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The Spirit of the Laws Goodreads has linked Defense de l esprit des lois with Montesquieu s magnum opus.The Defense is merely a pamphlet, a reply to one or two critics of L esprit des lois I can t say I read it easily, but I read it all 61 pp which isthan I could do when I first got it for Kindle in 2012.This passage, I think, is as true today as it was in the 18th C., especially if one bears in mind which theologians i.e., upholders of orthodoxy of today seek to suppress free thought and free expr Goodreads has linked Defense de l esprit des lois with Montesquieu s magnum opus.The Defense is merely a pamphlet, a reply to one or two critics of L esprit des lois I can t say I read it easily, but I read it all 61 pp which isthan I could do when I first got it for Kindle in 2012.This passage, I think, is as true today as it was in the 18th C., especially if one bears in mind which theologians i.e., upholders of orthodoxy of today seek to suppress free thought and free expression La th ologie a ses bornes, elle a ses formules parce que les v rit s qu elle enseigne tant connues, il faut que les hommes s y tiennent et on doit les emp cher de s en carter c est l qu il ne faut pas que le g nie prenne l essor on le circonscrit, pour ainsi dire, dans une enceinte Mais c est se moquer du monde, de vouloir mettre cette enceinte autour de ceux qui traitent les sciences humaines Les principes de la g om trie sont tr s vrais mais, si on les appliquait des choses de go t, on ferait d raisonner la raison m me Rien n touffe suffocates plus la doctrine que de mettre toutes les choses une robe de docteur les gens qui veulent toujours enseigner, emp chent beaucoup d apprendre il n y a point de g nie qu on ne r tr cisse, lorsqu on l enveloppera d un million de scrupules vains Avez vous les meilleures intentions du monde on vous forcera vous m me d en douter Vous ne pouvez plus tre occup bien dire, quand vous tes sans cesse effray par la crainte de dire mal, et qu au lieu de suivre votre pens e, vous ne vous occupez que des termes, qui peuvent chapper la subtilit des critiques Montequieu placed emphasis on reason as the guide for laws and society, but also respected tradition, historical precedent, and the spirit of the people Laws should be based on reason customs and s.3 forms of government correspond to size despotic large , monarchy medium , republic small Despotism is sustained by fear and thus is inherently corrupt and short lived , monarchy by honor class distinctions , and republics by civic virtue These types tend to correspond to certain cli Montequieu placed emphasis on reason as the guide for laws and society, but also respected tradition, historical precedent, and the spirit of the people Laws should be based on reason customs and s.3 forms of government correspond to size despotic large , monarchy medium , republic small Despotism is sustained by fear and thus is inherently corrupt and short lived , monarchy by honor class distinctions , and republics by civic virtue These types tend to correspond to certain climactic, historical, economic, etc conditions of a particular region and can t be explained abstractly.Constitutional monarchies are the best possible government for the time, though republics are ideal Republics require civic virtue i.e the sublimation of personal interest to the good of the state To increase civic virtue, people should be educated to love their country and value equality and frugality Liberty involves equality The rising of the middle class protects liberty.Western Europe in good shape for development of liberty, especially Switzerland Cold countries Protestantssuited to liberty because less centralized Trade and commerce make peopletolerant Modern pundits and general yappers would do well to readMontesquieu and less of whatever they are reading now if they are, in fact, reading anything at all. I m not sure what can compare in the West to The Spirit of Laws before its publication in 1748 Sure, there were the Greeks Plato s Republic and Laws were extensive dialogues on constructing political systems But those were primary intellectual exercises The debate wasabout the ideal rather than the practical Plato made some comparisons of Athenian and Spartan systems, but he was not surveying systems, he was attempting to take what was best Aristotle was arguablythorough with h I m not sure what can compare in the West to The Spirit of Laws before its publication in 1748 Sure, there were the Greeks Plato s Republic and Laws were extensive dialogues on constructing political systems But those were primary intellectual exercises The debate wasabout the ideal rather than the practical Plato made some comparisons of Athenian and Spartan systems, but he was not surveying systems, he was attempting to take what was best Aristotle was arguablythorough with his comparisons of constitutions in Politics, however it s all still done with the goal of maximizing the Greek notion of virtue.Later, there was, of course, eponymous Machiavelli, with his own realpolitik approach to governance and his advice for the most effective prince Freedom being only useful in placating the governed.Then there were the Englishmen Hobbes and Locke Hobbes, unrestrained by the virtue of the Greeks, had his own pragmatic advice for those serving as the authoritative leviathan But Locke was different He gave us a hint of what was to come with Montesquieu His empirical approach to epistemology, along with his second Treatise on Government, echo a hundred years