Portrait of Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu

Montesquieu and law as a fishing net (1720)

Found in: My Thoughts (Mes Pensées) (1720, 2012)

A theme which runs through Montesquieu’s collection of Thoughts (1720) is that the law is like a fisherman’s net. In a free society it is a large net which gives the fish the illusion of liberty. In a despotic state is a very tight net where the fish know immediately that they are trapped:


The men who enjoy the government I have spoken of are like fish who swim in the sea without constraint. Those who live in a prudent and moderate monarchy or aristocracy seem to be in large nets, in which they are caught, though they think themselves free. But those who live in purely despotic States are in such tight nets that they feel themselves to be caught right at the outset.