AMERICAN MINUTE Montesquieu: Greater influence (than God) on the Constitution Bill Federer tells the impact of the French political philosopher on the founding fathers

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Baron de Montesquieu

Baron de Montesquieu

"Society … must rest on principles that do not change" – wrote Montesquieu in book 24 of "The Spirit of Laws".

Montesquieu was a French political philosopher whose books were read by Catherine the Great of Russia, praised in England and banned by Louis XV of France. He greatly influenced the American founders. Thomas Jefferson even translated Destutt de Tracy's commentary on Montesquieu on August 12, 1810.

In 1984, the American Policy Journal published "The relative influence of European writers on American political thought in the late eighteenth century," written by Donald S. Lutz of the University of Houston and Charles S. Hyneman. After examining nearly 15,000 articles written between 1760 and 1805, Lutz and Hyneman discover that the editors of the Constitution cited Montesquieu more than any other source, except for the Bible.

Montesquieu divided governments into three categories, describing which driving force, or "spring," as in a liquidation clock, rely on:

  • The republics, which predominate in the Protestant countries of northern Europe, rely on virtue
  • Monarchs, especially in the Catholic countries of southern and western Europe, were leaning on the honor
  • The despots, the most widespread in Islamic countries, bet on fear
  • The "Republic" is a "people's government" where the people govern themselves, aware that every citizen will be held accountable to a God who wants him to be righteous.

    "Monarch" is a king attached to obligations, having a conscience and being limited by laws, traditions, Judeo-Christian beliefs and a class of powerful nobles.

    "Despot" is a king without any conditions, who reigns without conscience, according to his whims and caprices, exerting an absolute and arbitrary power:

  • Absolute, which means the moment when he says something that's the law
  • arbitrary meaning that no one can predict what he will say next
  • Montesquieu understood that the nature of man was intrinsically selfish and that, if the opportunity arose, anyone could be tempted to accumulate power and become a despot. St. Augustine called this "libido dominandi" – the desire to dominate.

    Montesquieu explained that once the virtue is gone, a republic will become lawless. Power will pass from the very numerous to the few, the "popular" government will be replaced by a despot who will usurp power and rule with fear: "It is the nature of a republican government that … the body collective of the people … should be … The supreme power. … In a popular state, you need one more spring, namely Virtue. … The political Greeks, who lived under a popular government, knew no other support than Virtue. … When virtue is banished, ambition invades the minds of those who are willing to receive it, and avarice (greed) possesses the whole community. … When, in a popular government, the laws are suspended, because this can only come from the corruption of the republic, the state is certainly defeated. "

    Montesquieu continued: "As virtue is necessary in a republic … fear is necessary in a despotic government: as far as virtue is concerned, there is no occasion for that. … Fear must therefore depress their mind and extinguish the slightest sense of ambition. … of a despotic government, only one person … governs according to his will and whim. … The one who commands the execution of the laws is generally believed above them, the virtue is less necessary than in a popular government. … "

    Montesquieu added: "These are the principles … of the government … in a given Republic, they are actually … Virtual … in a particular despotic government by fear.

    Montesquieu wrote in "The Spirit of the Laws" 1748: "A moderate government is best suited to the Christian religion and a despotic government to Mahometan. … The Christian religion is foreign to the simple despotic power. The gentleness so often recommended in the Gospel is incompatible with the despotic rage with which a prince punishes his subjects and exercises himself in cruelty. As this religion forbids the plurality of wives, its princes are less confined, less hidden from their subjects, and therefore have more humanity: they are more willing to be governed by laws and more likely to perceive that They can not do what they want. While the Mohammedan princes give or receive death without ceasing, the religion of the Christians makes their princes less cruel. The prince confides in his subjects and the subjects of the prince. What an admirable religion which, if it seems to have only to do with the happiness of the other life, continues happiness! … it's the Christian religion that … has hindered the despotic power. "

