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Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu

Montesquieu in 1728
Full name Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu
Born before 18 January 1689
Chateau de la Brede, La Brède, Gironde, France
Died 10 February 1755 (aged 66)
Paris, France
Era 18th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Enlightenment
Main interests Political Philosophy
Notable ideas Separation of state powers: executive; legislative; judicial, Classification of systems of government based on their principles

Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (English pronunciation: /ˈmɒntɨskjuː/; 18 January 1689, La Brède, Gironde – 10 February 1755), was a French social commentator and political thinker who lived during the Era of the Enlightenment. He is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers, taken for granted in modern discussions of government and implemented in many constitutions throughout the world. He was largely responsible for the popularization of the terms feudalism and Byzantine Empire.

Contents

Biography

He was born at the Chateau de la Brede in the southwest of France. After having studied at the Catholic College of Juilly, Charles-Louis de Secondat married. His wife, Jeanne de Lartigue, a Protestant, brought him a substantial dowry when he was 26. The next year, he inherited a fortune upon the death of his uncle, as well as the title Baron de Montesquieu and Président à Mortier in the Parliament of Bordeaux. By that time, England had declared itself a constitutional monarchy in the wake of its Glorious Revolution (1688–89), and had joined with Scotland in the Union of 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. In 1715 the long-reigning Louis XIV died and was succeeded by the five-year-old Louis XV. These national transformations impacted Montesquieu greatly; he would later refer to them repeatedly in his work.

Soon afterwards he achieved literary success with the publication of his Lettres persanes (Persian Letters, 1721), a satire based on the imaginary correspondence of a Persian visitor to Paris, pointing out the absurdities of contemporary society. He next published Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence (Considerations on the Causes of the Grandeur and Decadence of the Romans, 1734), considered by some scholars a transition from The Persian Letters to his master work. De l'Esprit des Lois (The Spirit of the Laws) was originally published anonymously in 1748 and quickly rose to a position of enormous influence. In France, it met with an unfriendly reception from both supporters and opponents of the regime. The Roman Catholic Church banned l'Esprit – along with many of Montesquieu's other works – in 1751 and included it on the Index of Prohibited Books. It received the highest praise from the rest of Europe, especially Britain.

Montesquieu was also highly regarded in the British colonies in America as a champion of British liberty (though not of American independence). Political scientist Donald Lutz found that Montesquieu was the most frequently quoted authority on government and politics in colonial pre-revolutionary British America.[1] Following the American secession, Montesquieu's work remained a powerful influence on many of the American founders, most notably James Madison of Virginia, the "Father of the Constitution". Montesquieu's philosophy that "government should be set up so that no man need be afraid of another" reminded Madison and others that a free and stable foundation for their new national government required a clearly defined and balanced separation of powers.

Besides composing additional works on society and politics, Montesquieu traveled for a number of years through Europe including Austria and Hungary, spending a year in Italy and 18 months in England before resettling in France. He was troubled by poor eyesight, and was completely blind by the time he died from a high fever in 1755. He was buried in the Église Saint-Sulpice, Paris.

Political views

A picture of Montesquieu

Montesquieu is credited amongst the precursors of anthropology, including Herodotus and Tacitus, to be among the first to extend comparative methods of classification to the political forms in human societies. Indeed, 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"[2]. According to social anthropologist D.F. Pocock, Montesquieu's 'Spirit of the Laws' "is 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"[3]. Montesquieu's political anthropology gave rise to his theories on government.

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. Montesquieu saw two types of governmental power existing: the sovereign and the administrative. The administrative powers were the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. These should be separate from and dependent upon each other so that the influence of any one power would not be able to exceed that of the other two, either singly or in combination. This was radical because it completely eliminated the three Estates structure of the French Monarchy: the clergy, the aristocracy, and the people at large represented by the Estates-General, thereby erasing the last vestige of a feudalistic structure.