later in this Frenchman s work Montesquieu built on Locke s sketched out separation of powers principle to demonstrate the check such a system can serve on historically competing governmental interests Whether the overlying government is a form of monarchy, republicanism or despotism, there are three powers that must be assigned the executive, the legislative and the judicial Containing and balancing these powers define the government But Montesquieu did not come to his conclusions a priori like his ancient Greek predecessors He, like Locke, was muchBaconian Montesquieu used induction and became a political empiricist He surveyed the world, ancient and modern at that time to provide examples to draw upon If there was any Greek he was most like, it s Herodotus.Like Herodotus, his impressions of far off lands sounds na ve to the modern ear His stereotyping of conniving Chinese, docile Indians, and unsophisticated Africans makes his writing cringe worthy at times With such general assumptions, he constructed theories of how governance in those lands must be adaptable to the character of its people and climate Though fundamentally flawed in his understanding of foreign cultures, it was still an impressive attempt at recognizing that unique cultures may benefit the most from different approaches There is no universal best government Montesquieu was probably the first political anthropologist.His discussions of Europe fare much better for the modern reader He walks the reader through countless Frankish, German and English examples of government Almost all of Volume II is a historical walkthrough from the Greeks and Romans to a couple generations after Charlemagne I m not sure what his points are, or even if had any, but it is an impressive summary of European political development.He thought slavery was generally bad, but made exceptions Based on climate And skin color Oh yeah, and he thought women weren t really up to the task of much outside the home These ideas are not going to win many converts today But much can be taken from Montesquieu based on what you want His writings inspired the American Revolutionaries and the autocrat Catherine the Great Few books can accommodate such an ideological range His presence is still felt today Though we may question our ability to implement his better ideas, many still cherish the concept of separation of power and checks and balances Have you ever been curious as to why we have certain laws and why they have the effects they have That is what is covered in this book It opens by talking about why he thinks humans established laws and civilization, then it discusses what he labels as the three main forms of government Republics, Monarchies, and Tyrannies While there are many different themes throughout the book, I think one of the main ones is that for a government to be successful it often needs to stay true to its princ Have you ever been curious as to why we have certain laws and why they have the effects they have That is what is covered in this book It opens by talking about why he thinks humans established laws and civilization, then it discusses what he labels as the three main forms of government Republics, Monarchies, and Tyrannies While there are many different themes throughout the book, I think one of the main ones is that for a government to be successful it often needs to stay true to its principles whatever they may be A personal connection I had with this book is when it discusses republics and how they should function, it reminds me of our government and the political events of our day In conclusion I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn t mind doing some really heavy reading on political theory with a little bit of sociology If you do not enjoy doing a lot of reading or having to think about every line you re reading then this is not a book for you As for Rousseau I have to admit I started this lecture with some prejudice whereas I mistakenly imagined Rousseau to be this half autistic failed novelist wearing rose tinted glasses, I imagined Montesquieu to be somewhat his rigorous, legalistic counter part probably owing to my complete ignorance in the field of legal theory bent on ossifying every well meaning, politically correct and moralizing precept the Enlightenment might have produced Once again I was wrong it might seems to my re As for Rousseau I have to admit I started this lecture with some prejudice whereas I mistakenly imagined Rousseau to be this half autistic failed novelist wearing rose tinted glasses, I imagined Montesquieu to be somewhat his rigorous, legalistic counter part probably owing to my complete ignorance in the field of legal theory bent on ossifying every well meaning, politically correct and moralizing precept the Enlightenment might have produced Once again I was wrong it might seems to my reader, that this mea culpa is becoming a staple of my reviews indeed my lectures have brought me to regard with muchinterest and respect that republican tradition, whose only crime was to be so common and so prevalent, that I was not aware of my own lack of understanding in area First of all, let s face it, The Spirit of the Laws is a mammoth, a very ambitious work whose angle, if indeed starting from the notion of law which Montesquieu, at any rate, understand in very broad terms does not limit itself to considerations of purely judicial nature, far from it Identifying laws allow the author to build a representation of the world, and of societies in particular, largely mechanistic and anthropocentric