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Baron de Montesquieu
Charles de Secondat, Baron de la Brede et de Montesquieu was born in 1689 to a French noble family. "His family tree could be traced 350 years, which in his view made its name neither good nor bad." (The Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, p. 68) Montesquieu's views started to be shaped at a very early age. A beggar was chosen to be his godfather to remind him of his obligations to the poor.
In the Considerations Montesquieu used Roman history to prove some of his ideas about reasons for the rise and the fall of civilizations. His most important point was that history is made by causes and effects, by events influenced by man, and not by luck. His ideas are summarized in this passage:
I is not fortune that rules the world . . .The Romans had a series of consecutive successes when their government followed one policy, and an unbroken set of reverses when it adopted another. There are general causes, whether moral or physical, which act upon every monarchy, which create, maintain, or ruin it. All accidents are subject to these causes, and if the chance loss of a battle, that is to say, a particular cause, ruins a state, there is a general cause that created the situation whereby this state could perish by the loss of a single battle. (1734, chapter 18)
"Montesquieu advocated constitutionalism, the preservation of civil liberties, the abolition of slavery, gradualism, moderation, peace, internationalism, social and economic justice with due respect to national and local tradition. He believed in justice and the rule of law; detested all forms of extremism and fanaticism; put his faith in the balance of power and the division of authority as a weapon against despotic rule by individuals or groups or majorities; and approved of social equality, but not the point which it threatened individual liberty; and out of liberty, but not to the point where it threatened to disrupt orderly government."
Sir Isaiah Berlin
Against the Current
Montesquieu loved knowledge, science, law, toleration.
Montesquieu hated armies, conquests, tyrants, priests.
"In republican governments, men are all equal; equal they are also in despotic governments: in the former, because they are everything; in the latter, because they are nothing."
Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, Bk. VI, Ch. 2
"Luxury is therefore absolutely necessary in monarchies; as it is also in despotic states, In the former, it is the use of liberty, in the latter, it is the abuse of servitude...
"Hence arrives a very natural reflection. Republics end with luxury; monarchies with poverty."
Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, Bk. VII, Ch. 4
"As distant as heaven is from the earth, so is the true spirit of equality from that of extreme equality... "In a true state of nature, indeed, all men are born equal, but they cannot continue in this equality. Society makes them lose it, and they recover it only by the protection of laws."
Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, Bk. VIII, Ch. 3
1. Hollier, Denis , A New History of French Literature, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1989.
2. The Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, p. 467-476.
3. Loy, John Robert, Montesquieu, New York, Twayne Publishers, 1968.
4. A History of World Societies volume II, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, p. 669-679.
5. Robert Shedlock, Lessons on World History, 1980, p. 38a-38c.
Find essay on Preservation Of The Individual
James Madison begins his famous federalist paper by explaining that the purpose of this essay is to help the readers understand how the structure of the proposed government makes liberty possible. Each branch should be, for the most part, in Madison's opinion, independent. To assure such independence, no one branch should have too much power in selecting members of the other two branches. If this principle were strictly followed, it would mean that the citizens should select the president, the legislators, and the judges. But, the framers recognized certain practical difficulties in making every office elective. In particular, the judicial branch would suffer because the average person is not aware of the qualifications judges should possess. Judges should have great ability, but also be free of political pressures. Since federal judges are appointed for life, their thinking will not be influenced by the president who appoints them, or the senators whose consent the president will seek.
Madison furthers, the members of each branch should not be too dependent on the members of the other two branches in the determination of their salaries. The best security against a gradual concentration of power in any one branch is to provide constitutional safeguards that would make such concentration difficult. The constitutional rights of all must check one man's personal interests and ambitions. We may not like to admit that men abuse power, but the very need for government itself proves they do, "if men were angels, no government would be necessary." Unfortunately, all men are imperfect, the rulers and the ruled. Consequently, the great problem in framing a government is that the government must be able to control the people, but equally important, must be forced to control itself. The dependence of the government on the will of the people is undoubtedly the best control, but experience teaches that other controls are necessary.
Dividing power helps to check its growth in any one direction, but power cannot be divided absolutely equally. In the republican form of government, the legislative branch tends to be the most powerful. That is why the framers divided the Congress into two branches, the House of Representatives and the Senate, and provided for a different method of election in each branch. Further safeguards against legislative tyranny may be necessary.
In a representative democracy it is not only important to guard against the oppression of rulers, it is equally important to guard against the injustice which may be inflicted by certain citizens or groups. Majorities often threaten the rights of minorities. There are only two methods of avoiding evil. The first is to construct a powerful government, a "community will." Such a "will' is larger than, and independent of, the simply majority. This "solution" is dangerous because such a government might throw its power behind a group in society working against the public good. In our country, the authority to govern comes from the entire society the people. In addition, under the Constitution society is divided into many groups of people who hold different views and have different interests. This makes it very difficult for one group to dominate or threaten the minority groups.
Justice is the purpose of government and civil society. If government allows or encourages strong groups to combine together against the weak, liberty will be lost and anarchy will result. And the condition of anarchy tempts even strong individuals and groups to submit to any form of government, no matter how bad, which they hope will protect them as well as the weak.
Madison concludes that self-government flourishes in a large country containing many different groups. Some countries are too large for self-government, but the proposed plan modifies the federal principle enough to make self-government both possible and practical in the Untied States.
In this essay, Madison's thoughts on factionalism are delineated clearly. As we observed earlier, he assumed that conflicts of interests are inherent in human nature, and he recognized that, as a consequence, people fall into various groups. He wanted to avoid a situation in which any one group controlled the decisions of a society. Free elections and the majority principle protected the country from dictatorship, that is, the tyranny of a minority. However, ... more
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