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Montesquieu’s Mes Pensées: Editor’s Introduction

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Montesquieu (1689-1755)

The editor’s Introduction to Liberty Fund’s edition of Montesquieu’s Mes Pensées which also includes a bibliography of books by and about Montesquieu.

Montesquieu, My Thoughts (Mes Pensées). Introduction by Henry C. Clark

The following extract is part of a selection of chapters and extracts taken from books in the OLL collection. They have been chosen because of their special importance for understanding the principles of individual liberty, limited government, and the free market. Some of the extracts are from the books themselves and serve as a representative sample of that author’s ideas. Others are introductions written by the editors of the volume which contain important biographical information about the author and a discussion of their ideas. Links are provided to the book from which the extract was taken so the reader can pursue the subject in more depth if they are interested.

Other collections of material from the OLL which are useful places to begin exploring these ideas are the following:

Source: Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, My Thoughts (Mes Pensées). Translated, edited, and with an Introduction by Henry C. Clark (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2012). </titles/2534#lf1609_head_001>.

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Table of Contents:


Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron of La Brède and of Montesquieu (1689–1755), was born into a noble family in southwestern France. After an early education at home and with the village schoolmaster, he was sent away to Juilly, an Oratorian school in Meaux, just outside of Paris, at the age of eleven. Returning to Bordeaux for legal studies, he seems again to have been in Paris for four years, from 1709 until 1713, to gain legal experience. In 1713, at the death of his father, he went back to Bordeaux and in 1715 married the well-to-do Huguenot Jeanne de Lartigue, with whom he would have a son, Jean-Baptiste (1716), and two daughters, Marie-Catherine (1717) and Marie-Josèphe-Denise (1727). When his uncle (also named Jean-Baptiste) died in 1716, Montesquieu inherited most of his fortune, including his office as president in the Parlement of Bordeaux, a magistracy possessing both judicial and administrative authority.

At about the same time (April 1716), he became a member of the provincial Academy of Bordeaux, where he conducted and observed scientific experiments, read and discussed essays on history and philosophy, and generally became an active member of the region’s intellectual life. In 1721 he published anonymously in Amsterdam the first of the three major works by which he is known today. He called Persian Letters “a sort of novel” and once described its principle of coherence as “a secret and, in some respects, hitherto unknown chain.”1 Using the literary device of the guileless foreign visitors, Montesquieu presented a wide-ranging and candid discussion of religion, politics, economics, history, manners, and morals. While the narrative structure did much to shape the French Enlightenment method of indirection that would later be developed by Voltaire and Diderot, Persian Letters was anchored by the story of Roxana, the Persian wife who struggles with the conflict between her desire to love her despotic and self-deluded master, Usbek, and her natural liberty.

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The spectacular success of this work—it went through several printings in its first year—made its author a sought-after companion in the salons of Paris, where he spent much time in the 1720s. He had the unusual experience of being elected to the French Academy (1727) mainly on the strength of a work that many found both light and of dubious orthodoxy. At the end of the decade, he traveled throughout Europe, including to Holland, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, Austria, and, notably, to England, where he spent a year and a half, becoming friends with Alexander Pope, the Tory leader Viscount Bolingbroke, and many others. It was then (1729–31) that he read the English political press, attended debates in Parliament, and otherwise became more familiar with the English political and constitutional system that he would one day do so much to define.

It was also now that Montesquieu seems to have conceived the idea of writing what would become the second of his major works, namely, the Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline. Published anonymously in Amsterdam in 1734 and revised for a 1748 edition, Considerations was one of the most influential interpretive studies of Roman history. The book is less a narrative history than an attempt, not unlike Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy, to isolate analytically the factors conducive to Roman success and failure. Montesquieu saw Rome as an agrarian power, not a commercial one, and laid great emphasis upon conquest as the leitmotif of Roman experience. His explanation for Roman decline went beyond the standard narrative of the corruption of moral and civic virtue by Oriental luxury. Instead he provided the kind of deliberately complex, multilayered analysis—embracing laws, institutions, manners, and morals, even the intellectual influences of Epicureanism and Christianity—that he would develop further in The Spirit of the Laws (1748). It seems that Montesquieu conceived of his famous chapter on the English constitution (Laws, 11.6) as a twenty-fifth and final chapter in the Considerations—an idea he abandoned, apparently, when he witnessed the censorship in 1733 of Voltaire’s Philosophical Letters, a work that criticized France by praising England. That chapter was going to underscore the fundamental difference Montesquieu saw between ancient and modern liberty. Where ancient liberty in its Roman guise hinged upon virtue and conquest, modern liberty rested more on commerce, communication, information, and the arts of peace. The contrast between conquest Edition: current; Page: [ix] and commerce, like that between ancients and moderns, would become a recurrent theme in his writings.