from his early typology of societies Republics Monarchies Tyrannies the baron goes on to analyze a insane array of subjects, most notably luxury or benevolence, sweeping, in the process, the areas unearthed by political thinkers from Machiavelli to Locke Clearly there is a methodological break between previous thinkers and Montesquieu here little if any of the conjectural history dear to other proponents of the social contract, we are closer, in some ways, to the pragmatic and analytically approach of Machiavelli, whose pervasive attempts at neutrality permeates in some way The Spirit of the Laws although the author s sympathies are made clear the work attempt less to convince the reader than it does offer a model from which to understand societies, be them tyrannies, monarchies or republic Beyond this many similarities in terms of terminology and ideology lead me to think that Machiavelli must have been an important influence Indeed it is actually Montesquieu s account of monarchy that captured most acutely my interest, with his emphasis on honour as the appropriate counter part to republican virtue The author develops a reasonably complex symbolic economy of honour as the currency of monarchies, which of course, like many of his ideal types, prove to be way to clear cut to be applicable as such, but prefigures many of the social and anthropological analysis that will define the XIXth century Fashion and luxury being an other of my particular interests, his analysis of luxury proved delightful a very different view of the republic arises from this text, far from the indulgent, fearful, bourgeois commonwealth of Hobbes and the likes, but one where the scarcity assumption is positively sustained by a drastic, spartan and virtuous republican tradition, rejecting, in my analysis, the conspicuous for frugality, less on the ground of morality than on pragmatic political motives in other words equality is not a duty or a purpose to the republic, but merely a tool towards unity and valor I m at a loss for words trying to describe my experience reading this book The scope of this book is immense, the topics are so varied and the lessons one could should draw from it are so numerous, that trying to explain it all would require another book of 700 pages Nevertheless, I will try to describe some important points while leaving many equally important ones out.Montesquieu starts of this book by explaining the importance of principles in law When trying to evaluate a legal syste I m at a loss for words trying to describe my experience reading this book The scope of this book is immense, the topics are so varied and the lessons one could should draw from it are so numerous, that trying to explain it all would require another book of 700 pages Nevertheless, I will try to describe some important points while leaving many equally important ones out.Montesquieu starts of this book by explaining the importance of principles in law When trying to evaluate a legal system, we should always consider the principles on which this system is founded The principles determine the appropriateness of the legal system and not vice versa a seemingly superb legal system based on the wrong principles is corruption Second, these principles are mainly related to the type of state Montesquieu distinguishes three types of government that each require their own set of principles and laws 1 republic democracy, aristocracy , 2 monarchy and 3 despotism The difference between them is that in a republic the laws determine what the people can and cannot do and in a monarchy what a king can or cannot do, while in a state of despotism anything goes After this, Montesquieu tries to explain how differences in government evolved and in a big sweep he includes climate, soil, religion and commerce amongst other things as factors that determine the type of state Some of these factors are ridiculous, such as hot climates leading to despotism he cites the Turks many times as an example and cold climates to hard working and fair republics mainly interested in money Holland, Switzerland, etc Of course one is allowed to laugh at these claims, but we should not be too hasty in laughing too hard as far as I know, Montesquieu is the first thinker who tried to come up with sociological and psychological explanations of civil and political events Even though some of his claims are laughable, his method of explaining is ingenious I think we could rank Montesquieu as the founding father of sociology and economics among other things It is fascinating to read Montesquieu applying his comparative method of sociology to explain differences in economic success The republic of Holland is wealthy, because these people live for money and try to makethey re not interested in making war, since as a small republic they will not win any major war anyways A monarchy such as France is not so well suited for the economic mindset, because people have no incentive to earnthan they need everything else ends in the coffers of lords and kings This interaction between type of state and behavior as a state, is one of the main lessons we should draw from The Spirit of Laws.Another, quite important, thing, and which Montesquieu is most famous for, is his division of powers within a state As Lord Acton said so eloquently Power tends to corrupt Absolute power corrupts absolutely To counter the inevitable fall of a republic or monarchy into despotism, we should split up the executive, legislative and judicial powers of a state Parliament should make the laws, the goverment