Background

  • Montesquieu was born on the 19th of January in 1689.
  • Born at La Brède
  • Educated at the Oratorian Collège de Juilly
  • Got his law degree from the University of Bordeaux in 1708, later on he went to Paris to continue his legal studies.
  • The death of his father caused him to return to
  • La Brède to inherit some estates.
  • In 1715 he married Jeanne de Lartigue who was a Protestant and whom he had 3 children with.

Major Works

  • Two of Montesquieu’s major works were the Persian  Letter and The Spirit of Laws

The Persian Letters

  • The Persian Letter is an epistolary novel consisting of letters sent to and from two fictional Persians, Usbek and Rica, who set out for  Europe in 1711-1720 when the novel ends.
  • The novel is about their experiences in Europe and the different culture they experienced in the European society.
  • In the starting letter the two Persians misinterpret the things they see; for example they thought the Pope was a magician. In the later letters they no longer misinterpret the things they saw; however, they still found the actions of Europeans less incomprehensible.
  • The Persians described the people who are so consumed by vanity that they become ridiculous.

The Spirit of Laws

  • This was Montesquieu’s true masterpiece. This piece of work was the one that most  impacted the Enlightenment
  • His aim in The Spirit of Laws was to explain human law and social institutions.
  • Montesquieu believes, we will find that many laws and institutions that had seemed puzzling or even perverse are in fact quite comprehensible.
  • Montesquieu believes that to live under a stable, non-despotic government that leaves its law-abiding citizens more or less free to live their lives is a great good, and that no such government should be lightly tampered with.
  • Montesquieu holds that there are three types of governments: republican governments, which can take either democratic or aristocratic forms; monarchies; and despotisms.
  • Each form of government has a principle, a set of “human passions which set it in motion” and each can be corrupted if its principle is undermined or destroyed.

Sources

“Modern History Sourcebook: Montesquieu: Spirit of the Laws, 1748.” FORDHAM.EDU. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/montesquieu-spirit.html>.

“Baron De Montesquieu, Charles-Louis De Secondat (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 08 Mar. 2011.

“The Scientific Revolution.” Washington State University – Pullman, Washington. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/ENLIGHT/SCIREV.HTM>.

Kramnick, Isaac. The Portable Enlightenment Reader. New York: Penguin, 1995.

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