The Spirit of the Laws turned the author from a moderately important figure into one of the founders of modern thought. Exercising an influence often described as diffuse rather than focused, Montesquieu’s magnum opus has been detected at the birth of sociology, comparative legal studies, and, indeed, any social science involving the cross-cultural analysis of some or all of the factors isolated by the author at the beginning of his study—namely, the “physical aspect of the country,” the “way of life of the people,” the “degree of liberty that the constitution can sustain,” the people’s “religion,” “inclinations,” “wealth,” “number,” “commerce,” and “mores and manners,” and the relationships among the laws themselves.2

One of the most important avenues of his influence concerned constitutional theory; the principles of checks-and-balances and separation of powers are the best-known examples. According to one study, the American founders turned to Montesquieu more often than to any other source—four times as frequently as the second-most-cited figure (John Locke). But at the local level, too, his influence in areas such as criminal-justice reform was pervasive and fundamental. In France as well as in America, Montesquieu’s work had a more authoritative status in constitutional discussion throughout 1789 than that of Voltaire, Rousseau, Mably, or any other important figure.3 More broadly, he had a formative influence on the Scottish Enlightenment through his friendship with David Hume and in the writings of Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and others. Even in China, he was one of a handful of Western figures—along with Mill, Spencer, Thomas Huxley, Jevons, and Adam Smith—who were translated into Chinese by Yan Fu in the first decade of the twentieth century in hopes of liberalizing and modernizing that vast country. In sum, there is no disputing Montesquieu’s central and durable place in enlightenment thought.

The work translated here, which Montesquieu called Mes Pensées, is a Edition: current; Page: [x] long series of handwritten notes that the author began compiling in bound notebooks around 1720—either in his own hand or with the help of private secretaries—and assiduously maintained until his death, with the idea of eventually working most of them into published form (pensée 1). Some contemporaries knew he was keeping such a collection, and a few of the entries found their way into print during the eighteenth century. But generally this treasure trove did not come to light until the twentieth century (see “A Note on the Text”). The pensées shed much light on the Montesquieu corpus. Sometimes they enable students of Montesquieu to trace the development of specific ideas over time. At other times, they directly illuminate the meaning of his published texts. And although some of the material will seem either familiar to those knowledgeable about his career or extraneous to the substance of his thought, the overall effect of the pensées is to offer a cornucopia of thought-provoking reflections on every conceivable topic.

Montesquieu warns at the beginning of the collection that he will not “answer for all the thoughts that are here” (pensée 3). This necessary precaution imposes a certain interpretive restraint, reminding us of the unfinished state of many of the entries and of the seriousness with which the author took the publication process. But the disclaimer also has varying applicability. Some of the items ended up being incorporated verbatim into his published works, especially Laws. Others are referred to elsewhere in the collection, indicating at least a certain level of authorial satisfaction. At the other end of the spectrum, some entries are signaled by Montesquieu himself for their inadequacy, with deletions or marginal notes of rejection. Between these two poles, there are some pensées that are reasonably straightforward and others so obscure and so lacking in context that it is difficult to know what to do with them. Specialists have struggled to find an adequate characterization of the project as a whole, describing it variously as an “intellectual laboratory,” a “writing crossroads,” or a “portfolio of portfolios.”4 The reader can expect to find in this volume tools and materials in every stage of the production process.

In pensée 1525, Montesquieu offers another observation that affects the way the reader approaches the collection. Discussing the art of printing Edition: current; Page: [xi] and its effect on the writing of history, he observes that “princes have made of this art the principal object of their administration; the censors they have set up direct all pens. In the past, one could speak the truth but did not speak it; today, one would like to speak it but cannot.” Throughout his career, Montesquieu had his own encounters with the French censorship apparatus, and one value of the pensées is the opportunity to sample some of the author’s more unvarnished thinking, especially on topics such as religion and current politics where the censors would have been particularly vigilant.

Montesquieu was a fussy editor of his own writings, one who left far more unfinished works than finished. Indeed it is difficult not to detect a note of personal defensiveness in pensée 1950, where he states that “An author who writes much regards himself as a giant and views those who write little as pygmies.” Montesquieu wrote much, but he published little—only a handful of substantial titles in his lifetime. In pensée 1631a, at the beginning of the third and final manuscript notebook of the pensées, he summarizes some of the wide variety of abortive projects covered in that notebook alone.

