Lecture 4 - Montesquieu: The Division of Powers

author: Iván Szelényi, Yale University
recorded by: Yale University
published: June 24, 2012,   recorded: September 2009,   views: 2687
released under terms of: Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND)

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We shift from seventeenth-century England to eighteenth-century France and from the methodological individualism of Hobbes and Locke to the methodological collectivism of Montesquieu and Rousseau. Working from a perspective that there is a general will apart and above the sum of the opinions of individuals, Montesquieu's work focuses primarily on the law and on manners of governing rather than the question of who governs. Like Locke, Montesquieu argues that the powers of government should be separated. Montesquieu's plan of separation between executive, legislative, and judicial powers is what the United States Constitution follows. Montesquieu asserts that the climate and environment affect men as individuals as well as society. Although many of his specific ideas seem quite silly now, we must give credit to Montesquieu for being perhaps the first social and political thinker to seriously consider the environment.

Reading assignment:

Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws

- Part I, Book 1-3, pp. 3-30
- Part II, Book 11, Chapters 1-6, pp. 154-166
- Part III, Book 14, Chapter 1-1, pp. 231-234; Book 19, Chapter 27, pp. 325-333
- Part IV, Book 20, Chapters 1-4, pp. 337-341

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