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The Spirit of the Laws (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  2,814 ratings  ·  50 reviews
The Spirit of the Laws is, without question, one of the central texts in the history of 18th-century thought, yet there has been no complete scholarly English language edition since 1750.

This lucid translation renders Montesquieu's problematic text newly accessible to a fresh generation of students, helping them to understand why Montesquieu was such an important figure i
Paperback, 808 pages
Published September 21st 1989 by Cambridge University Press (first published 1748)
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I beg one favour of my readers, which I fear will not be granted me; this is, that they will not judge by a few hours reading of the labour of twenty years; that they will approve or condemn the book entire, and not a few particular phrases.

Reviewing big, old tomes like this is difficult, partly because they cover so much ground, and partly because whatever there is to say about them has already been said. Yet I was often surprised by what I found in this book, and therefore think it worthwhil
This is almost as huge as Leviathan and possibly scarier...


I love how Montesquieu makes DIRECT rebuttals. Locke, that dear old fellow, addresses Hobbes' arguments, but not Hobbes himself. Montesquieu says, "Hobbes says X argument. HE'S WRONG. I shall now show you WHY."

To whoever wrote the immensely illuminating (and legible!) notes in my used copy: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you.


I would've given this 4 stars, but I had to read about 150 pages in one night, so...I
Modern pundits and general yappers would do well to read more Montesquieu and less of whatever they are reading now -- if they are, in fact, reading anything at all.
I’m not sure what can compare in the West to The Spirit of Laws before its publication in 1748. Sure, there were the Greeks. Plato’s Republic and Laws were extensive dialogues on constructing political systems. But those were primary intellectual exercises. The debate was more about the ideal rather than the practical. Plato made some comparisons of Athenian and Spartan systems, but he was not surveying systems, he was attempting to take what was best. Aristotle was arguably more thorough with h ...more
Robert Owen
“The Spirit of the Laws”, Montesquieu’s widely read and, in its time, highly influential treatise on the nature of government was one of the vegetables that I resolved to consume in 2015. I made it through half of the book, which is pretty good given that at about a third of the way through I realized that “The Spirit of the Laws” is to my list of books on Enlightenment political philosophy what Brussel Sprouts are to my list of least favorite vegetables.

In the books initial sections Montesquie

Montequieu placed emphasis on reason as the guide for laws and society, but also respected tradition, historical precedent, and the "spirit of the people". Laws should be based on reason +customs and mores.

3 forms of government correspond to size: despotic (large), monarchy (medium), republic (small). Despotism is sustained by fear (and thus is inherently corrupt and short-lived), monarchy by honor (class distinctions), and republics by civic virtue. These types tend to correspond to certain cli
Lee Walker
Jul 24, 2013 Lee Walker rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those interested in history, political philosophy, etc.
Someone said this was almost as long and scary as Hobbes's Leviathan? Hardly. This book is a breeze to read if you have a good translation. Every chapter is between .5-2 pages at the most. It's all in bite-sized idea chunks. I have flown through 130 pages in just over a day. For a normal academic work I'd probably be on page 20 or 25 by now.