One of these unpublished works is a History of Jealousy, a work that evidently would have combined his interests as an observer of manners and morals with the critical approach to history that he would make famous in Laws. In this case, only deleted fragments are left to us (see especially pensées 483–509). In Treatise on Duties, on the other hand, what we seem to have are mostly polished sections of a work that Montesquieu abandoned before seeing it through to the press (see especially pensées 1251–61, 1263, and 1265–80). Of avowedly Ciceronian inspiration, the work resembles the De Officiis in its application of moral principles to the civic world. But it also provides suggestive reflections on the differences between ancients and moderns.

As a historian Montesquieu wanted to go far beyond his Roman foray in Considerations. In the very long pensée 1302, he provides an outline for a sweeping history of France. In other entries he occasionally elaborates on some of the historical questions preoccupying his contemporaries. In pensée 1184, for example, he comments on Boulainvilliers’s own history of France, and in pensée 1962 he offers an extended critique of Voltaire’s use of historical evidence in the contemporary controversy over Richelieu’s Political Testament.

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Montesquieu had planned a separate study of the long and important reign of Louis XIV (pensée 1306), who occupied the throne during all of his own formative years (he was twenty-six when the Sun King died). But of equal interest, perhaps, is his ill-fated history of the rather neglected French king Louis XI (r. 1461–83), to whom he appears to have attributed special significance. The remarkable story of how that manuscript seems to have been lost is told at pensée 1302, note 14, below. But in pensée 1302 itself, he begins his lengthy account of the Spider King’s reign with a ringing remark, “The death of Charles VII [in 1461] was the last day of French liberty.” Such a comment, so tantalizing for understanding Montesquieu’s view of liberty and of France, foreshadows Tocqueville’s later reflection that the middle of the fifteenth century saw “the period of transition from feudal freedom to absolute government.”5

Montesquieu’s general definitions of liberty are well known from books 11 and 12 of The Spirit of the Laws, but the pensées offer revealing insights into their evolution. For the concept of liberty is one of those that can be traced throughout the present volume. From his rather wry and skeptical treatment in pensée 32, an early entry, through his piecemeal development of the metaphor of the fish caught in the fishnet (pensées 434, 597, 828, 874, and 943), through his entry at pensée 751 entitled “Liberty”—which may be an early source of his famous definition of English constitutional liberty—Montesquieu’s engagement with the contested and ill-defined concept of liberty was variegated and persistent. Sometimes he found a clever salon-like witticism or a lapidary formula to express his views, as at pensées 577, 783, 784, and 1574. But in pensée 884, entitled “Political Liberty,” he expressly distinguishes his view from that of the “orators and poets,” indicating a preference for the more analytical approach for which he is known. In pensée 907, indeed, he refers to his evolving ideas as “my system on liberty.” He also offers interesting perspectives on the origins, consequences, or prospects for liberty throughout the volume—for example, in pensées 1630, 1735, and 1780, and in his important letter to the Englishman William Domville on the prospects for English liberty at pensée 1960.

More specifically redolent of Tocqueville’s later enterprise is Montesquieu’s discussion of the office of intendant, the royal agent given broad Edition: current; Page: [xiii] powers to implement the king’s will at the local level. Tocqueville would make the intendant a focal point of his sustained critique of centralization in the Old Regime French monarchy. Montesquieu, who never discusses the intendant in his published works and mentions that figure only in passing in his correspondence (usually with reference to specific individuals), presents some more-pointed general remarks about them here (at pensées 977, 1353, 1572, 1835, 1840, 1846, 1898, 2066, and 2099).

Relatedly, the question of whether Montesquieu had a normative preference for republics or monarchies has occurred to many readers of The Persian Letters, the Considerations, and The Spirit of the Laws, and the pensées again provide numerous insights on this question—see pensées 769, 1208, 1494, 1760, 1854, and 1891 for some examples. After the upheavals of the Napoleonic wars, Madame de Staël would look back upon the eighteenth century and cite with approval what she called the “science of liberty” that it had developed; the present volume shows perhaps the leading “scientist of liberty” at work in his workshop.6

Other frequent topics of Montesquieu’s attention are economics and finance. Although he died just a couple of years before political economy was launched with the emergence of the Physiocrats, his numerous treatments in Persian Letters and Considerations, and especially his chapters 20–23 in The Spirit of the Laws, had a powerful influence on economic and financial discussion throughout the century. In the pensées, his remarks are sometimes in the vein of observations about current events (for example, pensées 17, 153, 169, and 249), sometimes they have a more normative or theoretical bent (see pensées 45, 146, 161, 178, and 246 for some samples), and on still other occasions he makes broad historical observations informed by his economic views (pensées 77, 86, 113, and 245 for a few examples). Montesquieu saw the “spirit of commerce” as distinctive of modernity and of modern liberty, an approach illuminated at numerous points in the pensées.

