Montesquieu and the Despotic Ideas of Europe: An Interpretation of "The Spirit of the Laws"

University of Chicago Press
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Montesquieu is rightly famous as a tireless critic of despotism, which he associates in his writings overtly with Asia and the Middle East and not with the apparently more moderate Western models of governance found throughout Europe. However, a careful reading of Montesquieu reveals that he recognizes a susceptibility to despotic practices in the West—and that the threat emanates not from the East, but from certain despotic ideas that inform such Western institutions as the French monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church.

Nowhere is Montesquieu’s critique of the despotic ideas of Europe more powerful than in his enormously influential The Spirit of the Laws, and Vickie B. Sullivan guides readers through Montesquieu’s sometimes veiled, yet sharply critical accounts of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Aristotle, and Plato, as well as various Christian thinkers. He finds deleterious consequences, for example, in brutal Machiavellianism, in Hobbes’s justifications for the rule of one, in Plato’s reasoning that denied slaves the right of natural defense, and in the Christian teachings that equated heresy with treason and informed the Inquisition.

In this new reading of Montesquieu’s masterwork, Sullivan corrects the misconception that it offers simple, objective observations, showing it instead to be a powerful critique of European politics that would become remarkably and regrettably prescient after Montesquieu’s death when despotism wound its way through Europe.
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About the author

Vickie B. Sullivan is the Cornelia M. Jackson Professor of Political Science at Tufts University and the author of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and the Formation of a Liberal Republicanism and Machiavelli’s Three Romes.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Sep 5, 2017
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780226483078
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / History & Surveys / General
Philosophy / Political
Political Science / General
Political Science / History & Theory
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Bertrand Russell
Hailed as “lucid and magisterial” by The Observer, this book is universally acclaimed as the outstanding one-volume work on the subject of Western philosophy.

Considered to be one of the most important philosophical works of all time, the History of Western Philosophy is a dazzlingly unique exploration of the ideologies of significant philosophers throughout the ages—from Plato and Aristotle through to Spinoza, Kant and the twentieth century. Written by a man who changed the history of philosophy himself, this is an account that has never been rivaled since its first publication over sixty years ago.

Since its first publication in 1945, Lord Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy is still unparalleled in its comprehensiveness, its clarity, its erudition, its grace, and its wit. In seventy-six chapters he traces philosophy from the rise of Greek civilization to the emergence of logical analysis in the twentieth century.

Among the philosophers considered are: Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, the Atomists, Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Cynics, the Sceptics, the Epicureans, the Stoics, Plotinus, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Benedict, Gregory the Great, John the Scot, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Occam, Machiavelli, Erasmus, More, Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, the Utilitarians, Marx, Bergson, James, Dewey, and lastly the philosophers with whom Lord Russell himself is most closely associated—Cantor, Frege, and Whitehead, coauthor with Russell of the monumental Principia Mathematica.
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