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Title: Montesquieu in the context of French political thought, 1715-55
Author: Butler, S.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2000
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This thesis demonstrates an historical approach to identifying the central innovations of Montesquieu's multi-faceted De l'esprit des lois (1748), taking its cues from his own identification of this theoretical targets and foils. Montesquieu shared his compatriots' widespread conviction that modern political societies' socioeconomic hierarchies played a key role in their prosperity by channeling citizens' competitive impulses into mutual service. However, he balked at suggestions that their intrinsic instability required that sovereigns actively maintain them with measures that prevented individual rights of disposal from undermining the public order of ranks, as he thought this would significant erode citizens' incentives to better themselves through nonviolent accumulation. For Montesquieu the key to a more effective and sustainable administrative system could be found by establishing more concretely the distinction English theorists had attempted to draw between a state, which represented a population's collective interests, and a government which routinely acted on its behalf, identifying and promoting those interests in particular cases. The psychological framework he developed allowed him both to highlight the dual nature of a political society's mandate (preserving peace and delivering justice), and to indicate how this division could be embodied in parallel military and judicial hierarchies without dividing sovereignty, or demanding a sovereign's perpetual intervention to prevent their conflict. The coherence of a legal system or state stemmed less from the wills of individual sovereigns than from a set of passions shared by subjects. Competition for personal esteem led neighbours to gravitate towards a common measure of value. The results created to resolve their disputes legitimated the type of proprietary claims necessary for self-aggrandisement according to that measure, so that a society's dominant passion became legally embodied as a common "spirit" or idea of justice.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available