Mes Pensées also contains candid observations on topics such as life at court, the reign of Louis XIV and of the Regency after his death, or the place of women in modern societies. The art of the aphorist was highly valued in the social circles that Montesquieu frequented, especially in Paris, Edition: current; Page: [xiv] and his attempt to cultivate that art is on prominent display throughout the collection. Moral-psychological topics such as happiness, jealousy, vengeance, boredom, and courtship are frequent preoccupations. One moment he is offering alternative Persian letters; another, he is providing further ruminations about the challenge posed by Hobbes’s and Spinoza’s moral anthropology. And throughout, he presents wide-ranging strategic reflections on European power politics, past and present.

One of the noteworthy topics on which he expresses unusually frank views is religion, especially in its political dimension. The role of the Jesuits as royal advisors and mobilizers of Catholic opinion, to take one prominent example, was a durable feature of French life from the Counter-Reformation into the eighteenth century. The Society of Jesus became increasingly controversial as the century wore on, however, until they were expelled from one Catholic realm after another (Portugal, France, Spain, Naples, the Duchy of Parma, Austria, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) in the two decades after Montesquieu’s death. His comments on the Jesuits can be traced in this volume (see, for example, pensées 11, 55, 104, 180, 293, 394, 395, 453, 482, 544, 581, 715, 728, 730, 1038, 1223, 1301, 1302 n. 52, and 1959). Readers can also follow his thoughts about the bull Unigenitus, a papal edict of 1713 that began as a declaration of heresy against certain French Jansenists (that is, austere Augustinian critics of Jesuit laxity and royal pomp) but soon triggered a recurring dispute involving the Church hierarchy, the Jansenist-led parlementary magistrates, and the Crown. This imbroglio lasted through Montesquieu’s lifetime and beyond (see especially pensées 55, 215, 273, 426, 437, 764, 914, 1226, 2158, 2164, and 2247).

As is often the case with compendia of this sort, however, the true pleasure of reading it is the pleasure of discovery. Not unlike the more famous eponymous work by the seventeenth-century mathematician and religious thinker Blaise Pascal (1623–62), which Montesquieu owned, Montesquieu’s Mes Pensées often features paradoxical or unexpected observations about the condition of man in the world and in society that provide rich food for thought—not only for the author, as was its intention, but now for the reader as well. The Baron of La Brède was an inveterate observer of all around him, and this volume presents an essential window onto his energetic and creative mind, one of the formative minds of the eighteenth century and of the modern world.




The Persian Letters, trans. George R. Healy (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1999), 4.


The Spirit of the Laws, ed. Anne Cohler, Basia Miller, and Harold Stone (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), I.3, 9.


For the American scene, see Donald S. Lutz, “The Relative Importance of European Writers in Late Eighteenth-Century American Political Thought,” American Political Science Review 189 (1984): 189–97. For the French situation, see Renato Galliani, “La Fortune de Montesquieu en 1789: un sondage” [Montesquieu’s fortunes in 1789: a poll], in Etudes sur Montesquieu, ed. R. Galliani and F. Loirette (Paris: Lettres modernes, 1981), 31–47.


The preface and essays by Carole Dornier and Carole Volpilhac-Auger in Revue Montesquieu 7 (2003–4) offer these characterizations.


See Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution, ed. and intro. François Furet and Françoise Mélonio, trans. Alan S. Kahan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998, 2001), 1:368.

Select Bibliography

To list every work that was of importance to Montesquieu would be tantamount to duplicating the contents of his personal library, one of the largest and best-preserved of the eighteenth century. The purpose here is to provide only the most elementary orientation to Montesquieu’s life, his times, and his thought as manifested in Mes Pensées.

