The central theme of The Persian Letters is cultural relativism; he explores this theme by using the voices of two fictional Persian travelers: Usbek and Rica. Montesquieu got his details from accounts of the travels of Jean Chardin and Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. At the beginning, he has Usbek say,
I began by examining humanity and I believed that, amidst the diversity of laws and mores, they were not led by their fancies alone.
He invokes the diversity of cultures to argue that in spite of apparent differences, even very different cultures were at their core obeying the same natural law and order. Through his characters, Montesquieu seeks to distinguish between what is malleable and what is common to all human experience. The implications for politics are that we see varieties of despotism everywhere, but we also see indications of a natural law of liberty. The implications for psychology: we see a great variety of male-female relations and of human self-images, but we also see evidence of...
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