Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de
(1689–1755)
Born in Bordeaux as a member of the aristocracy, Montesquieu acquired an intense admiration of the English revolution of 1688, and the associated ideals, voiced particularly in Locke, of toleration, freedom, and government by constitution. In his version, however, this means a strengthening of the ancient privileges of the aristocracy against the encroaching power of the French monarchy. Montesquieu's own life, which included marriage apparently for a fortune, social climbing, and a rather unaristocratic avarice, somewhat echoes the self-serving appearance of this doctrine. His masterpiece, De l’esprit des lois (1748, trs. as On the Spirit of the Laws ), introduced a positivist note into the discussion of the laws of nations, hitherto the provenance of various kinds of theological and rationalistic deductions. Montesquieu relates the system of law of different countries to external accidents, such as those of geography and trade; for this he was hailed by Durkheim as a founder of modern sociology (although similar connections had been made by Jean Bodin, 1530–96). In religious matters Montesquieu maintained a vague and tolerant deism, but his alleged deathbed conversion to Catholicism, attested by an opportunistic Irish Jesuit, was widely publicized.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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