Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In terms of its practical effect, The Spirit of the Laws is one of the most important political science books. It was one of the primary sources of the United States Constitution and, through that document, one of the major influences on the development of democratic institutions in Europe during and after the French Revolution. All this is out of proportion to Montesquieu’s objectives in writing the book, which were to analyze the various types of political institutions known throughout the world throughout history. Montesquieu also aims, in his book, to denounce the abuses of the French monarchical system and to encourage a liberal and more equitable monarchical government for France.
In setting out to write his book, Montesquieu’s major inspirations were the works of René Descartes, Nicholas de Malebranche, and Niccolò Machiavelli, all of which he viewed with the kind of healthy skepticism typical of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. This inspiration did not give him his conclusions, but it gave him his method: a rational, descriptive, and analytic approach to the problem of the nature of the good constitution of society. Montesquieu, like most early political thinkers after Machiavelli, was essentially concerned with the problem of the relationship of right and might, of law and power. Many of these thinkers, however, especially those opposed to what they considered the evil in Machiavelli’s realistic approach to politics, tried to theorize...
(The entire section is 1413 words.)
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