Primary Sources

Complete Works of Montesquieu

Œuvres complètes. Edited by Roger Caillois. 2 vols. Paris: Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1949–51.
Œuvres complètes. Edited by Daniel Oster. Paris: Seuil, 1964.
Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu. Edited by André Masson. 3 vols. Paris: Nagel, 1950–55. Cited as OC in the text.
Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu. Edited by Jean Ehrard, Catherine Volpilhac-Auger, et al. 22 vols. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation and Société Montesquieu, 1998–2010. The Voltaire Foundation published eleven volumes: 1–4, 8–9, 11–13, 16, and 18; the remainder are due to be published jointly by ENS of Lyon [l’Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon] and Classiques Garnier. Abbreviated OC Volt in the text.

Individual Works by Montesquieu

“Arsace et Isménie.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 3:477–528.
Cahiers (1716–1755). Edited by Bernard Grasset. Paris: B. Grasset, 1941.
“Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 1:349–528. Also in Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Ehrard et al.), vol. 2. Edition: current; Page: [700]
“Considérations sur les richesses de l’Espagne.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 3:139–55.
Défense de “l’Esprit des loix.” Geneva: Barillot, 1750. Montesquieu’s response to early criticisms of The Spirit of the Laws. Cited as Défense in the text.
De l’Esprit des lois. Edited by Jean Brèthe de La Gressaye. 4 vols. Paris: Belles Lettres, 1950–61. Cited as Brèthe in the text.
De l’Esprit des lois. Edited by Robert Derathé. 2 vols. Paris: Garnier Frères, 1973. A notes and variants edition. Abbreviated Derathé in the text.
“Discours sur la cause de la pesanteur des corps.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 3:89–93.
“Essai d’observations sur l’histoire naturelle.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 3:100.
“Essai sur le goût dans les choses de la nature et de l’art.” In Encyclopédie, 7:762–67.
“Essai sur les causes qui peuvent affecter les esprits et les caractères.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 3:397–430.
“Lettres de Xénocrate à Phérès.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 3:129–35.
Lettres persanes. Edited by Antoine Adam. Geneva: Droz, 1954. Cited as Adam in the text.
Lettres Persanes. Edited by Paul Vernière. Paris: Garnier Frères, 1960. Abbreviated Vernière in text.
“Lettre sur Gênes.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 2:1303–9.
“Mémoire sur la Constitution Unigenitus.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 3:469–76.
“Mémoire sur les dettes de l’Etat.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 3:23.
“Notes sur l’Angleterre.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 3: 283–94.
Pensées, Le Spicilège. Edited by Louis Desgraves. Paris: Robert Laffont, 1991.
Pensées et fragments inédits de Montesquieu. Edited by Henri Barckhausen. 2 vols. Published by Baron Gaston de Montesquieu. Bordeaux: Gounouilhou, 1899–1901.
“Projet d’une histoire physique de la terre ancienne et moderne.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 3:87–88.
Quelques réflexions sur “les Lettres persanes.” A preface, published as a supplement to the 1754 edition. Edition: current; Page: [701]
“Réflexions sur la monarchie universelle en Europe.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 3:361–82.
“Réflexions sur la sobriété des habitants de Rome.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 3:357–60.
“Réflexions sur le caractère de quelques princes.” In Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (Masson), 3:537–52.

Translations of Montesquieu’s Works

Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline. Translated by David Lowenthal. 1965. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1999. Cited in the text as Considerations by the editor, as Romans by Montesquieu.
“An Essay on the Causes That May Affect Men’s Minds and Characters.” Translated and with an introduction by Melvin Richter. Political Theory 4 (1976): 132–62.
Meine Gedanken. Selected and translated, and with an afterword by Henning Ritter. Munich: Hanser, 2000. An abridged German translation of Mes Pensées.
Pensieri diversi. Edited and translated by Domenico Felice. Naples: Liguori Editore, 2010. An Italian translation of selections from Mes Pensées.
The Persian Letters. Translated by George R. Healy. 1964. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1999. Cited as PL in the text.
The Personal and the Political: Three Fables by Montesquieu. Translation and commentary by W. B. Allen. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2008. Translations of “The Temple of Gnidus,” “Lysimachus,” and “Dialogue of Sulla and Eucrates.” Cited as Allen in the text.
Selected Political Writings. Edited and translated by Melvin Richter. 1978. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1990.
The Spirit of Laws: A Compendium of the First English Edition . . . together with an English Translation of the “Essay on Causes Affecting Minds and Characters” (1736–1743). Edited and translated by David W. Carrithers. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.
The Spirit of the Laws. Translated and edited by Anne Cohler, Basia Miller, and Harold Stone. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Cited as Laws in the text.
The Spirit of the Laws. Translated by Thomas Nugent. 1750. Introduction by Franz Neumann. New York: Hafner, 1949.
Edition: current; Page: [702]