Likewise, there were three main forms of government, each supported by a social "principle": monarchies (free governments headed by a hereditary figure, e.g. king, queen, emperor), which rely on the principle of honor; republics (free governments headed by popularly elected leaders), which rely on the principle of virtue; and despotisms (enslaved governments headed by dictators), which rely on fear. The free governments are dependent on fragile constitutional arrangements. Montesquieu devotes four chapters of The Spirit of the Laws to a discussion of England, a contemporary free government, where liberty was sustained by a balance of powers. Montesquieu worried that in France the intermediate powers (i.e., the nobility) which moderated the power of the prince were being eroded. These ideas of the control of power were often used in the thinking of Maximilien de Robespierre.

Montesquieu was somewhat ahead of his time in advocating major reform of slavery in The Spirit of the Laws. As part of his advocacy he presented a satirical hypothetical list of arguments for slavery, which has been open to contextomy. However, like many of his generation, Montesquieu also held a number of views that might today be judged controversial. He firmly accepted the role of a hereditary aristocracy and the value of primogeniture, and while he endorsed the idea that a woman could head a government, he held that she could not be effective as the head of a family.

Meteorological Climate Theory

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. 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.

He goes so far as to assert that certain climates are superior to others, the temperate climate of France being ideal. His view is that people living in very warm countries are "too hot-tempered," while those in northern countries are "icy" or "stiff." The climate of middle Europe is therefore optimal. On this point, Montesquieu may well have been influenced by a similar pronouncement in The Histories of Herodotus, where he makes a distinction between the 'ideal' temperate climate of Greece as opposed to the overly cold climate of Scythia and the overly warm climate of Egypt. This was a common belief at the time, and can also be found within the medical writings of Herodotus' times, including the 'On Airs, Waters, Places' of the Hippocratic corpus. One can find a similar statement in Germania by Tacitus, one of Montesquieu's favorite authors.

From a sociological perspective Louis Althusser, in his analysis of Montesquieu's revolution in method[4], alluded to the seminal character of anthropology's inclusion of material factors, such as climate, in the explanation of social dynamics and political forms. Examples of certain climatic and geographical factors giving rise to increasingly complex social systems include those that were conducive to the rise of agriculture and the domestication of wild plants and animals.

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  • Les causes de l'écho (The Causes of an Echo)
  • Les glandes rénales (The Renal Glands)
  • La cause de la pesanteur des corps (The Cause of Gravity of Bodies)
  • La damnation éternelle des païens (The Eternal Damnation of the Pagans, 1711)
  • Système des Idées (System of Ideas, 1716)
  • Lettres persanes (Persian Letters, 1721)
  • Le Temple de Gnide (The Temple of Gnide, a novel; 1724)
  • Histoire véritable d'Arsace et Isménie ((The True History of) Arsace and Isménie, a novel; 1730)
  • Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence (Considerations on the Causes of the Grandeur and Decadence of the Romans, 1734)
  • De l'esprit des lois ((On) The Spirit of the Laws, 1748)
  • La défense de «L'Esprit des lois» (In Defence of "The Spirit of the Laws", 1750)
  • Pensées suivies de Spicilège (Thoughts after Spicilège)
  • Essai sur le goût (1757)
  • Le flux et le reflux de la mer
  • Mémoires sur la fièvre intermittente
  • Mémoires sur l'écho
  • Les maladies des glandes rénales
  • La pesanteur des corps
  • Le mouvement relatif
  • Le Spicilège
  • Pensées

See also

References

  1. ^ "The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late Eighteenth-Century American Political Thought," American Political Science Review 78,1(March, 1984), 189-197.
  2. ^ G. Balandier, Political Anthropology, Random House, 1970, p 3.
  3. ^ D. Pocock, Social Anthropology, Sheed and Ward, 1961, p 9.
  4. ^ L. Althusser, Politics and History: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx, NLB, 1972.

