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Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (January 18, 1689 – February 10, 1755), more commonly known as Montesquieu, was a French political thinker. He lived during the Enlightenment, and is famous for his theory of separation of powers; This theory is taken for granted in modern discussions of government. Many constitutions all over the world use it. He was largely responsible for the making the terms "feudalism" and "Byzantine Empire" popular.
Montesquieu's most radical work divided French society into three classes. He called them trias politica:
Montesquieu saw that there were two types of powers: the sovereign and the administrative. The administrative powers were the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary. These powers should be divided up so that each power would have a power over the other. This was radical because it completely eliminated the three Estates structure of the French Monarchy. These were the aristocracy, clergy, and third estate from the estates. It abolished any vestige of a feudalistic structure. There were also three main forms of government. These were
- monarchies (governments run by a king or queen), which relied on the principle of honour,
- republics (governments run by elected leaders), which relied on the principle of virtue,
- and despotisms (governments run by dictators), which relied on fear.
Montesquieu believed that the best form of government was one that was divided into three branches, which helped inspire the idea for the U.S. constitution.
Like many of his generation, Montesquieu held a number of views that might today be judged controversial. While he approved the idea that a woman could run a government, he thought that she could not be effective as the head of a family. He firmly accepted the role of a hereditary aristocracy and the value of primogeniture. Hereditary means that the title passes from the parents to the children. His views have also been abused by modern revisionists; for instance, even though Montesquieu was ahead of his time as an ardent opponent of slavery, he has been quoted out of context in attempts to show he supported it.[source?]
One of his more exotic ideas, outlined in The Spirit of the Laws and hinted at in Persian Letters, is the climate theory. It says that climate should substantially influence the nature of man and his society. Montesquieu even thinks that certain climates are better than others. The temperate climate of France is the best of possible climates in his opinion. His view is that people living in hot countries are "too hot-tempered", while those in northern countries are "icy" or "stiff." The climate in middle Europe therefore breeds the best people. (This view is possibly influenced by similar statements in Germania by Tacitus, one of Montesquieu's favourite authors.)
It was Montesquieu's philosophy that "government should be set up so that no man need be afraid of another" that prompted the creators of the Constitution to divide the U.S. government into three separate branches.
List of works[change]
- Les causes de l'écho (The Causes of an Echo)
- Les glandes rénales (The Renal Glands)
- La cause de la pesanteur des corps (The Cause of Gravity of Bodies)
- La damnation éternelle des païens (The Eternal Damnation of the Pagans, 1711)
- Système des Idées (System of Ideas, 1716)
- Lettres persanes (Persian Letters, 1721)
- Le Temple de Gnide (The Temple of Gnide, a novel; 1724)
- Arsace et Isménie ((The True History of) Arsace and Isménie, a novel; 1730)
- Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence (Considerations on the Causes of the Grandeur and Decadence of the Romans, 1734)
- De l'esprit des lois ((On) The Spirit of the Laws, 1748)
- La défense de «L'Esprit des lois» (In Defence of "The Spirit of the Laws", 1748)
- Pensées suivies de Spicilège (Thoughts after Spicilège)
- Free full-text works online
- Montesquieu in The Catholic Encyclopedia.
- Montesquieu in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Timeline of Montesquieu's Life
Louis de Sacy
Jean-Baptiste de Vivien de Châteaubrun