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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.