Montesquieu (Charles-Louis de Secondat)


(my notes from the podcast called “Foundations of Modern Social Theory”):

Montesquieu and Rousseau were the two key figures that influenced the French Revolution. Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws is a famous book in all languages that  studies the concept of law from a general, political, environmental, commercial, religious and historical perspective.

The social scientists and philosophers before Montesquieu debated upon the concept of the sovereign. For them, the question was, WHO rules? But for Montesquieu, the question was HOW he rules? So he discusses the manner of politics in his works, and  finds two modes of ruling: moderate, and despotic (constitutional monarchy against absolute monarchy).


His key contributions include:

  • The question of legitimacy = why people obey? Is it the honor of the ruler or the fear of the despot?
  • Powers in a society have to be separated into legislative, executive, juridical;
  • Legislative power is exercised by elected representatives and set the laws. It should not be held by the monarch;
  • The executive power checks over the legislative powers and the implementation of law (could be the monarch or a selected group;
  • The concept of the general spirit = a collective consciousness and spirit developed in the society, which is different from a sum total of individual ideas.
  • Social structures are also affected by the climate. Hot and cold weathers affect the strength and steadfastness and rigor of the citizens;
  • His concept of a monarch, is a moderate one that rules under fundamental  laws that are not set by himself but by a group of elected legislatives.

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