right to refuse to register royal edicts, especially the parlement of Bordeaux, of which Montesquieu later became a président à mortier.19 Boulainvilliers in 1727 had argued that all the unhappiness of France was due to the way in which the nobility had declined in power, and it was in defence of a similar thesis that Montesquieu approached the problem of the French monarchy.20 Thus when Montesquieu defined monarchy, as opposed to despotism, as a system in which “intermediate, subordinate, and dependent powers” played an essential role, and named these intermediate powers as the nobility, the clergy, and the parlements, he was following a well-trodden path in French thought.

It is Bodin, however, more than any other thinker, who would seem to have provided the pattern for Montesquieu’s idea of monarchy and if this is so, it is of great importance, for Bodin’s views on sovereignty are bound to colour the whole nature of the approach to the monarchical system.21 Bodin had, it is true, been concerned to champion a strong monarchy, and to stress the concentration of power in the hands of the monarch, but he also stressed the difference between a tyranny and a “royal” or “legitimate” monarchy. The latter is one in which the king “yieldeth himself as obedient unto the laws of nature as he desireth his subjects to be towards himselfe, leaving unto every man his naturall libertie, and the proprietie of his own goods.”22 He accorded a role in the government, even if only a subordinate one, to the States-General and the parlements. The pattern of Bodin’s royal monarchy is very close to Montesquieu’s view of monarchy, and there is little evidence to suggest that the latter saw any real modification in the structure of this form of government that would approximate to a “separation of powers.” It is true that Montesquieu writes that to form a “moderate government,” which of course includes monarchy, it is “necessary to combine the several powers to regulate, temper, and set them in motion to give, as it were, ballast to one, in order to enable it to counterpoise the other.”23 However, it is difficult to place much weight upon this statement as an indication of Montesquieu’s belief in a “separation of powers” in a moderate government, for as it stands it applies also to aristocracy, which Montesquieu specifically characterizes as a system in which the legislative and executive powers are in the same hands, and there is no other indication of a belief in the separation of powers in a “monarchy.” On the contrary, Montesquieu clearly asserted the indivisibility of the supreme power in the hands of the monarch,24 and the subordination of the “intermediary powers.”25 We must, therefore, see Montesquieu’s moderate monarchy as governed by law, but not as a limited monarchy in the English sense, nor as a system of mixed government or the separation of powers.

Monarchy for Montesquieu was government by the law, through the recognized channels by which the royal power must flow. The idea of a separation of agencies and functions, in part at least, is implicit and explicit in his treatment of monarchy. The judges must be the depository of the laws the monarch must never himself be a judge, for in this way the “dependent intermediate powers” would be annihilated.26 The king’s ministers ought not to sit as judges, because they would lack the necessary detachment and coolness requisite to a judge.27 There must be many “formalities” in the legal process in a monarchy in order to leave the defendant all possible means of making his defence,28 and the judges must conform to the law.29 In the monarchy, then, power is exercised in a controlled way, but it is not the separation of powers in the sense in which we have used this term, at any rate as far as the legislative and executive powers are concerned. There is considerable emphasis upon the role of the judges, but “the prince is the source of all power,” and he clearly exercises both the legislative and executive powers within the fundamental constitution.30 The checks upon the royal power operate as a result of the existence of the various orders of society through which that power must be channelled, but these “intermediate powers” do not even include a body of representatives of the people. The people’s safeguard is in the principle of monarchy, honour, which, by definition, infuses the rule of the monarch over his people.31 This, then, is what Montesquieu seems to have considered best for France it is the ancestral constitution that had been for a time subverted, a constitution in which the King did not exercise a capricious and arbitrary power, but not a constitution that can be described as embodying the separation of powers. Indeed we must not be confused by the terminology Montesquieu uses. Undoubtedly today his “monarchy” would be described as a despotism, if a benevolent one. His constitutional monarch was in the tradition of French, not English, thought. It certainly is not the monarchy that the seventeenth-century constitutional battles produced in England. Even Charles I could hardly have hoped that a King of England would exercise the power Montesquieu accords his monarch.32

When we turn from the description of the monarchy to the discussion of the English Constitution we must first consider two difficulties. What were Montesquieu’s views on mixed government, and what form of government did he believe England to have? Montesquieu’s treatment of mixed government is characteristic of the problems of interpretation he presents. At the beginning of his work, when enumerating the types of government, he did not consider mixed government at all. There is no direct mention of this idea which had been so important in English political thought for centuries, and which had also figured in the work of Hotman and others in France. Montesquieu writes of “moderate” governments, but these are the uncorrupted forms of monarchy and republic. At one point he seems to be saying that a mixed constitution is impossible, or at least that he knows of none that exists.33 Again the parallel with Bodin is striking. When Montesquieu turns in Book XI to his discussion of England, however, he adopts a very different approach.