My problem is that, to the modern reader, much of what Montesqiueu says is nonsensical. His ideas are also shallow, and he tries to force his model on a worl
As for Rousseau I have to admit I started this lecture with some prejudice: whereas I mistakenly imagined Rousseau to be this half autistic failed novelist wearing rose-tinted glasses, I imagined Montesquieu to be somewhat his rigorous, legalistic counter-part (probably owing to my complete ignorance in the field of legal theory) bent on ossifying every well-meaning, politically correct and moralizing precept the Enlightenment might have produced. Once again I was wrong - it might seems to my re ...more
Have you ever been curious as to why we have certain laws and why they have the effects they have. That is what is covered in this book. It opens by talking about why he thinks humans established laws and civilization, then it discusses what he labels as the three main forms of government: Republics, Monarchies, and Tyrannies. While there are many different themes throughout the book, I think one of the main ones is that for a government to be successful it often needs to stay true to its princ ...more
Mahmoud Haggui
الكتاب ينتقد الفلسفة المادية الجدلية كالفلسفة الماركسية الارثوذكسية، حين كان الطفل فى رحم الام كان يحيى حياة كاملة بجهاز تنفسى كامل لكن لم يستخدمه مرة واحدة و لو استخدمه داخل الرحم لهلك. الرسالة ان رحم الام بوابة للعيش فى عالم اوسع. الشاهد: نحن نعيش فى عالم صغير سننفذ الى عالم اوسع عن طريق الروح "الروح الشيئ الانفس فى الانسان" و ان كل فرد لا يؤمن بالاخرة و يرى الموت هوة عدم, يتخبط و تخبطه يعكس حالة التعاكس و التشاكس بين طريقة تكوينه و اعتقادة, بداخلة جهاز دائماً يفكر دائماً بالنهايو و الفناء مُر ...more
Hưng Duy
I found its translation in Vietnamese in my college's library about a year ago
Recently, I and my friends had a slight debate about "national stereotype" as a part of a sequence related to prior topics.
thus,it is requisite for me to reread it in a perfect English translation (I may talk this over with some of my French-speaking friends, if necessary) for further and profound understanding about "social geography", peculiarly on how different climate and geography interact with particular culture.
Bob Nichols
“The Spirit of Laws" (Britannica Great Books edition, 1952; Thomas Nugent, Trans.) is a long book. Montesquieu starts from his first principles. Unlike the laws of the Deity or the material laws of nature, man creates his own laws. As a physical being, man “is like other bodies governed by invariable laws.” But, unlike "brutes who are governed by laws of motion," man possesses a free will, although it is prone to error because, “as a sensible creature, he is hurried away by a thousand impetuous ...more
Ok, so I read this 35 years ago when I was in a master's program at LSE. It is long and long winded. Anti-cleric as I remember and there are moments that are memorable, though which ones I can't remember, , anti royalist, a plea for the enlightenment. This is like eating spinach, good for you but not something that you would run to if not assigned.
Back in the day when historians/political philosophers didn't shy away from embracing projects of enormous breadth and scope... This man also had the most phenomenal knowledge of the classical world. If you are at all interested in American democracy, it's founded in large part on his thought.
Lawrence A
I read excerpts from this important work when I was studying political science in college back in the 1970s. Over the past year or so, I've read numerous histories concerning the ideology of the leading figures in the American Revolution and the framing of the U.S. Constitution, many of whom--particularly John Adams and Alexander Hamilton--relied heavily on Montesquieu's thinking. Thus, I decided to read his most important work of political science cover to cover. The issue that we now most iden ...more
Adam Gossman
One of the best books I have ever read and ever shall hope to read at least three more times in my lifetime... if only all books were only a slight fraction of the merit of this (and all of M's works I have read) book then I daresay I would never stop reading.
My eyes still hurt from reading this. Would probably have enjoyed this a lot more, if a) Levy hadn't assigned this to be read in ONE week, b) Montesquieu had an editor. Yeah, that would definitely have done it.
A thick, but well researched book. Its impact on history alone grants it the 5 star rating. This particular edition was quite readable.
Richard Anderson
A classic, but honestly the latter portions could be excised, or at least excerpted. Get a modern translation, despite the price.
José Antonio
Formidable. Le debemos la separación de los poderes públicos, la escénica del estado moderno.
Tschäff Reisberg
Must read for any political junkie.
Joel Muinde
So sublime and concise.
"The Spirit of the Laws" is a overwhelming book that remarks, quoting Raymond Aron, the very beggining of the sociology as science (not with August Comte, who just came out with the denomination). I agree so, because it really is a sociology book in substance, not just philosophy: efforts an understanding for social and culture diferences by the political view of governments and its laws (and even by natural circumstances, such as clime).

Still with with Aron's review, Montesquieu comes with hum
An essential book in the history of law that needs to be red by every lawyer or political scientist. Unfortunately it is not.

A French theorist of the highest order, Montesquieu had a great influence on the formulation of the American Constitution.

Shorter than is often thought, the book reads in the style of Alexis de Tocqueville where each individual section can be read separately for reference material.
Peter J.
This was a great work, from which I learned quite a bit about the development of modern jurisprudence. I absolutely loved the discussions in the first book about the development of society and natural law. I like how explicitly Montesquieu condemned all aspects of slavery in the early 1700's and found his discussions of possible environmental influences predisposing people towards republics or monarchies fascinating.
Montesquieu is clearly more modern than Aristotle (Politics) or Cicero (On the Republic), and while you'd expect 2000 years to buy you something, it remains high praise. Still, he's a half century before the French and American revolutions and that shows, too. His discussion of different types of government owes a lot to the Greeks and Romans, but he definitely brings in his own ideas which are more in tune with our own.

I also found his discussion of the evolution of Frankish laws (particularly
Sergei Moska
I feel like I need to justify giving an all-time classic text only two stars. The two stars doesn't reflect its importance or the depth of its thought. It reflects the fact that in spite of the very interesting and important arguments that Montesquieu makes - many of which being subtle and amenable to really interesting open-ended discussion - much of the book is a tough, tedious slog about mercantilism, and the history of the development of fiefdoms in Europe. If you don't know much about Middl ...more
This was a hard book for me to finish, but it gave me a much greater appreciation for the ideas concerning government—what would be good for freedom and what would decrease freedom—that must have been swirling around in the heads of the U.S. founding fathers as they contemplated what should be in the Constitution. When I say hard I'm not implying that it wasn't worth it. There were times when I just had to push myself to keep going, but then I would come across comments giving a deeper perspecti ...more
When I have seen what so many great men in France, England, and Germany have written before me, I have been filled with wonder, but I have not lost courage. "And when shall I cease from wondering," have I asked with myself.
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  • On the Republic/On the Laws
  • On the Citizen
  • Elements of the Philosophy of Right
  • Reflections on the Revolution in France
  • Political Writings (Texts in the History of Political Thought)
  • The Discourses
  • The Old Regime and the French Revolution
  • Elements of Chemistry
  • Essays: Moral, Political and Literary
  • Two Treatises of Government
  • Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
  • The Theory of Moral Sentiments
  • Natural Right and History
  • Ptolemy's Almagest
  • Philosophical Dictionary
  • Epitome of Copernican Astronomy and Harmonies of the World
  • On Liberty and Other Essays
  • The Concept of the Political
Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, generally referred to as simply Montesquieu, was a French social commentator and political thinker who lived during the Enlightenment. He is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers, which is taken for granted in modern discussions of government and implemented in many constitutions throughout the world. He wa ...more
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“There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.” 74 likes
“Useless laws weaken the necessary laws.” 54 likes
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