Nouvelle publication : Vickie B. Sullivan, Montesquieu and the Despotic Ideas of Europe

University of Chicago Press

University of Chicago Press, 2017

Vickie B. Sullivan, Montesquieu and the Despotic Ideas of Europe. An Interpretation of « The Spirit of the Laws », University of Chicago Press, 2017, 304 pages.

ISBN : 9780226483078

À écouter : entre­tien avec Vickie Sullivan

Montesquieu is rightly famous as a tire­less cri­tic of des­po­tism, which he asso­cia­tes in his wri­tings overtly with Asia and the Middle East and not with the appa­rently more mode­rate Western models of gover­nance found throu­ghout Europe. However, a care­ful rea­ding of Montesquieu reveals that he reco­gni­zes a sus­cep­ti­bi­lity to des­po­tic prac­ti­ces in the West — and that the threat ema­na­tes not from the East, but from cer­tain des­po­tic ideas that inform such Western ins­ti­tu­tions as the French monar­chy and the Roman Catholic Church.

Nowhere is Montesquieu’s cri­ti­que of the des­po­tic ideas of Europe more power­ful than in his enor­mously influen­tial The Spirit of the Laws, and Vickie B. Sullivan gui­des rea­ders through Montesquieu’s some­ti­mes vei­led, yet shar­ply cri­ti­cal accounts of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Aristotle, and Plato, as well as various Christian thin­kers. He finds dele­te­rious conse­quen­ces, for exam­ple, in bru­tal Machiavellianism, in Hobbes’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for the rule of one, in Plato’s rea­so­ning that denied sla­ves the right of natu­ral defense, and in the Christian tea­chings that equa­ted heresy with trea­son and infor­med the Inquisition.

In this new rea­ding of Montesquieu’s mas­ter­work, Sullivan cor­rects the mis­concep­tion that it offers sim­ple, objec­tive obser­va­tions, sho­wing it ins­tead to be a power­ful cri­ti­que of European poli­tics that would become remar­ka­bly and regret­ta­bly pres­cient after Montesquieu’s death when des­po­tism wound its way through Europe.


Part I. The Ideas of Montesquieu’s Modern European Predecessors

1. The Greatness of Machiavelli and the Despotic Disease of His Politics — Both Princely and Republican

2. Montesquieu’s Attack on the Political Errors of Hobbes

Part II. Christian Ideas

3. Religious Ideas and the Force of Christian Ones in Modern Europe

4. The Ideas of Early Christianity, Their Absorption in Roman Law, and Their Abusive Reverberations in Modern Europe

Part III. The Ideas of the Ancient Legislators

5. Montesquieu’s Opposition to Plato’s Belles Idées and Their Diffusion

6. Aristotle’s “Manner of Thinking” and the Deleterious Use of His Ideas





University of Chicago Press