In this form of government the executive power should be in the hands of a monarch, and the legislative power committed to the body of the nobles and to that body which represents the people, “each having their assemblies and deliberations apart, each their separate views and interests.”34 This is the fundamental constitution of a free state: “The legislative body being composed of two parts, they check one another by the mutual privilege of rejecting. They are both restrained by the executive power, as the executive is by the legislative.” Montesquieu immediately follows this sentence with a reference to “these three powers,” by which he seems to mean King, Lords, and Commons, not legislature, executive, and judiciary. This is clearly a system of mixed government, and in the rest of Book XI Montesquieu refers to mixed systems in glowing terms, whether in reference to the Gothic constitutions of Europe, or to the harmony of power in the government of Rome when it consisted of a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.35 How do we reconcile these references with the earlier chapters of the work? One answer, perhaps, is simply to say that they are irreconcilable and leave it at that. Montesquieu drew his inspiration from diverse sources and was unable to integrate all his ideas into a single theoretical framework. It is hardly surprising that he failed to reconcile completely the two models of government that he drew from Bodin and from Bolingbroke. A rather different approach is to view Montesquieu’s descriptions of despotism, monarchy, and republic as “ideal types” to which governments in practice would only imperfectly conform, so that imperfect examples of actual governments might contain elements of more than one type. There is some evidence that Montesquieu was thinking in this way. For example he writes: “The nearer a government approaches towards a republic, the more the manner of judging becomes settled and fixed.”36 And in Book VIII, where he discusses the way in which the principles of the three forms of government can be corrupted, he clearly envisages that States can exist that only imperfectly conform to the principles of these three forms. Again, reference to Bodin may help us here. Bodin tells us that his three forms of commonwealth are “ideal types.”37 He rejects altogether the idea of a mixed form of State, because of the logical and practical impossibility of the division of the sovereign power but he distinguishes between forms of State and forms of government, allowing that the form of government may differ from the form of State in which it operates, so that a monarchy may, in reality, operate as an aristocracy or democracy, and also that combinations of forms of government are possible.38 Montesquieu seems to view England in this light. Thus he refers to it as “a nation that may be justly called a republic, disguised under the form of a monarchy”39 and again, he says that England “having been formerly subject to an arbitrary power, on many occasions preserves the style of it, in such a manner as to let us frequently see upon the foundation of a free government the form of an absolute monarchy.”40

However, the problem is further complicated by the view that, in Book XI, Chapter 6, Montesquieu was creating an ideal type of a “constitution of liberty,” with England as its source, but that he was not describing the English Constitution as it actually existed. When Montesquieu wrote of “England” here he was writing of an imaginary country, as in the Lettres persanes:l’Angleterre de Montesquieu c’est l’Utopie, c’est un pays de rêve.”41 Thus in certain respects Montesquieu’s statements in this chapter differ considerably from what he actually knew to be the case in England. For example, he writes of the judiciary as if it contained no professional judges, as if juries were judges of both fact and law. The reality of English life was, as Montesquieu himself notes elsewhere, quite different from the ideal situation depicted in XI, 6.42 If, therefore, this chapter also constructs an “ideal type,” we must consider it on its merits, and not concern ourselves with the long controversy over the correctness of Montesquieu’s description of the early-eighteenth-century constitution of England.43 But how does this ideal type relate to his ideal types of monarchy, despotism, and republic? Is it a fourth and quite distinct category, or a sub-category of one of them? These questions are no doubt unanswerable, for they demand from Montesquieu a consistency he does not have. We must accept these inconsistencies, and make the best of them.

This, then, is the framework within which is set the famous chapter on the English Constitution, which has had greater influence than any other part of the De l’Esprit des Loix, the chapter which further evolves the doctrine of the separation of powers. As with all the previous writers we have surveyed, it is still not a “doctrine,” nor does the term “separation of powers” appear in the text, although Montesquieu does assert that liberty is lost if the three powers are not “separated.”44 What does Montesquieu have to say about the separation of powers? A remarkable degree of disagreement exists about what Montesquieu actually did say. Two broad streams of interpretation of his thought since the latter part of the eighteenth century can be detected. One, largely associated with the continent of Europe, and with jurists rather than political theorists, sees what we have called “the pure doctrine of the separation of powers,” a thoroughgoing separation of agencies, functions, and persons. The other, represented principally by the Fathers of the American Constitution, French writers such as Benjamin Constant, and in a rather different way the English commentators of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, has seen some form of a partial separation of powers, that is the pure doctrine modified by a system of checks and balances.45 Some writers go further and claim that the term “separation of powers” as applied to Montesquieu’s thought is an exaggeration or misrepresentation, that he was concerned only with the establishment of the “non-confusion” of powers,46 that he was trying to establish only the juridical independence of the legislature and the government and not a separation of functions or persons,47 or that he demanded only the “harmonious integration” of the powers of government.48 Let us take each strand of the doctrine and of the idea of checks and balances in order to assess what Montesquieu has to say in the De l’Esprit des Loix.

