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Learning’s Legal Spirit: Montesquieu on Education as the Study of Law

Learning’s Legal Spirit: Montesquieu On Education As The Study Of Law

The history of political philosophy is the history of education. Its content, its prospects, its goals—all receive copious attention, from Plato’s Republic to the Scholastics, from Locke and Rousseau to Nietzsche and Rawls.[1]  For education is a central concern to any political community, doing much to form the character, not only of citizens, but of the polity itself.

Among the less noted contributors to this dialogue is the 18th century French political thinker, Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu. Montesquieu’s seminal work, The Spirit of the Laws (1748), is a book about many subjects. A sprawling volume of massive ambition, its title sets the stage for its expansive reach. More than a mere discussion of laws in themselves, Montesquieu seeks to explain their underlying spirit. In so doing, he touches upon an interesting perspective: that the study of law is the study of education. Law, as described by Montesquieu, forms a lens for contemplating the nature of teaching and of learning.

This essay will examine the implications for education presented by Montesquieu’s discussion of law, particularly as manifested in its early parts. Through this discussion, we will see how Montesquieu displays a view of education’s content, its possibility, and its purpose.

Law Defined

Montesquieu sets up this investigation in Book One of the Spirit of the Laws. In that book’s opening chapter, he defines the concept of law, declaring that, “[l]aws, taken in the broadest meaning, are the necessary relations deriving from the nature of things.”[2] Here, Montesquieu describes law’s essence and its foundation. First, law’s essence should be thought of as a form of relationship. Entities interact with each other. They do so in ways neither accidental nor random. On the contrary, set, required connections exist between them. These relationships are laws in the broadest sense for Montesquieu. Law therefore, is inherently communal, not solitary by his understanding. Second, Montesquieu notes the foundation of these relationships, the origin establishing their necessity: nature. The relations between entities are necessary in that they stem from “the nature of things.” All beings, then, contain a nature. All that exists encompasses within it an ordered principle. That ordering then forms law’s foundation, the underlying matter delineating the required relationships between entities.

This definition of law reverberates throughout the rest of The Spirit of the Laws. Montesquieu’s study of principles, terrain, climate, commerce, religion, slavery and more all seek to understand “the nature of things” and then to deduce the “necessary relations” stemming from those interacting natures.[3] Underneath all of these inquiries, Montesquieu’s definition also provides a lens for understanding education, both in itself and as an explanation of Montesquieu’s own efforts. The study of laws does so by providing a unified vision of education’s content, a defense of its (tenuous) possibility, and an explanation of its purpose.

Education’s Content

First, this concept of law provides a common lens to understand education’s content. We live in a time of intense academic specialization. Fields of study multiply at a rate only out-paced by the burgeoning array of subfields. This specialization results in ever-greater siloing of scholars and of scholarship—a manifestation of the Multiversity (to use Clark Kerr’s phrase) replacing the University. In this Ivory Tower of Babel, fields and subfields not only appear increasingly compartmentalized in phenomena observed but in the lingo used; we seem to speak different languages, not just study different subjects.

Montesquieu’s description of law provides some common ground for the modern academy’s disparate fields. At first blush, such a statement seems strange. Law would appear to be the particular province of politics, or at least a subset (or a subset of a subset) within the social sciences. But a closer examination belies this siphoning. Referring back to his definition, Montesquieu declares that “in this sense, all beings have their laws.”[4] All that exists possesses a nature. All relate in some fashion to other entities. Taken together, all beings have laws specific to them. That all beings have laws means one can know all beings through knowledge of their laws.

Montesquieu thereby describes law’s study such as to make it common ground for particular academic fields. One can define each subject of learning in such terms. For instance, Montesquieu declares that “the divinity has its laws.”[5] Theology, therefore, is the study of law. God, to begin, stands in relationship to the world and all in it. In particular, God acts in two roles, as creator and preserver, giving all else existence and sustaining that existence. God does neither in an arbitrary fashion. Instead, Montesquieu argues that the act of creation and acts of preservation conform to certain, set rules. These divine rules stem from the nature of the creator himself. Montesquieu goes on to explain that God follows “these rules,” first, “because he knows them.” God’s knowledge, according to which He created, is not a “blind fate” to which God, like his creation, is subject. Instead, God “knows them because he made them.”[6] The rules themselves comprise part of God’s dual relationship to the world, as he creates the rules and, in following them, maintains them. These rules’ underlying grounding lay not in God’s will. Instead, God’s will itself flows from a deeper source. Montesquieu continues that, “he [God] made them because they are related to his wisdom and his power.”[7] In other words, God’s acts of creation and preservation rationally manifest his character as a wise and powerful Being. They flow from his nature.