Secondary Sources


Acomb, Frances. Anglophobia in France, 1763–1789. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1950.
Actes du Congrès Montesquieu réuni à Bordeaux du 23 au 26 mai 1955 pour commémorer le deuxième centenaire de la mort de Montesquieu. Bordeaux: Delmas, 1956.
Althusser, Louis. Politics and History: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Hegel and Marx. Translated by Ben Brewster. London: Verso, 1972.
Aron, Raymond. Main Currents in Sociological Thought. Translated by Richard Howard and Helen Weaver. 2 vols. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1968.
Baker, Keith Michael. Inventing the French Revolution: Essays on French Political Culture in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Benrekassa, Georges. Montesquieu, la liberté et l’histoire. Paris: Livre de poche, 1987.
Bonno, Gabriel. La Constitution britannique devant l’opinion française de Montesquieu à Bonaparte. Paris: Champion, 1931.
———. La Culture et la civilisation britanniques devant l’opinion française de la paix d’Utrecht aux Lettres philosophiques (1713–1734). Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1948.
Carcassonne, Elie. Montesquieu et le problème de la Constitution française au XVIIIe siècle. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1927.
Carrithers, David W., ed. Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu. International Library of Essays in the History of Social and Political Thought Series. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Press, 2009.
Carrithers, David W., and Patrick Coleman, eds. Montesquieu and the Spirit of Modernity. Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2002.
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 and Littlefield, 2001.
Childs, Nick. A Political Academy in Paris, 1724–1731: The Entresol and Its Members. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2000.
Courtney, Cecil. Montesquieu and Burke. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963.
Cox, Iris. Montesquieu and the History of French Laws. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1983. Edition: current; Page: [703]
Dedieu, Joseph. Montesquieu et la tradition politique anglaise en France: Les sources anglaises de “l’Esprit des lois.” Paris: Gabalda, 1909.
Dodds, Muriel. Les Récits de voyages, sources de “l’Esprit des lois” de Montesquieu. Paris: Champion, 1929. Cited as Dodds in the text.
Durkheim, Emile. Montesquieu and Rousseau: Forerunners of Sociology. Translated by Ralph Manheim. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960.
Ehrard, Jean. L’Esprit des mots: Montesquieu en lui-même et parmi les siens. Geneva: Droz, 1998.
Fletcher, F. T. H. Montesquieu and English Politics, 1750–1800. London: Edward Arnold, 1939.
Ford, Franklin L. Robe and Sword: The Regrouping of the French Aristocracy after Louis XIV. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953.
Hampson, Norman. Will and Circumstance: Montesquieu, Rousseau and the French Revolution. London: Duckworth, 1983.
Hirschman, Albert O. The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Commerce before Its Triumph. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977.
Hont, Istvan, and Michael Ignatieff, eds. Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Hulliung, Mark. Montesquieu and the Old Regime. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.
Keohane, Nannerl O. Philosophy and the State in France: The Renaissance to the Enlightenment. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.
Kingston, Rebecca. Montesquieu and the Parlement of Bordeaux. Geneva: Droz, 1996.
Kingston, Rebecca E., ed. Montesquieu and His Legacy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009.
Krause, Sharon. Liberalism with Honor. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002.
Lafontant, Julien K. Montesquieu et le problème de l’esclavage dans “l’Esprit des lois.” Sherbrooke, Qué bec: Naaman, 1979.
Manent, Pierre. The City of Man. Translated by Marc A. Le Pain. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998.
———. An Intellectual History of Liberalism. Translated by Rebecca Balinski. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.
Morilhat, Claude. Montesquieu: politique et richesses. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1996. Edition: current; Page: [704]
Pangle, Thomas L. Montesquieu’s philosophy of liberalism: a commentary on “The Spirit of the Laws.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.
———. The Theological Basis of Liberal Modernity in Montesquieu’s “Spirit of the Laws.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
Pocock, J. G. A. The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975.
———. Virtue, Commerce, and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Rahe, Paul A. Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty: War, Religion, Commerce, Climate, Terrain, Technology, Uneasiness of Mind, the Spirit of Political Vigilance, and the Foundations of the Modern Republic. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.
———. Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.
Rosso, Corrado. Montesquieu moraliste: des lois au bonheur. Bordeaux: Ducros, 1971.
Schaub, Diana Jo. Erotic Liberalism: Women and Revolution in Montesquieu’s “Persian Letters.” Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995.
Shackleton, Robert. Montesquieu: A Critical Biography. London: Oxford University Press, 1961.
Shackleton, Robert, David Gilson, and Martin Smith, eds. Essays on Montesquieu and on the Enlightenment. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1988.
Shklar, Judith N. Montesquieu. Past Masters Series. London: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Spector, Céline. Montesquieu, Les Lettres persanes: De l’anthropologie à la politique. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1997.
———. Montesquieu et l’émergence de l’économie politique. Paris: Champion, 2006.
Spurlin, Paul Merrill. Montesquieu in America, 1760–1801. University, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1940.
Vernière, Paul. Montesquieu et “l’esprit des lois,” ou, La raison impure. Paris: Société d’édition d’enseignement supérieur, 1977.


