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Chapter

Cover Political Thinkers

15. Montesquieu  

Yoshie Kawade

This chapter examines Montesquieu's political theory. Montesquieu's political theory, and his Spirit of the Laws in particular, has been considered a complex mosaic of varied and sometimes disparate intellectual traditions. Despite the forbidding structure of his works, important and impressive discussions of issues such as the justification of universal justice, a scientific approach to the law, a new typology of governments, a materialistic theory of climate, and the idea of a free state based on separate and balanced powers can be found there. After providing a short biography of Montesquieu, the chapter analyses his critique of despotism as well as the key themes of his mature political theory: the separation of powers, the three forms of government, the lessons of history, and the conditions of political liberty.

Chapter

Cover Rethinking Political Thinkers

11. Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de la Brede et de Montesquieu  

Manjeet Ramgotra

This chapter examines the political theory and writings of French Enlightenment thinker, Montesquieu. It contends that Montesquieu’s constitutional theory of the separation of powers promoted a strong government which advanced individual freedom, maintained internal stability against absolutism and populism, and allowed the state to expand its boundaries at a moment in history when European powers were fighting each other to establish colonial empires across the world. The chapter presents the contexts in which he composed The Spirit of the Laws (1748), and then discusses Montesquieu’s typology of governments and considers the various notions of time and progress that undergird his view of how the various constitutions in the world are ordered. Finally, the chapter looks at commerce, peace, colonialism, and slavery, bringing to light the tensions and contradictions in Montesquieu’s thought.