Further reading

  • Pangle, Thomas, Montesquieu’s Philosophy of Liberalism (Chicago: 1989 rpt.; 1973).
  • Person, James Jr., ed. “Montesquieu” (excerpts from chap. 8) in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, (Gale Publishing: 1988), vol. 7, pp. 350-52.
  • Shackleton, Robert. Montesquieu; a Critical Biography. (Oxford: Clarendon Press of Oxford University Press, 1961).
  • Shklar, Judith. Montesquieu (Oxford Past Masters series). (Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1989).
  • Schaub, Diana J. Erotic Liberalism: Women and Revolution in Montesquieu's 'Persian Letters'. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995).
  • Spurlin, Paul M. Montesquieu in America, 1760-1801 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1941; reprint, New York: Octagon Books, 1961).

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Charles de Montesquieu article)

From Wikiquote

Useless laws weaken the necessary laws.

Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (18 January 168910 February 1755), also known as Charles de Montesquieu, was a French political thinker who lived during the Enlightenment and is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers.

Contents

Sourced

Lettres Persanes (1721) [Persian Letters]

  • Not to be loved is a misfortune, but it is an insult to be loved no longer.
    • No. 3
  • [The Ottoman Empire] whose sick body was not supported by a mild and regular diet, but by a powerful treatment, which continually exhausted it.
    • No. 19
  • [The Pope] will make the king believe that three are only one, that the bread he eats is not bread...and a thousand other things of the same kind.
    • No. 24
  • I can assure you that no kingdom has ever had as many civil wars as the kingdom of Christ.
    • No. 29
  • Do you think that God will punish them for not practicing a religion which he did not reveal to them?
    • No. 35
  • A man should be mourned at his birth, not at his death.
    • No. 40
People here argue about religion interminably, but it appears that they are competing at the same time to see who can be the least devout.
  • People here argue about religion interminably, but it appears that they are competing at the same time to see who can be the least devout.
    • No. 46
  • Oh, how empty is praise when it reflects back to its origin!
    • No. 50
  • Life was given to me as a favor, so I may abandon it when it is one no longer.
    • No. 76
  • Religious wars are not caused by the fact that there is more than one religion, but by the spirit of intolerance...the spread of which can only be regarded as the total eclipse of human reason.
    • No. 85
  • There are only two cases in which war is just: first, in order to resist the aggression of an enemy, and second, in order to help an ally who has been attacked.
    • No. 95
  • There is only one thing that can form a bond between men, and that is gratitude...we cannot give someone else greater power over us than we have ourselves.
    • No. 104
  • I have read descriptions of Paradise that would make any sensible person stop wanting to go there.
    • No. 125

De l'Esprit des Lois (1748) [The Spirit of the Laws]