Aubery, Pierre. “Montesquieu et les Juifs.” Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 87 (1972): 87–99. Edition: current; Page: [705]
Barckhausen, Henri. “L’Histoire de Louis XI.” Revue philomathique de Bordeaux et du Sud-Ouest, 1897–98, 569–78.
Berlin, Isaiah. “Montesquieu.” In Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas, edited by Henry Hardy, 130–61. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin Books, 1980.
Bertière, André. “Montesquieu, lecteur de Machiavel,” in Actes du Congrès Montesquieu réuni à Bordeaux du 23 au 26 mai 1955, 141–58. Bordeaux: Delmas, 1956.
Desgraves, Louis. “Montesquieu et Fontenelle.” In Actes du colloque Fontenelle, edited by Alain Niderst, 307–15. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1989.
Galliani, Renato. “La Fortune de Montesquieu en 1789: un sondage.” In Etudes sur Montesquieu, edited by R. Galliani and F. Loirette, 31–47. Paris: Lettres modernes, 1981.
Halévi, Ran. “The Illusion of ‘Honor’: Nobility and Monarchical Construction in the Eighteenth Century.” In Tocqueville and Beyond: Essays on the Old Regime in Honor of David D. Bien, edited by Robert M. Schwartz and Robert A. Schneider. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2003.
Kaiser, Thomas E. “The Abbé Dubos and the Historical Defence of Monarchy in Early Eighteenth-Century France.” Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 267 (1989): 77–102.
Koebner, R. “Despot and Despotism: Vicissitudes of a Political Term.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institute 14, no. 3–4 (1951): 275–302.
Lutz, Donald S. “The Relative Importance of European Writers in Late Eighteenth-Century American Political Thought.” American Political Science Review 189 (1984): 189–97.
Masson, André. “Un chinois inspirateur des Lettres persanes.Revue des Deux Mondes, May 15, 1951, 348–54.
Rahe, Paul A. “The Book That Never Was: Montesquieu’s Considerations on the Romans in Historical Context.” History of Political Thought 26 (2005): 43–89.
Ranum, Orest. “Personality and Politics in the Persian Letters.Political Science Quarterly 84 (1969): 606–27.
Rosso, Corrado. “Montesquieu et l’humanisme latin.” Cahiers de l’Association internationale des etudes françaises 35 (1983): 235–50.
Shackleton, Robert. “Bayle and Montesquieu.” In Pierre Bayle: Le Philosophe de Rotterdam, edited by Paul Dibon, 142–49. Amsterdam, 1959.
———. “The Evolution of Montesquieu’s Theory of Climate.” Revue internationale de philosophie 33–34 (1955): 317–29.
———. “La Genèse de l’Esprit des lois.Revue d’Histoire Littéraire de la France 52 (1952): 425–38. Reprinted in Essays on Montesquieu and on the Enlightenment, Edition: current; Page: [706] edited by David Gilson and Martin Smith, 49–63. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1988. Cited as Shackleton in the text.
———. “Montesquieu and Machiavelli: A Reappraisal.” Comparative Literature Studies (1964): 1–13.
———. “Montesquieu, Bolingbroke, and the Separation of Powers.” French Studies (1949): 25–38.
Shklar, Judith. “Montesquieu and the New Republicanism.” In Machiavelli and Republicanism, edited by Gisela Bock, Quentin Skinner, and Maurizio Viroli, 265–80. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Solé, Jacques, “Montesquieu et la Régence.” In La Régence, 125–30. Paris: Centre aixois d’Etudes et de Recherches sur le XVIIIe siècle, 1970.
Sullivan, Vicki. “Against the Despotism of a Republic: Montesquieu’s Correction of Machiavelli in the Name of the Security of the Individual.” History of Political Thought 27 (2006): 263–89.
Venturi, Franco. “Oriental Despotism.” Journal of the History of Ideas 24 (1963): 133–42.
Wright, J. Kent. “A Rhetoric of Aristocratic Reaction? Nobility in De l’esprit des lois.” In The French Nobility in the Eighteenth Century: Reassessments and New Approaches, edited by Jay M. Smith, 227–51. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006.

