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Montesquieu's The Spirit of Laws is an enduring classic of social and political theory deserving a fresh reading every generation. The modern reader, however, is likely to find a work that ran to over a thousand pages in its two-volume first edition a bit overwhelming. Presented here, therefore, is the first English-language compendium of The Spirit of Laws, together with the first English translation of the posthumously published treatise containing the physiological theory underlying Montesquieu's theory of climate.
The Spirit of Laws, first published in 1750, is a detailed treatise on the structures and theory of government by French political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu. Unlike his well-loved Persian Letters, The Spirit of Laws scandalized the French-it was even banned by the Roman Catholic Church. The fact that it is hardly dated to modern readers is a testament to how revolutionary it must have seemed 250 years ago. Among its comparisons of different forms of governments, such as monarchies, despotic regimes, and republics, is the now-famous section on Montesquieu's concept of the separation of powers, dividing the ruling body into legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Also included is the author's thinking on slavery, religion in government, families and censuses, the influence of climate on politics and culture, and the making of laws. A powerful influence on the framers of the U.S. Constitution, this classic work will appeal to history buffs and anyone interested in the roots of modern political theory and government. CHARLES-LOUIS DE SECONDAT, BARON DE MONTESQUIEU (1689-1755), born in the South of France and often known simply as Montesquieu, was a political philosopher and social commentator known for his influential political views, especially for his "separation of power" theory, still used today in constitutions around the world. Some of his best-known work, the satirical Persian Letters, which made fun of life in Paris under Louis XIV, delighted France in the 1720s.
The Spirit of the Laws is without question one of the central texts in the history of eighteenth-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 in the early enlightenment and why The Spirit of the Laws was such an influence on those who framed the American Constitution. Fully annotated, this edition focuses on Montesquieu's use of sources and his text as a whole, rather than on those opening passages toward which critical energies have traditionally been devoted.
Montesquieu's The Spirit of Laws is one of a handful of classic works of political philosophy deserving a fresh reading every generation. The product of immense erudition, Montesquieu's treatise has captured since its first printing (1748) the imagination of an impressive array of intellectuals including Rousseau, Voltaire, Beccaria, Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, Herder, Siey_s, Condorcet, Robespierre, Bentham, Burke, Constant, Hegel, Tocqueville, Emile Durkheim, Raymond Aron, and Hannah Arendt. In what constitutes the only English-language collection of essays ever dedicated to the analysis of Montesquieu's contributions to political science, the contributors review some of the most vexing controversies that have arisen in the interpretation of Montesquieu's thought. By paying careful attention to the historical, political, and philosophical contexts of Montesquieu's ideas, the contributors provide fresh readings of The Spirit of Laws, clarify the goals and ambitions of its author, and point out the pertinence of his thinking to the problems of our world today.

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