  • Les républiques finissent par le luxe; les monarchies, par la pauvreté.
    • Translation: Republics end through luxury; monarchies through poverty.
    • VII, Ch. IV
  • La corruption de chaque gouvernement commence presque toujours par celle des principes.
    • Translation: The deterioration of a government begins almost always by the decay of its principles.
    • VIII, Ch. I
  • La Société est l'union des hommes, et non pas les hommes.
    • Translation: Society is the union of men and not the men themselves.
    • X, Ch. 3
  • Liberty is the right of doing whatever the laws permit.
    • XI, Ch. 3
  • But 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.
    • XI, Ch. 4
  • When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.
    • XI, Ch. 6
The state of slavery is in its own nature bad...
  • Slavery, properly so called, is the establishment of a right which gives to one man such a power over another as renders him absolute master of his life and fortune. The state of slavery is in its own nature bad. It is neither useful to the master nor to the slave; not to the slave, because he can do nothing through a motive of virtue; nor to the master, because by having an unlimited authority over his slaves he insensibly accustoms himself to the want of all moral virtues, and thence becomes fierce, hasty, severe, choleric, voluptuous, and cruel. ... where it is of the utmost importance that human nature should not be debased or dispirited, there ought to be no slavery. In democracies, where they are all upon equality; and in aristocracies, where the laws ought to use their utmost endeavors to procure as great an equality as the nature of the government will permit, slavery is contrary to the spirit of the constitution: it only contributes to give a power and luxury to the citizens which they ought not to have.
    • XV Ch.1
  • I would as soon say that religion gives its professors a right to enslave those who dissent from it, in order to render its propagation more easy.
    This was the notion that encouraged the ravagers of America in their iniquity. Under the influence of this idea they founded their right of enslaving so many nations; for these robbers, who would absolutely be both robbers and Christians, were superlatively devout.
    Louis XIII was extremely uneasy at a law by which all the negroes of his colonies were to be made slaves; but it being strongly urged to him as the readiest means for their conversion, he acquiesced without further scruple.
    • XV Ch. 4
It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men, because, allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow that we ourselves are not Christians.
  • De petits esprits exagèrent trop l'injustice que l'on fait aux Africains.
    • Weak minds exaggerate too much the injustice done to the Africans.
    • XV Ch. 5 This quote has been circulated on some racist forums where it seems weak minds have eagerly embraced it as if it were a statement Montesquieu made in all sincerity, when in fact it is quite otherwise. Quoted out of context, as it is, it can seem that Montesquieu was being supportive of racial oppressions, but he was in fact arguing against slavery, and presenting this statement as a hypothetical one he might resort to, if he were arguing for it. He in fact precedes this statement, with several others that can be seen to be plainly sarcastic or satirical of the attitudes of the supporters of slavery:
    • Were I to vindicate our right to make slaves of the negroes, these should be my arguments:
      • The Europeans, having extirpated the Americans, were obliged to make slaves of the Africans, for clearing such vast tracts of land.
      • Sugar would be too dear if the plants which produce it were cultivated by any other than slaves.
      • These creatures are all over black, and with such a flat nose that they can scarcely be pitied.
      • It is hardly to be believed that God, who is a wise Being, should place a soul, especially a good soul, in such a black ugly body.
      • It is so natural to look upon color as the criterion of human nature, that the Asiatics, among whom eunuchs are employed, always deprive the blacks of their resemblance to us by a more opprobrious distinction.
      • The color of the skin may be determined by that of the hair, which, among the Egyptians, the best philosophers in the world, was of such importance that they put to death all the red-haired men who fell into their hands.
      • The negroes prefer a glass necklace to that gold which polite nations so highly value. Can there be a greater proof of their wanting common sense?
      • It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men, because, allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow that we ourselves are not Christians.
      • Weak minds exaggerate too much the wrong done to the Africans. For were the case as they state it, would the European powers, who make so many needless conventions among themselves, have failed to enter into a general one, in behalf of humanity and compassion?
Montesquieu proceeds in Ch. 6 to state: "It is time to inquire into the true origins of the right of slavery. It ought to be founded on the nature of things; let us see if there be any cases where it can be derived thence..." he then examines systems of despotism which result in various levels of contractual slavery, and in Ch. 7 concludes:
  • There are countries where 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; and the master being as lazy with respect to his sovereign as his slave is with regard to him, this adds a political to a civil slavery.
    Aristotle endeavors to prove that there are natural slaves; but what he says is far from proving it. If there be any such, I believe they are those of whom I have been speaking.
    [Those who accept it as a contractual arrangement, in a general system of despotism.]
    But as all men are born equal, slavery must be accounted unnatural, though in some countries it be founded on natural reason; and a wide difference ought to be made between such countries, and those in which even natural reason rejects it, as in Europe, where it has been so happily abolished.
  • [Britain is] a nation that may be justly called a republic, disguised under the form of a monarchy.
    • XIX, Ch. 68
  • Les hommes, fripons en détail, sont en gros de très honnêtes gens.
    • Translation: Men, who are rogues individually, are in the mass very honorable people.
    • XXV, Ch. 2
  • Useless laws weaken the necessary laws.
    • XXIX, Ch. 16

Pensées Diverses

  • La raillerie est un discours en faveur de son esprit contre son bon naturel.
    • Translation: Raillery is a mode of speaking in favor of one's wit at the expense of one's better nature.
  • Le succès de la plupart des choses dépend de savoir combien il faut de temps pour réussir.
    • Translation: The success of most things depends upon knowing how long it will take to succeed.
  • J'ai toujours vu que, pour réussir dans le monde, il fallait avoir l'air fou et être sage.
    • Translation: I have always observed that to succeed in the world one should appear like a fool but be wise.