Reference Works and Periodicals

Benrekassa, Georges, ed. Les Manuscrits de Montesquieu: Secrétaires, Ecritures, Datations. Cahiers Montesquieu 8. Naples: Liguori Editore, 2004.
Cahiers Montesquieu. Collections of scholarly papers published from time to time by the Neapolitan press Liguori and by the Voltaire Foundation, spanning the years 1993 to 2005. See the individual titles elsewhere in this section.
Desgraves, Louis, ed. Catalogue de la bibliothèque de Montesquieu. Geneva: Droz, 1954. A detailed record of Montesquieu’s extraordinary private library at the château de la Brède near Bordeaux. Abbreviated Catalogue in the text. There is an update by Françoise Weil (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1999); it is Cahiers Montesquieu 4.
———. Chronologie de la vie et des œuvres de Montesquieu. Paris: Champion, 1998. A nearly day by day account of the transactions—financial, legal, personal, and literary—that Montesquieu was engaged in throughout his life.
Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française. Paris, 1694, 1762, 1798, 1835, and 1932–35. The standard dictionary of correct French. Cited as DAF in the text. Edition: current; Page: [707]
Dictionnaire électronique Montesquieu. Hundreds of scholarly essays on names, places, things, and ideas featured in Montesquieu’s work, brought online by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Lyon in 2008.
Ehrard, Jean, ed. Montesquieu du Nord au Sud. Cahiers Montesquieu 6. Naples: Liguori Editore, 2000.
———. Montesquieu, l’état et la religion. Cahiers Montesquieu. Sofia: Iztok-Zapad, 2007.
Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une Société des gens de lettres. Edited by Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert. 17 vols. Paris: Briasson et al., 1751–67. Cited as Encyclopédie in the text. Montesquieu’s only contribution was his essay on taste.
Féraud, Jean - François. Dictionnaire critique de la langue française. Marseille: Mossy, 1787–88. Often helpful for its lengthy and perceptive discussions of changes in grammatical practice over time.
Furetière, Antoine. Dictionnaire universel contenant generalement tous les mots fran-çois tant vieux que modernes et les termes de toutes les sciences et des arts. 3 vols. The Hague: Leers, 1690. Contains more of the informal French usage than the French Academy dictionary.
Isambert, M., et al., Recueil général des anciennes lois françaises. 29 vols. Paris, 1822–33. The standard compendium of French royal laws before the Revolution of 1789.
Larrère, Catherine, ed. Montesquieu, œuvre ouverte? (1748–1755). Cahiers Montesquieu 9. Naples: Liguori Editore, 2005.
Lauriol, Claude, ed. La Beaumelle et le “montesquieusisme.” Cahiers Montesquieu 3. Naples: Liguori Editore, 1996.
Littré, Emile. Dictionnaire de la langue française. Paris: Hachette, 1877. The standard historical dictionary of French.
Mass, Edgar, and Alberto Postigliola, eds. Lectures de Montesquieu. Cahiers Montesquieu 1. Naples: Liguori Editore, 1993.
Palumbo, Maria Grazia Bottaro, and Alberto Postigliola, eds. L’Europe de Montesquieu. Cahiers Montesquieu 2. Naples: Liguori Editore, 1995.
Porret, Michel, and Catherine Volpilhac - Auger, eds. Le Temps de Montesquieu. Geneva: Droz, 2002. Papers from an international colloquium held in Geneva, October 1998.
Revue Montesquieu. A publication for the Société Montesquieu by the Université-Stendhal of Grenoble 3. It began as an annual journal in 1997, moving to a biennial format in 2003. See especially no. 7 (2003–4) for the Pensées. Edition: current; Page: [708]
Volpilhac-Auger, Catherine, ed. Montesquieu: Les années de formation (1689–1720). Cahiers Montesquieu 5. Naples: Liguori Editore, 1999.
Volpilhac-Auger, Catherine, and Claire Bustarret, eds. L’Atelier de Montesquieu: Manuscrits inédits de La Brède. Cahiers Montesquieu 7. Naples: Liguori Editore, 2001.

Last modified April 15, 2014