or king should execute the laws and an independent judicial power should judge individual cases Even though Montesquieu is famous for this, and most us in western countries are vaguely familiar with his thoughts, I think one can t stress enough the importance of this Especially the accumulation of the legislative and executive power in the hands of one person or group of persons, is extremely dangerous to the rest of the state.This is a book of two volumes, spread out over almost 700 pages, so not everything can be equally gripping or important It is towards the end of the book, that I started to grow a little bit tired of it In the last 150 200 pages, Montesquieu meticulously explains the evolution of the kingdom of France It can be summarized as german tribes invades the Roman provinces the Franks ended up after conquests with most of what we now call France gradually a new system of law evolved leaving the Salic law of the Franks and the Roman law of the Gauls behind monarchs went from having much power owing to their right to assign fiefs to selected families to having almost none owing to the giving away of the rights of fiefdom to the nobility foreign threats Normans, European struggles led to some restoration of power to the kings This is where Montesquieu ends his book This latter part can thus be seen as a case study of all the theories he expounded in the first 500 pages.Before ending this review, I would like to add that Montesquieu s continual comparison of the laws of the ancient Greeks and the different law systems of the Roman kingdom, republic and empire are a big plus to this book He compares different systems of laws on specific subjects, which leads touseful insights for the reader One of the things I learned was that there are many differences between times and places on subjects such as marriage, suicide and slavery even within one civilization One always hears about the Roman law or the wisdom of the ancient Greeks , but these are mere sophisms these civilizations had many different systems of laws, depending on time and place This made me realize how easy we, in the 21st century, can slide back into the abyss regarding human rights and equality before the law Once again, this book is too big in scope as well as in depth to fully understand, let alone explain I can only recommend it to anyone interested in the interaction between laws and life There are many lessons to learn, many insights to grasp, perhaps nowadays evenso than in 1748 when this book was published Knowledge humanizes mankind, and reason inclines to mildness but prejudices eradicate every tender disposition Montesqueieu Read by Catherine the Great. This is almost as huge as Leviathan and possibly scarier EDIT I love how Montesquieu makes DIRECT rebuttals Locke, that dear old fellow, addresses Hobbes arguments, but not Hobbes himself Montesquieu says, Hobbes says X argument HE S WRONG I shall now show you WHY To whoever wrote the immensely illuminating and legible notes in my used copy Thank you from the bottom of my heart I love you EDIT I would ve given this 4 stars, but I had to read about 150 pages in one night, soI This is almost as huge as Leviathan and possibly scarier EDIT I love how Montesquieu makes DIRECT rebuttals Locke, that dear old fellow, addresses Hobbes arguments, but not Hobbes himself Montesquieu says, Hobbes says X argument HE S WRONG I shall now show you WHY To whoever wrote the immensely illuminating and legible notes in my used copy Thank you from the bottom of my heart I love you EDIT I would ve given this 4 stars, but I had to read about 150 pages in one night, soI can t honestly say that I really liked it Too bad though, because I really like Montesquieu s style He reminds me of ChestertonPlus, Montesquieu has the most hilarious quotes of any political theorist EVER Like if a republic is composed of happy people, it will be very happy Or his example Charles XII, meeting some resistance in the senate of Sweden, wrote that he would send one of his boots to command it The boot would have governed like a despotic king Hobbes never wrote about happy peopleor despotic bootsIt s like I ve left the dark, dank, and depressing stomach of Leviathan and stepped right into the light and bliss of Montesquieu s Wonderland, where people are happy and boots are Kings I think these political analyses have driven me completely insane The Spirit Of The Laws Is, Without Question, One Of The Central Texts In The History Of Th Century Thought, Yet There Has Been No Complete Scholarly English Language Edition Since This Lucid Translation Renders Montesquieu S Problematic Text Newly Accessible To A Fresh Generation Of Students, Helping Them To Understand Why Montesquieu Was Such An Important Figure In The Early Enlightenment And Why The Spirit Of The Laws Was Such An Influence On Those Who Framed The American Constitution Fully Annotated, This Edition Focuses On Montesquieu S Use Of Sources And His Text As A Whole, Rather Than On Those Opening Passages Toward Which Critical Energies Have Traditionally Been Devoted A Select Bibliography And Chronology Are Also Provided


About the Author: Montesquieu

Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de La Br de et de Montesquieu, generally referred to as simply Montesquieu, was a French social commentator and political thinker who lived during the Enlightenment He is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers, which is 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.


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