Montesquieu’s approach to the definition of the functions of government resembles a review of the history of the uses of these concepts. Chapter 6 of Book XI begins: “In every government there are three sorts of power, the legislative the executive in respect to things dependent on the law of nations and the executive in regard to matters that depend on the civil law.” This is clearly a restatement of Locke’s division of government functions, except that Montesquieu does not use the term “federative power” for the executive power in regard to external affairs. He still uses the term “executive” to cover all internal affairs, both governmental and judicial in other words he adopts, though only momentarily, the twofold division of functions into legislative and executive so familiar to the seventeenth century and earlier. Montesquieu then immediately redefines his terms. He affirms that he intends to use the term “executive power” exclusively to cover the function of the magistrates to make peace or war, send or receive embassies, establish the public security, and provide against invasions. He now seems to wish to confine the term “executive power” to foreign affairs, for he does not make it at all clear that the power to “establish the public security” has any internal connotation—in other words, for Locke’s “federative power” read “executive power.” Furthermore, Montesquieu announces that he will call the third power, by which the magistrate punishes criminals or decides disputes between individuals, the “power of judging.”49 This appears to represent an attempt to reconcile the authority of Locke with the heightened appreciation of the separate existence of the judicial power as distinct from the royal power which had emerged in the early eighteenth century. But this formulation leaves out of account any “executive” acts other than foreign affairs, for the judicial power is confined to disputes between the prince and the individual, and between individuals. Montesquieu has not so far, then, managed to reconcile the seventeenth-century vocabulary with the facts of eighteenth-century government the vital distinction between the internal acts of the executive and the acts of the judiciary is obscured. However, when he goes on to use these terms he drops both definitions and uses them in a very much more modern way the three powers are now “that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals,” clearly including internal as well as external affairs in the executive power. It is in this final sense that Montesquieu discusses the relationships between the powers of government, and it is, of course, basically the modern use of these terms. The importance of this transition in his use of words cannot be overemphasized. Not only does he bridge the gap between early modern and later modern terminology, but he also obscures one of the basic problems of a threefold definition of government functions. Locke and others had been bothered by the fact that the “ruler” had two aspects to his function. He had to carry out the law where it was clear and easily stated, principally in internal affairs, but he had also to act in areas where the law could not be laid down in detail and where his prerogative must remain almost wholly untrammelled, that is to say largely in external affairs. Thus between them Locke and Montesquieu state at least four functions of government, not three: the legislative, the executive, the “prerogative,” and the judicial. To bring the two middle ones together as “executive” obscures the fact that in large areas of government activity those responsible for day-to-day government decisions will not be “executing the law,” but exercising a very wide discretion. However, the idea that there are three, and only three, functions of government, was now established, except perhaps in the minds of those English lawyers who had actively to define the prerogative powers of the Crown.

The most important aspect of Montesquieu’s treatment of the functions of government is that he completes the transition from the old usage of “executive” to a new “power of judging,” distinct from the putting of the law into effect, which becomes the new executive function. However, it is in his treatment of the “power of judging” that Montesquieu’s greatest innovatory importance lies. He treats the puissance de juger as on a par, analytically, with the other two functions of government, and so fixes quite firmly the trinity of legislative, executive, and judicial which is to characterize modern thought. Vitally important also is the fact that he detaches this power from the aristocratic part of the legislature and vests it unequivocally in the ordinary courts of the land, although the noble house of the legislature is to have the role of a court of appeal. However, he still does not give the courts the position they were soon to achieve in American thought he does not accord the judicial branch an exactly equal status with the legislative and executive branches, although he clearly intends the judiciary to be independent of the other two. He sees these two agencies as permanent bodies of magistrates,50 which represent real social forces, the monarch, the nobility, and the people. The judiciary, however, “so terrible to mankind,” should not be annexed to any particular class (état) or profession, and so becomes, in some sense, no social force at all—“en quelque façon nulle”—representing everyone and no one.51 The judiciary, therefore, is to be wholly independent of the clash of interests in the State, and this emphasis upon judicial independence is extremely important for the development of the doctrine.

Montesquieu devotes considerable attention to the nature and composition of the judiciary, but his approach to this problem is very much a reflection of his general scheme, and does not bear much relation to the actual practice in England. In Book VI he had developed his ideas about the judicial function in the differing forms of State. In a despotic government the caprice of the prince is the basis of the law, and judging will be an arbitrary process without rules. In a monarchy, however, the prince rules according to the laws these must be relatively stable and applied in a cool, aloof fashion. The judges in a monarchy, therefore (and Montesquieu is clearly thinking of the parlements), must be learned in the law, professional, and skilled in the reconciliation of potentially conflicting rules. But the closer the form of government approaches that of a republic, the more fixed and settled are the rules of law, and the more the judges must follow the letter of the law.52 In Rome, he avers, the judges had only to decide matters of fact, and then the punishment was clearly to be found in the laws. In England the jury gives its verdict on the facts and the judge pronounces the punishment inflicted by the law, “and for this he needs only to open his eyes.”53 In Book XI he describes a judicial system without professional judges. He rejects the idea of the judiciary power being lodged in a “standing senate,” and affirms that it should be exercised by persons drawn (tirées) from the people, on an ad hoc basis for fixed periods of short duration. In other words a system of juries, which would apparently be judges of both fact and law, because the laws would be so clear and explicit as to require no professional knowledge in the judges.

Two further aspects of Montesquieu’s treatment of the judiciary require emphasis. First, his insistence that in republics the judges must abide by the letter of the law is of great importance for later views of the judicial function. In England in medieval times the judges were well aware that they “interpreted” the law, and from time to time were aware that they were making law through “interpretation.” The role of the judges in making the law was also recognized in the seventeenth century. But Montesquieu insists that to allow the judges to exercise discretion is to expose the people to the danger that the private opinions of the judges might render the laws uncertain, and that people would then live in society “without exactly knowing the nature of their obligations.” The judges must be “no more than the mouth that pronounces the words of the law, mere passive beings, incapable of moderating either its force or rigour.” This mechanical view of the proper role of the judges can be found in the writings of Lilburne and Harrington during the Civil War in England, and it is perhaps from the latter that Montesquieu obtained this notion. Its influence in the nineteenth century and in the early part of the twentieth, until the rise of the “sociological” school of jurisprudence, was a formidable one indeed. Second, he emphasizes the importance of judicial procedures as a protection for the individual. The speedy decision of cases may be cheaper and easier, but the set forms of justice with all their expense and delay, even the very dangers of the judicial procedure, are “the price that each subject pays for his liberty.” In despotic governments speed is the only consideration, but in moderate governments long inquiries and many formalities are necessary before a man is stripped of his honour or property, or of his life. This insistence upon “due process,” a phrase Montesquieu does not use but which again was current in seventeenth-century England, is of the essence of the doctrine of constitutionalism, in the development of which his thought forms such an important step.

