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Montesquieu: Spirit of the Laws Biography (1689-1755) Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu was born in 1689, in Chateau

La Brede, near Bordeaux. He spent his years among the peasantry and was born into a climate of discontent in France. In 1708, he received a law degree from the University of Bordeaux and in 1715 he married Jeanne de Lartigue, a woman with considerable wealth. Following the death of his uncle, he inherited the barony of Montesquieu and the presidency of Parliament of Bordeaux, which he later sold in order to continue with his scholarly interests. By that time, England declared itself a constitutional monarchy in the wake of its Glorious Revolution and Louis XIVs death led to Louis XVs succession to the throne. These transformations impacted him greatly; he later referred to them in his work. In 1721, he published Persian Letters, a satirical portrait of life in France and Paris which pointed out the absurdities of contemporary society. In 1748 the Spirit of Laws, an investigation of the environmental and social relationships that lie behind the laws of civilized society. Overview In Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu presents his observations on the principles that shape a society. Based on these observations, he concludes that there are three distinct forms of government: republics, monarchies, and despotisms. Republics can be ruled by many (democracy) or by few (aristocracy). Monarchies have a monarch whose power is limited by a constitution and despotisms are ruled by one individual who has unlimited power. Each form of government has a principle associated with it. Republics are governed by virtue, as someone who loses their virtuousness also loses their legitimacy and trust of the people. Monarchies are ruled with honour which the prince must have in order to honestly follow his limitations. Despotisms are governed by fear: the tool used to get the rulers subjects to obey. Montesquieu believes that different forms of government are best suited for different regions, as the character of the people strongly influenced the specific nature of the positive laws of societies. Another main theme in the Spirit of the Laws is the separation of powers. Montesquieu recognizes that a state has three main powers: executive, legislative and judicial. In a state, it is important to maintain the liberty of the subjects to guarantee a tranquility of the mind. Montesquieu believes that for this liberty to exist all powers need to be separated and no one group/individual can have more than one power. The executive power should not be joined with the legislative because a tyrannical lawmaker could then use his power tyrannically. If the executive and judicial were joined, the judge could behave with all the violence of an oppressor. Were the judicial and legislative joined, then the judge would also be the legislator and the liberty of the subjects would be exposed to arbitrary control. It is also important that the executive power is controlled by one rather than many, as executive decisions must be immediate. Montesquieu was a supporter of constitutional monarchies, such as the one in England as it gives the executive power to the monarch and the legislative power to a group of

select individuals, which in turn, limits the monarchs power and allows for efficient executive decisions. Additionally, executive power must have some control over the legislative to assure that it assembles when needed and to assure that the state does not fall into despotism due to the increased authority of legislative power or anarchy. Meanwhile, the legislative should also have some control over the executive, as it ought to have the means of examining in what manner its laws have been executed. The Spirit of the Laws had a profound influence on the political theory of the Enlightenment. Both the American rebels and the French revolutionaries derived ideas from Montesquieu and the separation of powers would influence the U.Ss political structure. Discussion Questions 1. On page 49, Montesquieu says that when the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty. Do you agree/disagree? Why or why not? 2. On page 50, Montesquieu prefers that the executive power be in the hands of a monarch; because this branch of government which has always need of expedition, is better administered by one than many. In contrast, he says that the legislative power is Better regulated by many than by a single person. Using both your knowledge of Montesquieu and your own ideas, why do you think this is so? In what situations would this be suitable? 3. On page 51, Montesquieu states that were the executive power not to have a right of putting a stop to the encroachments of the legislative body... it would soon destroy all other powers. Do you agree/disagree? How could this occur?

4. On page 52, Montesquieu states that "all human things have an end, the state we are speaking of will lose its liberty, it will perish... when the legislative power shall be more corrupted than executive." Explain what this means. Do you agree or disagree? Do you think Montesquieu has sufficient arguments to back up this statement?


How are the ideals of the Enlightenment reflected in the Spirit of the Laws?

6. Montesquieu was born into a climate of discontent in France. Before the publication of Spirit of the Laws, England had declared itself a constitutional monarchy and Louis XIVs death led to the succession of Louis XV. How did this political climate shape his ideas in the Spirit of the Laws?

7. When Catherine the Great authored the Bol'shoi Nakaz in 1767, she borrowed many of her instructions to the Legislative Commission from Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws. How did The Spirit of the Laws influence the Russian monarchy, as well as other European monarchies during the time of the Enlightenment? 8. Where do we see the separation of powers discussed in the Spirit of Laws instated in Western governments and how are they instated today?