The Spirit of the Laws

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The Spirit of the Laws
The title page of volume 1, 1748
Publication date
Published in English
Media typepaper

The Spirit of the Laws (French: De l'esprit des lois, originally spelled De l'esprit des loix; also sometimes translated The Spirit of Laws[1]) is a book published in 1748 by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu.[2] It is a book about law, comparing different ideas. The Books published by Montesquieu were subject to censorship. For this reason, the book was published anonymously, at first. The work was rapidly translated to other languages. In 1750 Thomas Nugent published the first English translation.[3] In 1751 the Roman Catholic Church added De l'esprit des lois to its Index Librorum Prohibitorum ("List of Prohibited Books"). Yet Montesquieu's treatise had an enormous influence on the work of many others, most notably: Catherine the Great, who produced Nakaz (Instruction); the Founding Fathers of the United States Constitution; and Alexis de Tocqueville, who applied Montesquieu's methods to a study of American society, in Democracy in America. Macaulay offers us a hint of Montesquieu's importance when he writes in his 1827 essay entitled "Machiavelli" that "Montesquieu enjoys, perhaps, a wider celebrity than any political writer of modern Europe."

Montesquieu spent around twenty one years researching and writing De l'esprit des lois, covering many topics including law, social life and the study of anthropology, and providing more than 3,000 commendations.[4] In this treatise Montesquieu argued that political institutions needed, for their success, to reflect the social and geographical aspects of the particular community. He pleaded for a constitutional system of government with separation of powers, the preservation of legality and civil liberties, and the end of slavery.[4]

References[change | change source]

  1. Montesquieu (1977). David Wallace Carrithers (ed.). The Spirit of Laws: A Compendium of the First English Edition. Berkeley: U California P.
  2. De l'Esprit des loix ou du Rapport que les loix doivent avoir avec la constitution de chaque gouvernement, les moeurs, le climat, la religion, le commerce, &c . à quoi l'auteur a ajouté des recherches nouvelles sur les loix romaines touchant les successions, sur les loix françoises, & sur les loix féodales. Vol. I (1 ed.). A Genève, chez Barrillot & fils. Retrieved September 7, 2016 – via Gallica.
  3. Now best known as published in New York by Hafner Press in 1949, using Nugent's original version and with an introduction by Franz Neumann.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Cohler, et al., "Introduction" to the 1989 Cambridge UP ed.