By 1748, therefore, he had formulated the tripartite division of government functions in a recognizably modern form. A good deal of change still had to take place in the ensuing two hundred years in the exact connotation of these concepts, but basically the pattern was now set. To legislate is to make the law to execute is to put it into effect the judicial power is the announcing of what the law is by the settlement of disputes. These functions exhaust all the “powers” of government, and they can be clearly differentiated from each other. Every government act can be put into one or other of these categories. He also established the idea of three branches of government—executive, legislature, and judiciary. So much for the analytical separation of agencies and functions. But to demonstrate that Montesquieu had a “theory of the separation of powers” in one sense or another we must go further. We must show that he maintained that each function should be exercised by the appropriate agency of government, and that he furthermore believed that the personnel of the three branches should not coincide. It will become quite clear at a later stage that he did not maintain the pure doctrine of the separation of powers, for he combined with it the ideas of mixed government and checks and balances however, that he did advocate that each agency should exercise, in the main, only its own functions, is also perfectly clear. He was quite explicit here:

When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty. . . . Again, there is no liberty, if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control for the judge would then be the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression. There would be an end to everything, were the same man, or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals.

The representative body ought not to exercise the executive function, because it is not suited to it. The legislature ought not to be able to arraign the person entrusted with the executive power, for this would turn the legislature into a body with arbitrary power. One cannot ignore the clear meaning of these words. Montesquieu believed that the various functions of government should be entrusted to distinct agencies of government, which would be largely independent of each other in the exercise of these functions. The problem of the extent to which each of these agencies should be able to control the others will be considered later.

We have seen that even given the attribution of distinct functions to separate agencies there still arises the problem of personnel. Should the personnel of the agencies be quite distinct, or should a degree of overlapping be allowed, or does it not matter at all? Montesquieu is less clear on this point than on the other elements, although there are strong indications of his line of thought. When writing of monarchy he does not envisage a separation of legislative and executive functions in practice, so the question of personnel does not arise however, he does express shock at the idea that royal ministers should also sit as judges. There is, he says, a sort of “contradiction” between the prince’s council and the courts of judicature. The former requires a certain passion in the conduct of its affairs by a few men who identify themselves with its business, whereas the courts demand a certain “sang-froid” and a measure of indifference on the part of the judges.54 Once again we have this emphasis upon the impartiality of the judiciary. In his discussion of the judiciary in Book XI, he is less explicit, but the nature of the selection of the judges, or rather juries, is such that the problem of whether or not they should simultaneously be legislators, or in the service of the king, hardly seems to arise. These ad hoc juries are so impermanent that the problem of the overlapping of membership with the more professional and permanent members of the other branches does not arise.

The problem of the separation of the personnel of the legislative and executive branches in the constitution of liberty was also very obliquely dealt with by Montesquieu. He paid little attention to the servants of the king, other than ministers, and so there was no great scope for discussions of the extent to which they should be allowed to be legislators as well. He did, however, echo the English writers who condemn corruption of legislators—the English State will perish “when the legislative power shall be more corrupt than the executive.” However, one very important change from the contemporary English theory that he made, concerning the composition of the executive and legislative branches, must be noted here. The English writers saw the legislative power as held jointly by King, Lords, and Commons, even though the King’s role might be seen as only a negative one. This sharing of the legislative power was the foundation of their theory of the balanced constitution, and it continued to be so even after Montesquieu’s work had received general acclaim as a eulogy of the English Constitution. They therefore wrote of “the King-in-Parliament.” Montesquieu, however, looked at the problem in a slightly different way. He wrote of the “legislative body” as composed of “two parts,” with the executive separated from them. He did give to the executive a veto power, which he described as having a share in legislation (prendre part à la législation), but the emphasis of his usage is important. Whereas the English writers saw the King as an essential part of the legislative branch itself, he saw the executive as a separate branch which has a part to play in the exercise of the legislative function. The importance of this difference of emphasis becomes clear when we compare the differing approaches of the English and American writers at the end of the eighteenth century. This would suggest, then, that Montesquieu saw the King, “the person entrusted with the executive power,” as outside the legislature if, therefore, the King really makes the decisions, and provided that he cannot corrupt the legislature, it does not matter whether or not his subordinates are members of the legislature or not. This view is supported by the fact that Montesquieu argued that if the executive power is not in the hands of a monarch, but is committed “to a certain number of persons selected from the legislative body, there would be an end then of liberty by reason the two powers would be united, as the same persons would sometimes possess, and would be always able to possess, a share in both.” This would seem to be a reference to the ministerial system in England, and to the view that if the monarch were no longer head of the executive, or perhaps became a mere figurehead, with real power in the hands of his ministers, then the concentration of power would be a genuine danger. Those who accuse Montesquieu of being wholly unaware of the contemporary development of cabinet government in England seem to overlook this passage. It should be borne in mind that when he wrote, the King still exercised considerable power—Montesquieu looked forward to a period when this would, perhaps, no longer be the case.

