Front Page Titles (by Subject) Montesquieu: Holism & Natural Law - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1
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Montesquieu: Holism & Natural Law - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Montesquieu: Holism & Natural Law
“Montesquieu's Methodology: Holism, Individualism, and Morality.” The Historian 44 (November 1981): 36–50.
In his methodological holism, Montesquieu (1689–1755) avoided methodo-logical individualism: he did not believe that statements about social phenomena can be reduced to statements about individuals without remainder. On the contrary, he held that there are irreducible societal facts (such as the role of social institutions) which cannot be explained simply by reference to persons. In this he may be deemed a forerunner of positivist sociology fully meriting the praise of Comte and Durkheim. In espousing methodological holism, Montesquieu parted company with most representatives of the natural law school (which, during the 17th and 18th centuries generally espoused methodological and ontological individualism in its belief that all statements about social phenomena could be reduced ultimately to statements about individuals, who were also judged morally and metaphysically prior to the community).
Montesquieu's methodological holism does not mean that he was an organicist: he did not hold that statements about individuals could be totally reduced to statements about social structures. Rather, he held that there is an irreducible human nature manifested in every individual. In addition, he gave moral force to what he took to be the principles of human nature and used these values, these “natural laws” (in both the descriptive and the normative senses of that term), as fundamental criteria for evaluating institutions and political regimes. In this sense, he may be considered a follower of the natural law school of the 17th and 18th centuries.
In brief, without inconsistency, Montesquieu was a methodological holist, but he was also an exponent of natural law doctrines. He did not seek to reduce the institutional to the individual or the individual to the institutional.
By rejecting methodological individualism, Montesquieu also rejected the notion of a social contract which imagined that individuals consciously agreed upon social and political obligations. Similarly, he did not seek to explain the national character of a people in terms of the psychology of individual behavior. He looked rather to institutional factors: religion, laws, maxims of government, precedents, morals, and manners. Society for him was the interaction of institutional not individual components.
Although he functionally and positivistically evalutated social structures by how well they harmonized with a certain social order, Montesquieu never abandoned moral judgments. In a natural law vein, he weighed social institutions by their conformity to human nature. By combining methodological holism and natural law he was an exponent of the “science of freedom” in such works as The Spirit of the Laws (1748).