Was Montesquieu a Liberal Republican?

THE REVIEW OF POLITICS 76.1 (2014): 21-41

This paper sets out to criticize Thomas Pangle’s and Paul Rahe’s reading of The Spirit of the Laws as a contribution to liberal republicanism, arguing instead that Montesquieu’s text is better understood as a defense of liberal monarchism. Pangle’s and Rahe’s interpretation of The Spirit of the Laws as an unequivocal defense of the English modern republic is wrongheaded. Montesquieu in fact spent much more of his time and energy outlining another and very different political model, moderate monarchy, embodied not by England but by the government under which he lived—France. This conclusion has profound implications for our understanding not just of The Spirit of the Laws but also of the history of early modern political thought more generally speaking, showing that the political debate of this period cannot be reduced to a struggle between classical and modern republicans.