He did not, therefore, work out in detail the problem of the overlapping of the personnel of the agencies of government, and he certainly did not issue a general prohibition. It is strange that he made no direct reference to the problem of place-bills, which had been so important in England. But the spirit of what he had to say seems clear enough whenever it is a question of the exercise of real power the agencies of government should not come under the control of a single person or group of persons. “When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty.” Detailed analysis of Montesquieu’s words should not be allowed to blind us to what he had to say.

Having shown that all the elements of the pure doctrine of the separation of powers are to be found, if not always clearly worked out, in Montesquieu’s thought, can we simply label him as a protagonist of the pure doctrine? Clearly not, for he went further, and added to these ideas the further dimension of a theory of checks and balances between the legislative and executive powers, drawn largely from the theory of mixed government. He did not rely upon a concept of negative checks to the exercise of power, checks dependent upon the mere existence of potentially antagonistic agencies, charged with different functions of government—again he went further, and advocated positive checks by placing powers of control over the other branches in the hands of each of them. Perhaps the first important point to note about his theory of checks and balances is that in Book XI it does not involve the judiciary or “the power of judging” at all. The judiciary is not given any power over the other branches. Equally, its independence is absolute, for it is not subject to control by the other branches, except that the legislature can be a supreme court of appeal in order to mitigate the sentence of the law. The courts, in other words, being merely the mouthpiece of the law, being en quelque façon nulle, and not representing any social force in the State, are not seen as a check, nor is it necessary to check them. The difference between this view of judicial power and that of Chief Justice Marshall in Marbury v. Madison, fifty-five years later, is of great interest although it is true that Montesquieu elsewhere saw the French parlements with their rights of remonstrance as checks to the legislative power.

The relationships between the executive and legislative branches, however, exhibit clearly the characteristics of the idea of checks and balances that we saw in the English theory of the balanced constitution. The executive officer ought to have a share in the legislative power by a veto over legislation, but he ought not to have the power to enter positively into the making of legislation. The executive should have the power of calling and fixing the duration of meetings of the legislative body. In this way the executive branch will be able to prevent the encroachments of the legislature on its authority, thus ensuring that the legislature will not become despotic. The legislature should not, however, have the right to stay (arrêter) the executive, but it should have the power to examine the manner in which its laws have been executed. Whatever the results of this examination, the legislature should not be able to judge the person, or the conduct of the person, who executes the law. However, the counsellors upon whose advice unwise policies are adopted may be punished, and for this purpose the power of impeachment must lie in the legislature, with the Lower House accusing, and the Upper House judging. “Here, then, is the fundamental constitution of the government we are treating of. The legislative body being composed of two parts, they check one another by the mutual privilege of rejecting. They are both restrained by the executive power, as the executive is by the legislative.” Montesquieu, though he had great faith in the power of constitutions to mould the public character of a State, was nevertheless sufficiently aware of sociological necessity to see the importance of having the essential parts of the State as representative of different interests in society and so he adapted the theory of mixed government to the underpinning of a system of divided powers, in order that the varying “passions and interests” of the different classes of society should ensure that no one man or group of men gained arbitrary power. This does not mean that he threw overboard the notion of the separation of powers. It still remained as the foundation of the constitution of liberty, as he frequently reasserted, but certain quite specific and limited powers were attributed to the executive to enable it to control the legislature, and to the legislature to control the subordinate members of the executive. These control mechanisms did not constitute a “fusion” of powers they were links between the branches of government, each restricted to the exercise of its appropriate function. The practical problems of these controls, the extent to which they embodied an opportunity for co-ordination, or alternatively for deadlock, between the branches, was not yet clearly perceived, although Montesquieu at a later stage devoted some time to a discussion of the nature of party politics in England, with its division of the legislative and executive powers.55 Thus Montesquieu clearly did see a broad separation of functions among distinct agencies of government, with a separation of personnel, to which was added the need for a set of positive checks to the exercise of power by each of the two major, permanent, agencies of government to prevent them from abusing the power entrusted to them. The ideas of independence and interdependence which Bolingbroke developed are useful here for the understanding of this system. Without a high degree of independent power in the hands of each branch they cannot be said to be interdependent, for this requires that neither shall be subordinate to the other. At the same time a degree of interdependence does not destroy the essential independence of the branches.

Montesquieu was aware of the problem of ensuring that a system of government so nicely balanced should not result in complete deadlock, that the three bodies, King, Lords, and Commons, by being poised in opposition to each other should not produce merely a state of “repose or inaction.” But he dismissed the problem by arguing that in the nature of things they are forced to move (par le mouvement nécessaire des choses), and forced to move in concert. The question of whether he saw the State as an organic unity in which the articulated parts formed a single unit exercising the sovereign power, or whether he destroyed the unity of sovereignty by dividing it up into parts which were to be distributed among quite distinct, autonomous bodies, related to each other in a mechanistic fashion only, is probably impossible to answer, because it is doubtful if he ever formulated the problem in either of these ways.56 He seems to have a unitary view of the supreme power when he is discussing his three forms of State in the initial books of De l’Esprit des Loix, but there is little clue to his attitude in Book XI, Chapter 6. On the question of legislative supremacy he seems, though less explicitly, to hold much the same position that we attributed above to John Locke. The legislative function is logically prior to the rest in the sense that the executive and judicial functions are concerned with putting the law into effect but the legislative branch must be limited in its power to interfere with the acts of the executive branch, otherwise the former will be able to wield arbitrary power. Montesquieu does not, however, emphasize the supremacy of the law, or of the legislative function, to anything like the extent Locke had done, and as a consequence there seems to be a good deal more disagreement between them on this point than was probably the case.

