Friday, November 15, 2013

America’s Moderate Liberalism: Rediscovering Montesquieu, Recovering Balance

By Paul O. Carrese here. A taste:
... But Montesquieu also argued that we are social beings, and naturally open to religious belief. We are shaped by culture and history, but philosophers and statesmen can push back. Thus he condemned slavery, harsh penal laws, religious persecution, and other forms of despotism. Montesquieu is neither a historicist liberal nor a Frenchified Lockean liberal. He embodies the moderate Enlightenment, and moderate liberalism.

5 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

liberal = all human progress
conservative = all human error

jimmiraybob said...

"...that we might be willing to take counsel from a Frenchman."

Shouldn't be a problem. There's already Alexis de Tocqueville who's fairly popular.

wsforten said...

I found the following statement to be very much consistent with my own study of Montesquieu's influence:

Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, a prominent Catholic priest inducted into the French Academy in 1861, praised The Spirit of the Laws as “the most beautiful defense of Christianity in the eighteenth century.” Yet many single-minded scholars no longer see such attributes in Montesquieu’s work.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I, for one, prefer Richard Price's thoughts:

"Montesquieu probably was not a Christian. Newton and Locke were not Trinitarians and therefore not Christians according to the commonly received ideas of Christianity. Would the United States, for this reason, deny such men, were they living, all places of trust and power among them?"

This was from an address that George Washington termed "excellent observations" which he had "seen and read with much pleasure."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Not taking a side in this, although Richard Price was urged by Benjamin Rush to keep his anti-Trinitarianism quiet. Since he had a dog in that fight, he might not be the best authority.


1) "What a wonderful thing is the Christian religion! it seems to aim only at happiness in a future life, and yet it secures our happiness in this life also." --Montesquieu

2) His "Spirit of the Laws" was banned by the Catholic Church, although I confess to not knowing why.

3) Montesquieu took the sacraments at his death, and died a Catholic in good standing.