Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu

Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755)

1) Montesquieu was an important French thinker during the first have of the eighteenth century.

A) In 1700, he attended College de Juilly

B) In 1708, he studied law in Bordeaux and Paris

C) From 1729-31, he studied law in England.

D) After returning to Le Brede in 1731, he began work on what would eventually become The Spirit of the Laws. In 1748, The Spirit of the Laws was published.

E) His ideas about the separation and balance of powers came from his observations of the English government.

2) The Spirit of the Laws made a significant impact on political theory in the eighteenth century.

A) In this work, he develops the idea that the main function of the law is to produce justice (Altschull 73).

B) The Spirit of the Laws contends that republican (democratic) government is better than monarchical or despotic. (Altschull 74)

C) Book 11 discusses political liberty and the Constitution.

1) In defining liberty, he observed that in democracies people seem to do what they want, but political liberty in no way consists of doing what one wants...Liberty can consist only in having the power to do what one should want to do and in no way bei ng constrained to do what one should not want to do. (155)

2) In Ch. #4, he begins to develop the idea that governments need a system to check power, in order that power not be abused. (155)

3) he believed that governments organize for a specific purpose; England was the only country whose constitutional purpose is liberty. (156)

4) He argued that there can be no liberty unless the executive, legislative and judicial branches are separate. (157)

A)He was an early advocate of trials by jury (158).

B) He also believed the accused had the right to answer accusations in a timely manner. (159)

C) He advocated that all citizens should have the right to vote, except for the poor who would have no interest. (160)

D) He believed the executive power should be one person, preferably a monarch, and the legislative power should be vested many. (161)

D) Book 12 explains how laws on political liberty relate to the citizen.

1) He begins by restating that liberty comes from the distribution and balance of power in the three branches of government. (187)

2) he makes a distinction between philosophical liberty and political liberty. The former is freedom to exercise one's will and the latter consists in security. Without good criminal laws there can be no liberty. (188)

3) He believed in the freedom of thought and the law could only punish a person for an external action (197)

4) he defended the freedom of speech by claiming that speech was only an idea. He further argued that speech only becomes criminal only when it prepares, when it accompanies, or when it follows a criminal act (199) The people after hearing a speech s hould judge its usefulness.

5) A large amount of this book is devoted to the discussion of problems with the punishment of treason. It appears that he is arguing that written and spoken ideas should not be considered treason or punished as such unless they are accompanied with cri minal actions.

3) The Spirit of the Laws had a profound influence on the political theorists of the time. It articulates a strong argument for republican government that separates and balances the three powers. Many of his ideas on the role of government and liberty wou ld later be assimilated into the thinking of American theorists such as Jefferson and Madison and much of the United State Constitution would be based on these beliefs. Madison would later extend Montesquieu's ideas by saying that virtue cannot exist in g overnment alone, it must exist in the people, To suppose that any government will secure happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea. (Altschull 74)

4) Bibliography

Altschull, J. Herbert. From Milton to McLuhan: The Ideas Behind American Journalism. New York: Longman, 1990.

Montesquieu. the Spirit of the Laws. eds. Cohler, Anne, Basia Miller an$


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