What then did Montesquieu add to seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century English thought on the separation of powers? Clearly his view of the functions of government was much closer to modern usage than his predecessors’—he was one of the first writers to use “executive” in a recognizably modern sense in juxtaposition with the legislative and judicial functions. His emphasis upon the judicial function and upon the equality of this function with the other functions of government, though (as we have seen) by no means altogether new, was nevertheless of great importance. The judiciary had a position of independence in his thought greater than that of earlier English writers, and greater than it was in practice at that time in England. Although he used the idea of mixed government he did not allow it to dominate his thought, as had the writers on the balanced constitution in England consequently he articulated the elements of the constitution in a different way, and a clearer view of the separation of legislative and executive branches was now possible. He had gone a long way, in fact, towards the transformation of the theory of mixed government from its position as a doctrine in its own right into a set of checks and balances in a system of agencies separated on a functional basis. Perhaps the most significant difference between Bolingbroke and Montesquieu is that the latter placed the King outside the legislature. In some ways, then, Montesquieu moved back towards the emphasis that was placed during the Protectorate upon separate and distinct powers he was certainly closer to the pure doctrine than his English contemporaries, but he did not go all the way. He had a more realistic, more articulated system, with an amalgam of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century ideas woven into a new fabric. Sometimes it is difficult to know whether the changes he introduced into the stream of political thought on constitutionalism were wholly intentional, or whether they resulted rather from his method of writing. We shall never know—but it does not matter. The very defects of his style gave him an influence which a more precise and less interesting thinker would never have achieved, but more important than this is the fact that by changing the emphasis that English writers of the preceding half century had placed upon legislative supremacy and the mixed constitution, he paved the way for the doctrine of the separation of powers to emerge again as an autonomous theory of government. This theory was to develop in very different ways in Britain, in America, and on the continent of Europe, but from this time on, the doctrine of the separation of powers was no longer an English theory it had become a universal criterion of a constitutional government.

[ 1. ]On the English origin of Montesquieu’s ideas, see J. Dedieu, Montesquieu et la tradition politique anglaise en France, Paris, 1902.

[ 2. ]The standard edition of De l’Esprit des Loix is by J. Brette de la Gressaye, Paris, 1950, 4 vols. Quotations are from the translation by Thomas Nugent, ed. by F. Neumann, New York, 1949.

[ 3. ]De l’Esprit des Loix, Book I, Ch. 3.

[ 4. ]L’ABC, quoted by W. Struck—Montesquieu als Politiker, Berlin, 1933, p. 4.

[ 5. ]See the discussion of Montesquieu’s concept of human nature in W. Stark, Montesquieu: Pioneer of the Sociology of Knowledge, London, 1960, Ch. IV.


Scholarly and literary career

Montesquieu had no great enthusiasm for law as a profession. He was much more interested in the spirit that lay behind law. It is from this interest that his greatest work, The Spirit of the Laws, developed. To free himself in order to continue his scholarly interests, he sold his office as president of the Bordeaux Parlement in 1721. With his newly freed time he wrote the Persian Letters.

The Persian Letters was a fierce and bitingly critical view of European civilization and manners. The work takes the form of letters that three Persians (people from what is now Iran) traveling in Europe send to families and friends at home. Their letters are notes on what they see in the West. Montesquieu gave his travelers the foreign, commonsense understanding necessary to effectively criticize European (French) customs and institutions. Yet he also gave his Persians the weaknesses necessary to make his readers recognize in them their own weaknesses. All sides of European life were criticized. The message is that society lasts only on the basis of virtue and justice, which is rooted in the need of human cooperation and acceptance.

Although the Letters was published without his name, it was quickly recognized as the work of Montesquieu and won him the approval of the public and the displeasure of the governor, Cardinal André Fleury, who held up Montesquieu's introduction into the French Academy until 1728.


Montesquieu

Baron Charles Montesquieu (1689-1755) had an inherited fortune and time to write. And he mixed with Parisian higher society, where he was a celebrated conversationalist. He satirized French society. He criticized France's monarchical absolutism and the Church, offending authorities but adding to his popularity. He was a Catholic who believed that people should think for themselves.

Montesquieu traveled through much of Europe to observe people and political constitutions. He stayed in England for eighteen months and praised Britain's constitutional monarchy. He was opposed to republicanism and disliked democracy, which he saw as mob rule. He saw government as benefiting from the knowledge of society's elite, and he saw common people as unfit to discuss public affairs. The masses, he believed, were moved too much by emotion and too little by reason.

In France, history was still being described as it had been in Medieval times, with supernatural causes, and Montesquieu defied this tradition. He was hopeful that reading history would divest readers of their prejudices and contribute to improvement in contemporary society. He wrote an essay titled "Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness and Decline of the Romans," which described Rome as the product of social, political and geographic conditions.

Montesquieu admired England's John Locke &ndash the famous liberal and empiricist of a preceding generation. And he was influenced by Newton's physics and believed in a god that had made the laws that governed the physical world. But humanity, he believed, had a free will and God did not direct human affairs. A god who directed people as if they were puppets he thought would not have produced human intelligence.

Montesquieu believed that where government was more liberal and where people thought independently, society would be less devoted to religious ritual and more devoted to morality.

