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Montesquieu Essay

3892 words - 16 pages

Montesquieu: Political Philosopher and His Views and Thoughts
Montesquieu: Political Philosopher and His Views and Thoughts

Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, was born on January 19th, 1689 at La Brède, near Bordeaux, to a noble and prosperous family. He was educated at the Oratorian Collège de Juilly, received a law degree from the University of Bordeaux in 1708, and went to Paris to continue his legal studies. On the death of his father in 1713 he returned to La Brède to manage the estates he inherited, and in 1715 he married Jeanne de Lartigue, a practicing Protestant, with whom he had a son and two daughters. In 1716 he inherited from his ...view middle of the document...

In this book he tried to discourage the use of Rome as a model for contemporary governments. Parts of Considerations were incorporated into The Spirit of the Laws, which he published in 1748. Like the Persian Letters, The Spirit of the Laws was both controversial and highly successful. Two years later he published a Defense of the Spirit of the Laws to answer his various critics. Despite his defense, the Roman Catholic Church placed The Spirit of the Laws on the Index of Forbidden Books in 1751. In 1755, Montesquieu died of a fever in Paris, leaving behind an unfinished work that was based on favoritism for the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D'Alembert. (Shklar, 1987)
The Persian Letters is a literary work consisting of letters sent to and from two fictional Persians, Usbek and Rica, who set out for Europe in 1711 and remain there at least until 1720, when the novel ends. When Montesquieu wrote the Persian Letters, travelers' accounts of their journeys to far off parts of the world, and of the unique customs they found there, were very popular in Europe. However, one of the great themes of the Persian Letters is the virtual impossibility of self-knowledge, and Usbek is its most fully realized illustration.
The Persian Letters is both a comical piece written by a major philosopher, and yet one of the darkest. It presents both virtue and self-knowledge in a sense that neither are actually reachable. . Almost all the Europeans in the Persian Letters are extravagant; most of those who are not appear only to serve as a mouthpiece for Montesquieu's own views. Rica is amiable and good-natured and since he has no responsibilities, his virtue has never been seriously tested. Usbek if full of enlightenment and humanity, yet he turns out to be a monster whose cruelty does not bring him happiness, as he himself recognizes even as he decides to inflict it. His eunuchs, unable to hope for either freedom or happiness, learn to enjoy tormenting their charges, and his wives, for the most part, profess love while plotting intrigues. The only admirable character in the novel is Roxana, but the social institutions of Persia make her life unbearable: she is separated from the man she loves and forced to live in slavery. Her suicide is presented as a noble act, but also as statement of the despotic institutions that make it necessary. (Schaub, 1995)
Montesquieu's aim in The Spirit of the Laws is to explain human laws and social institutions. This might seem like an impossible project: unlike physical laws, which are, according to Montesquieu, instituted and sustained by God, positive laws and social institutions are created by imperfect human beings who are "subject ... to ignorance and error, [and] hurried away by a thousand impetuous passions" (Montesquieu, Prichard, & Alembert, 1905). He continues with the idea that one might therefore expect our laws and institutions to be no more comprehensible than any other catalog of human follies, an expectation...

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