    Montesquieu added: "Of the characters of the Christian and Mohammedan religions, we should, without further examination, embrace one and reject the other: it is much easier to prove that religion must humanize the manners of men. the particular religion is true. It's a misfortune for human nature when religion is given by a conqueror. The Mahometan religion, which speaks only by the sword, still acts on men with the destructive spirit with which it was founded. "

    Montesquieu examined the question of the Christian religion: "When the Christian religion, two centuries ago, was divided into Catholics and Protestants, the northern peoples embraced Protestants and those of the South have always adhered to Catholics. . The reason is simple: the peoples of the north have and will forever have a spirit of freedom and independence that the peoples of the south do not have; and consequently a religion without a visible head is more agreeable to the independence of the climate than one which has one. … When a religion is introduced and fixed in a state, it is usually the one that best suits the government plan put in place. "

    Montesquieu compared the Lutheran and Calvinist countries: "In the very countries where the Protestant religion has been established, the revolutions were carried out in accordance with the various plans of the political government. Luther has great princes on his side … an ecclesiastical authority … while Calvin has to do with people who lived under republican governments. … It was believed that each of these two religions was perfect; the Calvinist judging him most in conformity with what Christ had said and the Lutheran with what the apostles had practiced.

    Warning of the abuse of power once concentrated, Montesquieu introduced the revolutionary concept of separation of decision-making powers into three branches:

  • legislative
  • executive
  • judicial
  • These three branches would selfishly fight against each other to prevent one of them from dominating others – thereby using a selfish power for a selfish controlling power.

    The brilliance of this is tantamount to a Sunday School teacher entrusting a task: "Design a system of government where sinners prevent other sinners from sinning.

    Montesquieu wrote: "There is no freedom if the power to judge is not separated from the legislature and executive power. If he was associated with the legislature, the power over the life and liberty of the citizens would be arbitrary, because the judge would be the legislator. If he was associated with executive power, the judge might have the strength of an oppressor. Everything would be lost if the same … group of main men … exercised these three powers. "

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    James Madison echoed this in "The Federalist No. 51": "One must have the ambition to counter ambition. The interest of the man must be related to the constitutional rights of the place. … If the angels were to rule men, no external or internal control of the government would be necessary.

    In "The Spirit of Laws," 1748, Montesquieu wrote: "I have always respected religion; the morality of the gospel is the most noble gift that God has ever given to man. We shall see that we owe to Christianity, to the government, a certain political law and, in time of war, a certain right of the people – advantages which human nature can never sufficiently recognize. The principles of Christianity, deeply engraved in the heart, would be infinitely more powerful than the false honor of monarchies, than the human virtues of the republics, or the servile fear of despotic states. "

    In his "Considerations on the causes of the greatness and decadence of the Romans", 1734, Montesquieu wrote: "It is not chance that governs the world. Ask the Romans. … There are general, moral and physical causes … to raise, maintain or throw it on the ground. … If the chance of a battle – that is to say, of a particular cause – ruined a state, a general cause forced that state to perish from a single battle . In a nutshell, the main trend attracts all accidents. "

    At the beginning of "The Spirit of Laws," 1748, Montesquieu wrote: "God is bound to the universe as Creator and Conservative; the laws by which He created all things are those by which He keeps them. … But the intelligent world is far from being as well governed as the physical. … The man, as being physical, is like other bodies governed by invariable laws. As an intelligent being, he constantly transgresses the laws established by God and modifies those of his own institute. He is left to his private direction, although being a limited being, and subject, like all finished intelligences, to ignorance and error … repulsed by a thousand impetuous passions. Such a being could at any moment forget his Creator; God reminded him of his duty by the laws of religion. "

    Baron Montesquieu passed away on February 10, 1755.

    Montesquieu wrote in "The Spirit of Laws," 1748: "The Christian religion, which orders men to love, undoubtedly wants the best political laws and the best civil laws for every people, for these laws are (after religion) the greatest good that men can give and receive. "

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