Pope Benedict XIV respected Montesquieu, but various bishops did not, and they placed on the Church's index of forbidden books Montesquieu's The Spirit of Laws, published in 1748. But independence of thought prevailed and the book was a success, going into 22 editions.

Voltaire

François Arouet, who became known as Voltaire (1694-1778), wrote poetry and plays, and for expressing his opinions he was twice sent to prison. He was in exile in England from 1726 to 1729. And, like Montesquieu, he developed an admiration for British institutions. Voltaire admired Britain's Tolerance Act of 1689 and its absence of censorship. He saw benefit in variety, claiming that if England had but one religion it would still be despotic, that if England had just two faiths those faiths would be at each others throat. But with thirty different religious groupings, he claimed, Britain lived as a happy land where the spirit of Greece lived on.

Voltaire had also been influenced by Newton and Locke. He disliked theories not supported by observation and experiment. But he spun such theories himself. In arguing against the Great Flood described in the Old Testament, he attempted to explain the presence of sea shells on Mt Cenis in the Alps. He claimed that "the earth has always remained as it was when it was first created" but that collectors of sea shells could have put the shells there, that small farmers could have dumped the shells with their loads of lime to fertilize the soil, or that the shells might have been badges that had dropped from the hats of pilgrims on their way to Rome.

Voltaire was awed by the grandness of the cosmos and saw the cosmos moved by immutable laws that could not be altered by prayer. Voltaire was a deist, and in one of his attacks on conventional religion he wondered why the god of the Old Testament had created humans with a capacity for pleasure and then damned them for using it. He wondered why Jehovah had created humans and then drowned them in His flood. He attacked the idea of original sin, wondering why children should be punished for the sins of their first father, Adam.

Voltaire didn't see original sin as an excuse. In his novel Candide he expressed annoyance at people massacring each other, and he described people as liars, cheats, traitors, brigands, weak, flighty, cowardly, envious, gluttonous, drunkenness, grasping, backbiting, debauched, fanatical, hypocritical and silly. Like Montesquieu he feared the passion of common people, and he too disliked democracy. But he also ridiculed the hauteur of aristocrats, and he thought himself the friend of peasants and serfs. He spoke with admiration for William Penn and the Quakers. He opposed all forms of slavery. He hoped that enlightened monarchs would rule above class interests and keep a firm but tolerant reign on society for the sake of all.

He was too pessimistic about humanity to formulate a utopia. He argued that the world would improve as ignorance and superstition were replaced by more knowledge, more reason, sympathy and more tolerance. Voltaire wanted more education, but it was not the poor and unskilled laborer he wished to educate it was the middle class. "When the populace meddles in reasoning," he wrote, "all is lost." The lower classes, he believed, needed religion and needed to be preached to about virtue.

In 1731 Voltaire's History of Charles XII was published, a narrative written while he was in exile in England. Voltaire, it is said, tried to separate fiction and fact and tried to explain Charles – Sweden's war-making monarch and invader of Russia back in 1708 – as an extraordinary man worthy of respect.

In 1743 Voltaire was elected to England's Royal Society. In 1746 he was admitted to the French Academy. In 1751 his book The Age of Louis XIV was published. In 1756 he wrote his "Essay on the Manners and Spirit of the Nations." And in 1759 Candide was published.

Voltaire liked recognition and associating with celebrities and the powerful. Despite his belief in tolerance he railed against the Roman Catholic Church, describing it as the fountainhead and bulwark of evil. He had been put off by the Church's opposition to new scientific views, including those of Galileo and Newton. He believed that the kind of change he wanted was not possible without undermining the power of the Church. Then later in his life, to advance his career, he started a campaign to endear himself to Pope Benedict XIV. This was a Pope that had respect for some of what accompanied the Enlightenment, especially tolerance. Pope Benedict brought a storm of protest upon himself by his friendly response to Voltaire, including his calling Voltaire his "dear son" and sending him his "blessing."

Rousseau

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) is best known for his line about people being born free but finding themselves in chains. His mother had died a few days after his birth. His father abandoned him when he was ten, leaving him with relatives and friends. He was brought up a Calvinist, and although he had no regular schooling he was encouraged to pursue his precocious taste for reading serious books. At sixteen he began homeless wandering. In the 1740s in his thirties he appeared in Paris as a writer of poetry, opera and comedy, and there he made friends with a few other writers, including Denis Diderot, a year younger than he, but formally educated.

In 1750 Rousseau won a prize offered by the Academy of Dijon for an essay on the question whether the arts and sciences had conferred benefits upon "mankind." His essay claimed that people were good and innocent by nature and had been corrupted by the arts and sciences. It expressed some of the values of his religious heritage and also his general dislike for the upper classes. Letters and the arts, he claimed, were the worst enemies of morals, for they created wants. Science and virtue, he wrote, were incompatible. Science, he wrote, had ignoble origins. Physics, he said, had risen from vain curiosity. He approved of virtue, but the study of ethics he described as having its source in human pride. He located the basis of ethics in emotions rather than reason.

