Montesquieu and Its Effects on Enlightenment PhilosophyJune 26, 2021
In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu engages in a comparative study of styles of society, law, and government. In this respect, the study also has a special place as a comparative sociological observation. But his aim in the work was not to record or describe the many particular facts he collected; He wanted to illuminate social, political and legal phenomena through these data.
At the end of his studies, he concluded that there are some universal principles or laws that govern social phenomena. He argues that there are singular cases that spontaneously obey these principles. The history of all nations is manifested as a result of these universal laws. Every particular law seems to depend on another more general law. Thus, Montesquieu becomes more prominent with the generalizations he draws from historical data in terms of the society, government and legal doctrine he put forward. In this way, his approach was formed from the point of view of a philosopher of history rather than a fact-gathering scientist:
According to Montesquieu, there are some universal principles or laws that govern social phenomena, and singular situations generally develop in accordance with these principles and laws.
Accordingly, for example, different positive legal systems in different societies, the climate of the region, economic conditions, people’s lifestyles are determined by the nature and principles of their management styles. The unity of these conditions, according to him, constitutes the spirit of the law. Montesquieu first speaks of the relationship of laws to government. According to him, there are three forms of government: republican, monarchical and despotic. A republican government may be of a democratic nature: in this case, the will of the people holds the executive power, in other words, the supreme power. The republican government can also be in the form of an aristocracy. In this case, only a part of the people can hold the executive power. In monarchy form of government, the prince rules the state in accordance with certain basic laws. Undoubtedly, there are intermediate forces that help him. In a despotic state, however, there are no such basic laws. In countries governed in this way, the influence of religion is high. Religious decrees appear to have superseded laws; Closer to religion, it is very common for customs and traditions to be effective in setting the law. The ethical principle of the republican government is civic virtue. That of monarchical government is honor, that of despotism is fear. According to Montesquieu, given these forms of government and their principles, certain types of legal systems will be in force.
According to Montesquieu, there are three forms of government: republican, monarchical and despotic.
Undoubtedly, these forms of government may not have been realized exactly as described here: Some have even criticized this classification as an artificial classification, arguing that it is not supported by historical data. However, this classification shows what could or should be. For example, in a given republic it is not implied that people are virtuous, but that they should be. In a certain monarchy, however, it is implied that people have or have a sense of dignity, and in a particular despotic state, it does not mean that people have a sense of fear, but that it is natural that they do. The legislator will try to ensure that the laws correspond to the factual form of government. But their correspondence with necessity may be very difficult or may not occur.
It is one of Montesquieu’s main theses that climate and economic conditions have important effects on the determination of laws. Because climate is effective in shaping the character and excitement structure of a people. For example, in this respect the character of the Norwegian people is not the same as that of the Spanish people. Therefore, the laws should be so appropriate to the character structure of that people that they should not be adapted to the laws of another society. Undoubtedly, the climatic and economic conditions are not mentioned as determining the laws in a way that does not accept any intellectual control. A wise legislator will adapt the law to the climatic and economic conditions of the country.
Here, it is necessary to emphasize two important results on behalf of Montesquieu’s theory of law. First; It is the idea of legal systems inferred from the observation of empirical data. It is noteworthy that some generalizations have been made from historical data. These generalizations can serve as assumptions for a prospective interpretation of social and political life. Latter; We come across a theory of types created in the context of the idea of ideals at work in human societies. Accordingly, every political society can be thought of as an incomplete embodiment of a certain ideal; This ideal functions as an implicit factor in shaping society, and society either approaches it or moves away from it. The duty of the legislator is to reveal the nature of this functional ideal and to make the legal regulation by considering its progressive aspect. It is clear from these explanations