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The Spirit of Laws

Into the first three chapters of Book 1, The Spirit of Laws, Montesquieu condensed a lifetime of thinking, not so much on law as what law is, (after all, the work by Montesquieu is entitled The Spirit of Laws, not The Laws of the Spirit). The definition of law provided to us by Montesquieu can be most clearly identified as a series of relationships which are derived from the nature of things; relationships varying not only among human beings, but animals and thought.

Background: Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondatbaron de la Brde et de Born January 18, 1689, Montesquieu (Caption 1-1) belonged to an old family of modest wealth that had been ennobled in the 16th century for services to the crown. Charles-Louis studied at the faculty of law at the University of Bordeaux, was graduated, and ventured out for experience in law. He married Jeanne de Lartique and through marriage he became socially and financially secure. He wrote many works pertaining to the lawfield (Encarta).

Montesquieus Definitions of Law “Laws, in their most general signification, are the necessary relations arising from the nature of things. Spirit) Montesquieu in the first book would seem to be collating all that has been said on the law into some complex equation, eliminating the common and arriving at some simple solution. Thus, laws in the most general sense are the relationships between things (all things) as the nature of things shows: the nature of things seen, heard, and read. God isnt seen nor heard, or read; still, he must have his place, but not first in the order of the nature of things (Catholic).

“There is, then, a prime reason; and laws are the relations subsisting between it nd different beings, and the relations of these to one another. (Spirit) But we have overlooked a key word kept by Montesquieu in his most concentrated definition: laws are not only relationships, they are necessary relationships. Here grows a somewhat ambiguous question.

Why are they necessary? They are not necessary due to a decree of some sort, but become natural; thus the term “Prime Reason. (Loy 89)” “God is related to the universe, as Creator and Preserver; the laws by which He created all things are those by which He preserves them. He acts according to these rules, because He knows them; He knows them, because He made them; and He made them, because they are in relation to His wisdom and power. (Spirit)

It is true that Montesquieu seems to waver between “natural law” and”laws of nature” as expressions. It is also true that he defines laws of nature as those that derive solely from our beings (Loy 90). “By the allurement of pleasure they preserve the individual, and by the same allurement they preserve their species. They have natural laws, because they are nited by sensation; positive laws they have none, because they are not connected by knowledge. ” (Spirit) Animals however, are without knowledge but have some natural laws.

Although Montesquieu does spare us the seventeenth-century discussion of pre-social man, he has not escaped certain confusions in regards to human reason and Prime Reason (Chan). “Before there were intelligent beings, laws were possible; they had therefore possible relations, and consequently possible laws. Before laws were made, there were relations of possible justice.

To say that there is nothing just or unjust but what is commanded or forbidden by positive laws, is the same as saying that before the describing of a circle all the radii were not equal. (Spirit) It is also in his discussion of natural law that Montesquieu comes to the conclusion that after God comes first a state of peace. For Montesquieu, peace is the first law of nature. Following natural laws are nourishment, sex, and society (Chan). “But the intelligent world is far from being so well governed as the physical.

For hough the former has also its laws, which of their own nature are invariable, it does not conform to them so exactly as the physical world. (Spirit) Once the natural law is done with (and Montesquieu started there for many reasons), one is on relatively clearer, emperic grounds with the positive laws. International law, political law, civil law: nothing in Montesquieus estimation could be more easily grasped from looking at mans past. When Montesquieu makes his famous statement that law is human reason, one takes note he is writing under the heading “positive law. Loy 91)” “Law, in general, is human reason insofar as it governs all the nations of earth. ” Conclusion: All of this, although not original, is Montesquieus obvious contribution to his science of laws.

His whole attraction to his subject (whether conscious or not), his role in intellectual history, his genius, were involved with seeing everything through both kinds of Nature (Loy 92). Through metaphysics and science, through moral and physical causes, through Philosophy and History, through absolute and relative, through what ought to be and what is the spirit uiding human social life on this earth is, its existence and its essence, his goal was simply his honesty and seen in historical perspective, his great contribution to the Enlightenment and the Social Sciences.

The Spirit of Laws gives us the ability to share in Montesquieus most logical and awarded analysis of what laws are; a series of relationships which are derived from the nature of things; relationships varying not only among human beings, but animals and thought. By understanding first what law is, we may better strive towards improved legal systems and societys perfection.

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