Rousseau continued writing. In 1754 his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality was published. In it he described the invention of private property as a fateful moment in human history. He preferred the sharing that had existed among Stone Age communal societies, and he lauded the relative equality and the greater bond of affection with which he believed these people regarded each other. He recognized that modern societies would not be remade into the smaller societies of those former times, but in his novel Emile and in his work titled Social Contract, both published in 1762, he tried to explain how civilized society could be improved. Rousseau opposed slavery – which was still widely accepted. He believed in Locke's social contract. He was radical in that he believed in democracy, setting himself apart from Voltaire among others. Moreover, Rousseau put himself on the side of social revolution. Liberty, he wrote, was not to be found in any existing form of government, it was in the hearts of free men. He described existing laws as "always useful to those who own and as injurious to those who do not." And such laws, he wrote, "give the weak new burdens, the strong new powers and irretrievably destroy natural freedom."

In a society not based on private property, he claimed, individuals could join together to make laws that give expression to a "General Will," uniting people who share a sense of social responsibility. Instead of wanting to return to a Stone Age tribal society he wanted to create a civilization that was democratic and communal, a society worthy of humanity which would appeal to humanity's better nature and make humanity worthy of civilization.

Rousseau gave a boost to romanticism in the arts, believing as he did more in the emotions of the unlearned than in the reason of intellectuals. He had no use for Plato, Aristotle or the scholastics. He was for action rather than what the well-to-do called reason. With Voltaire he was for a time friendly, but Voltaire was anti-Romantic. Voltaire didn't trust emotions the way that Rousseau did, and he criticized Rousseau's admiration for Stone Age tribal society, writing to Rousseau that after reading his work, "one feels like crawling on all fours."

Rousseau had an independent approach to religion. Calvinists and Roman Catholics saw him as a "freethinking" heretic. But Rousseau believed in a personal god, in divine providence and the immortality of the soul. He saw morality and virtue as rising from the faith and hope of religious people. He differed with most Christians in his belief that it was not Original Sin that troubled humanity. He wanted to create a natural religion that rises from instinct, a religion that returns people to nature, with no intermediary priesthood between people and their god. He claimed that Jesus Christ was not the Redeemer but was a model for the recovery of one's nature.

In 1762, Rousseau was driven into exile &ndash to Switzerland and England. In 1763, his book The Social Contract made the Catholic Church's index of forbidden books, and an order went out for his arrest. He was well received in London, but there he was overcome by feelings of persecution, and in 1767 he returned to France, where he was still wanted by the law. In France the authorities ignored him, and he died the following year, at the age of sixty-six.

The Encyclopedists

In 1751 in France the first part of a new encyclopedia was published &ndash subjects that started with the letter A. The two men most responsible for the work were the writers Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert (pronounced zhan dah-lemBEAR), the latter a respected scientist and mathematician. The two men believed that knowledge would bring people more happiness, and they wished to combat what they believed was the ignorance, myth, dogma and superstition inherited from the Middle Ages. Some of their writing on subjects beginning with the letter "A" offended both government and Church authorities. The government banned the book, and the Church placed the book on its index of forbidden books and threatened excommunication on all who read or bought it.

In 1765 the encyclopedia was completed. It was twenty-eight volumes with hundreds of thousands of articles by leading scientists and famous writers, among them the Marquis de Condorcet, Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau. And it included an article by Diderot against slavery and the slave trade.

In the 1770s, Diderot wrote an article on the Tahitians, drawing from a description written by the French explorer Louis Bougainville, who had visited Tahiti for ten days. Bougainville's comments about the Tahitians living together freely provided Diderot with an opportunity to criticize the institution of marriage. Diderot looked with disdain upon the morality of France's elite. He called the marriage he saw around him in France as immoral because it reduced women to the status of possessions or objects. Diderot complained of marriage as having created two unnecessary conditions: the plight of the fallen woman and the plight of the illegitimate child.

Despite the ban on the encyclopedia it was widely read and became an influence through much of Western Europe.

Marquis de Condorcet

Another Frenchman, Condorcet, born a half-century after Voltaire and around thirty years after of Rousseau, was one of the first to systematically apply mathematics in the social sciences. Behavior, he believed, could be quantitatively analyzed. But he also believed in diversity and individual freedom, independence of choice and people thinking for themselves – something a bit apart from Rousseau's General Will, foreshadowing the liberalism that was coming in the 1800s.

Condorcet was an optimist, believing that the lives of people in general could be improved. He believed in social justice and advocated free and equal public education, constitutionalism, equal rights for women and people of all races. He founded an anti-slavery organization, the Society of the Friends of the Blacks.

Opposed to authoritarianism, he was anti-clerical and, unlike Voltaire, he was also opposed to monarchy. In other words, he was a republican. His belief in liberty extended to free exchanges in the world of buying and selling, as did a Scottish contemporary, Adam Smith.

In his early twenties, in 1765, his first work on mathematics &ndash on integral calculus &ndash launched his career as a respected mathematician. In 1769 he was elected to the French Royal Academy of Sciences. In 1772 he published another paper on integral calculus which was widely hailed as groundbreaking. Condorcet was recognized worldwide and worked with famous scientists, including Leonhard Euler and Benjamin Franklin. He became an honorary member of many foreign academies and philosophical societies in Sweden, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Condorcet was one of those who believed that knowledge, reason and science would liberate humanity, and he took this belief with him into the French Revolution. He would take a leading role in the French Revolution from its beginning in 1789, hoping for a rational reconstruction of society. He was to be elected as Paris delegate to the Assembly, and he became secretary of the Assembly. He advocated women's suffrage for the new government. He opposed the death penalty for King Louis XVI. Hardline revolutionaries associated him with the revolution's liberal and traitorous faction. He was imprisoned, and in prison he died a mysterious death.


Watch the video: Baron de Montesquieu Biography (September 2022).


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