POLS 651-1: Modern Political Philosophy

Montesquieu�s Spirit of Laws


Professor Radasanu

Office: Zulauf 407

Phone Number: 753-7052

Email Address: aradasanu@niu.edu

Office Hours: Tuesdays 2:00pm-3:00pm; Thursdays 11am-1pm

Class Time: Tuesday 3:30-6:10PM

Classroom: DU 466


We will be considering Montesquieu�s political philosophy this semester, primarily as it comes to light in his masterwork The Spirit of Laws. He follows and alters the modern thought of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke. He informs the thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Benjamin Constant, and Alexis de Tocqueville. He also informs the practice of the American founding, the early French revolutionary movement, and French liberalism post-revolution. Pierre Manent claims that Montesquieu is the paradigmatic modern thinker. Indeed, we will find that he stands between nature and history, and considers both our natures and manifold ways in which our natures are determined by history. He looks deeply at all that stands in the way of our political liberty, and, so, has much to teach on the historical preconditions of liberty. He also very seriously asks us to consider, prefiguring Tocqueville, what might be lost when we move beyond impressive ancient republicanism and grand modern monarchies to prosaic but free commercial republics. Montesquieu is altogether modern but recaptures something of the ancients in the comprehensiveness of his treatment of human things, looking at nature, history, geography, climate, society, economy, sexual relations, and, of course, politics. An essential modern text, Montesquieu�s breadth and aphoristic style make him a very difficult thinker to understand. We will make what headway we can.


Recommended Translation


Montesquieu. The Spirit of the Laws. Translated by Anne M. Cohler, Basia C. Miller, and Harold S. Stone. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.              


If you read French, then there is the venerable Pliade edition, and the newer Voltaire Foundation edition (but I don�t believe their Spirit of Laws is available).


Assigned Secondary Readings


Manent, Pierre. The City of Man. Translated by Marc A. LePain. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.


Pangle, Thomas L. Montesquieu's Philosophy of Liberalism: A Commentary on The Spirit of the Laws. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.


Recommended Secondary Readings


Berlin, Isaiah. Montesquieu. In Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas, ed. Henry Hardy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.


Carrithers, David W., Michael A. Mosher, and Paul A. Rahe, eds..  Montesquieu's Science of Politics: Essays on the Spirit of Laws.  Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001.


Carrithers David W. and Patrick Coleman, eds. Montesquieu and the spirit of modernity. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2002.


Durkheim, Emile. Montesquieu and Rousseau: Forerunners of Sociology.  Trans. Ralph Mannheim. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960.


Hulliung, Mark. Montesquieu and the Old Regime. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.


Keohane, Nannerl O. Virtuous Republics and Glorious Monarchies: Two Models in Montesquieu�s Political Thought. Political Studies XX (4): 383-96.


Kingston, Rebecca, ed. Montesquieu and His Legacy. Albany: SUNY Press, 2008.


Krause, Sharon. Liberalism with Honor. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2002.


Lowenthal, David. Book One of Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws. American Political Science Review 53 (1959): 485-98.


_________. Montesquieu and the classics: Republican government in The Spirit of the Laws. In Joseph Cropsey, ed., Ancients and Moderns (New York: Basic Books, 1964) (pp. 258-287).


Pangle, Thomas L. The Theological Basis of Liberal Modernity in Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.


Rahe, Paul A. Republics Ancient and Modern : Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution.  Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1992.


___________. Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.


Shackleton, Robert. Montesquieu: A Critical Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961.


Shklar, Judith N. Montesquieu. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.


Warner, Stuart D. Montesquieu�s Prelude: An Interpretation of Book I of the Spirit of Laws. In Enlightening Revolutions: Essays in Honor of Ralph Lerner, ed. Svetozar Minkov. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.


Zuckert, Michael. Natural Law, Natural Rights, and Classical Liberalism: On Montesquieu�s Critique of Hobbes. Social Philosophy and Policy 18 (1): 227-251.


Schedule of Readings


The Spirit of Laws is a colossally long work. We will aim to cover the first 26 books, which means that we will be averaging one to two books per week. Occasionally, I will assign a specific secondary source for a specific week, and perhaps excerpts of Montesquieu�s work from texts we are not studying in their entirety. I will give notice of these additional readings in class and on Blackboard.


Assignments and Grading:


      Short Essay (20%): circa 2,500 words; due on October 18, 2011; topic will be provided.

      Take-home Exam (30%): circa 3000 words; handed out on November 18th (over email), due on November 22, beginning of class.

      Term Paper (35%): Friday, December 2nd, at the Department by 4:30pm. Circa 4000 words. Details to follow.

      Participation (15%): Please see expectations below.


Expectations of Students:




Students are expected to show evidence at each class meeting of having read the text to be covered that day. You should at least be able to give an account, either when called upon or by your own questions, of the surface of what is said. It is even better to show that you have seen relationships among different parts of the text and can raise intelligent questions about what the text seems to mean or whether what it seems to mean makes sense, either in itself or in relation to the text's apparent meaning elsewhere. Students should be prepared to be interrogated and be able to answer questions put by the professor in a manner that is both thoughtful and to the point.




To earn an A in the course, both active and thoughtful participation and excellent written work will be required. The written assignments will be on assigned topics (unless the student secures permission from the professor to do otherwise); A�s are earned when compelling interpretations are provided (and expressed clearly) in response to the assigned topics.




Extensions on the short and final papers are granted only if the student has a very good reason. Everyone should be working on the term paper throughout, so that a last-minute glitch doesn�t affect your ability to hand in your paper in a timely fashion.


The take-home exam will be due at a specific time on a specific day, via email. The time stamp of the email will determine whether the student has completed the assignment on time. Exams that are within one day late (this means within 24 hours of the due date and time �including even five minutes of lateness), will incur a 10% late penalty. Exams that are not handed in within 24 hours of the due date and time will not be accepted. This strict policy is meant to uphold the integrity of this assignment as an exam.