Charles Et Secondat Baron De La Brede

Charles Et Secondat, Baron De La Brede E Essay, Research Paper

History: European

European History

Charles et Secondat, Baron de la Brede et 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.

Montesquieu’s education started at the age of 11 when he was sent to

Juilly, a school maintained by the Congregation of the Oratory. From

1705 to 1709 he studied law in Bordeaux. “From 1705 to 1709 he was a

legal apprentice in Paris. There he came to know some of the most

advanced thinkers of his time: Fredet, the Abbe Lama, and

Boulainvilliers.(Ibid.). In 1716 Montesquieu got a seat of president a

mortier in the parlement of Guyenne from his deceased uncle. Even

though he did not like his job he believed parliaments were necessary to

control the monarchs.

In 1721 Montesquieu published the Persian Letters, which he began

working on while studying in Bordeaux. The book was a success. In the

Persian Letters Montesquieu showed how relative all of the French values

were. Even though the technique used in this witty book was previously

used by other writers, Montesquieu did a great job making fun of the

European values. At that time he already believed in the immorality of

European practices such as religious prosecution. The book gave roots

for Montesquieu’s later arguments and ideas.

When in 1728 Montesquieu, with the help of his Parisian connections he

got elected to the French Academy, he was happy to sell his office of

president a mortier. In the course of the next three years he traveled

all over Europe, visiting Germany, Hungary, England, Holland, Austria,

and Italy. It is not surprising that out of his European tour the

country which had the greatest impact on his later work (just like it

did on Voltaire’s) was England. During his stay there he was elected a

fellow of the Royal Society.

After he returned to France the second portion of his carrier had

began. He became a full time writer, traveling between his La Brede

estate and Paris. It is during this period that the Considerations on

the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline and the

Spirit of Laws were written.

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 disliked democracy. In the Considerations he argued that

in a democratic society conflicts were essential because various groups

would argue for their own interest. He believed that the division of

the Roman empire was caused by two many freedoms. On the other hand he

also opposed a system where social classes oppress other classes without


After 20 years of work Montesquieu published his most complete book,

The Spirit of Laws. In this comparison of different government types,

Montesquieu used his views on human nature to explain human actions and

passions and predict the most effective government. According to his

ideas human passions such as hunger for power, jealousy, and hate made

men seek absolute rule, and passions like want of freedom, and hate of

oppression lead the suppressed classes to over though the government.

In the Spirit of Laws Montesquieu tries to develop an effective

government that will keep the country united. It is impossible to

describe this book in this report by I will state a few main points.

Montesquieu believed that the most effective and modern type of

government is a monarchy. By monarchy he meant a ruler governing the

nation, with the nobility, the clergy and parliament controlling his

actions. He believed the weak should be protected from the powerful by

laws and a separation of powers. He felt that the nobility and an

monarch had to both be present and could not succeed one without the


Montesquieu stated that it was important to understand that even

members of one class are not exactly alike, but are somewhat alike. In

the Spirit of Laws he reefers to the importance of teaching citizens why

laws are a certain way and why they are necessary. Montesquieu believed

religion was aslo helpfull to control a country. He made it a tool used

by the rulers to keep the citizens loyal.

In general, in the Spirit of Laws, Montesquieu’s model governments did

not exactly duplicate any existing ones. On the other hand they were

the guidelines for the governments of his day, as well as ones of our

time. His ideas help us to understand the Enlightenment, as well as the

Middle Ages. It is safe to say that his ideas will never die and his

gift to the world will always be remembered.

Montesquieu can easily be considered a model Enlightment figure. His

ideas produce a mild paradox. He wanted change for the better without

crushing the current government. He wanted to educate the people of a

country, but was not a radical, and therefore didn’t include the

peasants. He respected reason, and used it to help the mankind by

creating an idle society. He critisised religion, and yet had faith in

God. As a whole he tried to improve things without turning the world

upside down. He was the model figure for the steady advancement of the

human civilization.


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.

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