Pensées et Fragments Inédits de Montesquieu (1899)

  • If I knew of something that could serve my nation but would ruin another, I would not propose it to my prince, for I am first a man and only then a Frenchman...because I am necessarily a man, and only accidentally am I French.
    • I
  • You have to study a great deal to know a little.
    • I

External links

A government should be set up so no man need be afraid of another.


Simple English

File:Montesquieu
Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu. Painting of 1728. It is now in a museum in Versailles

Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (January 18, 1689February 10, 1755), more commonly known as Montesquieu, was a French political thinker. He lived during the Enlightenment, and is famous for his theory of separation of powers; This theory is taken for granted in modern discussions of government. Many constitutions all over the world use it. He was largely responsible for the making the terms "feudalism" and "Byzantine Empire" popular.

Contents

Political views

Montesquieu's most radical work divided French society into three classes. He called them trias politica:

Montesquieu saw that there were two types of powers: the sovereign and the administrative. The administrative powers were the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary. These powers should be divided up so that each power would have a power over the other. This was radical because it completely eliminated the three Estates structure of the French Monarchy. These were the aristocracy, clergy, and third estate from the estates. It abolished any vestige of a feudalistic structure. There were also three main forms of government. These were

Montesquieu believed that the best form of government was one that was divided into three branches, he helped inspire the idea for the U.S. constitution.

Like many of his generation, Montesquieu held a number of views that might today be judged controversial. While he approved the idea that a woman could run a government, he thought that she could not be effective as the head of a family. He firmly accepted the role of a hereditary aristocracy and the value of primogeniture. Hereditary means that the title passes from the parents to the children. His views have also been abused by modern revisionists; for instance, even though Montesquieu was ahead of his time as an ardent opponent of slavery, he has been quoted out of context in attempts to show he supported it.[needs proof]

One of his more exotic ideas, outlined in The Spirit of the Laws and hinted at in Persian Letters, is the climate theory. It says that climate should substantially influence the nature of man and his society. Montesquieu even thinks that certain climates are better than others. The temperate climate of France is the best of possible climates in his opinion. His view is that people living in hot countries are "too hot-tempered", while those in northern countries are "icy" or "stiff." The climate in middle Europe therefore breeds the best people. (This view is possibly influenced by similar statements in Germania by Tacitus, one of Montesquieu's favourite authors.)

It was Montesquieu's philosophy that "government should be set up so that no man need be afraid of another" that prompted the creators of the Constitution to divide the U.S. government into three separate branches.

List of works

  • Les causes de l'écho (The Causes of an Echo)
  • Les glandes rénales (The Renal Glands)
  • La cause de la pesanteur des corps (The Cause of Gravity of Bodies)
  • La damnation éternelle des païens (The Eternal Damnation of the Pagans, 1711)
  • Système des Idées (System of Ideas, 1716)
  • Lettres persanes (Persian Letters, 1721)
  • Le Temple de Gnide (The Temple of Gnide, a novel; 1724)
  • Arsace et Isménie ((The True History of) Arsace and Isménie, a novel; 1730)
  • Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence (Considerations on the Causes of the Grandeur and Decadence of the Romans, 1734)
  • De l'esprit des lois ((On) The Spirit of the Laws, 1748)
  • La défense de «L'Esprit des lois» (In Defence of "The Spirit of the Laws", 1748)
  • Pensées suivies de Spicilège (Thoughts after Spicilège)

Other pages

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Preceded by
Louis de Sacy
Seat 2
Académie française

1728–1755
Succeeded by
Jean-Baptiste de Vivien de Châteaubrun


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