This explanation follows Montesquieu’s broad definition of law—God’s relationships as Creator and Preserver stem, first and foremost, from His own divine character. Montesquieu even goes on to show how the laws governing creation and preservation exist in a kind of relationship between themselves. He explains “the laws according to which he [god] created are those according to which he preserves.”[8] God’s formation of the world institutes the parameters for how He then sustains it. For the act of creation establishes the natures of those beings with whom God enters into and continues in relationship. Therefore, Montesquieu claims that both creation as well as preservation find their deeper foundation in God’s will and wisdom—in His own character. To study these things is to study a kind of law.

In addition to the divine, Montesquieu goes on to assign laws to all other forms of existence. He then declares that “the material world has its laws.”[9] To look at the material world also involves the study of entities’ nature and the resulting relationships. Montesquieu gives an example related to matter in motion. He observes that “[b]etween one moving body and another moving body, it is in accord with relations of mass and velocity that all motions are received, increased, diminished, or lost.” Montesquieu notes that “[t]hese rules are a consistently established relation.”[10] In other words, they are a set of laws. All of the material world follows rules like this in some fashion, according to some kind of nature. Thus, the natural sciences, including chemistry, biology, physics, and more all investigate necessary relationships and the natures underlying them.

Montesquieu also lists “intelligences superior to man” and “beasts” as each possessing their own laws. Each, then, also would include academic fields to consider them. However, I will turn to the final group Montesquieu mentions: human beings. Montesquieu asserts that “man has his laws” in addition to these other entities.[11] Ultimately, the laws of men require knowing human nature in all its expressions and in all its relationships to other beings. But what does that inquiry entail? Here, Montesquieu’s discussion of the laws’ spirit helps to illuminate this subject. The laws’ spirit relates closely to the character of the populace they govern. Speaking of a people’s “general spirit,” Montesquieu notes that many components comprise it. In Book 19, he spells these out, saying that “[m]any things govern men: climate, religion, laws, the maxims of the government, examples of past things, mores, and manners; a general spirit is formed as a result.”[12] This general spirit comprises the material forming the character and thus nature of particular peoples. This spirit, then, participates in constructing the necessary relations humans possess with others—their laws.

One can easily see the numerous academic fields involved in this examination. To consider the people’s and thus the laws’ spirit, Montesquieu’s work investigates history, economics, psychology, sociology, topography, not to mention political thought itself. Much of The Spirit of the Laws follows out these inquiries, seeking a broad display of their manifestations across time and place.

Montesquieu therefore declares that we live in an ordered world, a world whose order is discernable. In examining that order, we study laws of various kinds. Doing so provides unity, a common task for education. At the same time, this articulation respects the distinctions between particular fields of learning. Montesquieu recognizes the required but tenuous balancing between the two. He notes, in discussing the rules regarding motion, that “every diversity is uniformity, every change is consistency.”[13] Education must involve recognizing both commonality and dissimilarity, stasis and alteration. Montesquieu notes here that education must recognize these categories while acknowledging that they do not neatly diverge. Fields and subfields overlap. Particulars at times are hard to separate from the whole. But Montesquieu’s study of law presents a means to unify and understand the attempt, and thus to aid education’s pursuit.[14]

Education’s Possibility

The last discussed field of study—of man—then points to the second way that Montesquieu’s view of law helps us to understand education: defending its possibility. In the same early sections of The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu makes this case. In so doing, he shows that one should not assume the point. The existence of knowledge does not of necessity entail that humans can acquire it. Montesquieu directs his readers to beings incapable of learning. Inanimate objects or plants, for instance, do not possess the capabilities for acquiring an education. Montesquieu explains why by noting that these entities lack two components. In all that comprises the material world, he says, “we observe neither knowledge nor feeling.”[15]

Knowledge and feeling thus form the means for acquiring an education, the indispensable capacities through which learning occurs. Montesquieu describes these two components in contrasting human beings to the material and the beastial worlds.

Unlike the purely material world, beasts seem to hold some capacity for education. They do because they possess “feeling.” In particular, Montesquieu argues that animals experience the sensation of “pleasure.”[16] An enjoyable sensation accompanies certain actions and conditions. Montesquieu points to two examples here. First, he speaks of self-preservation as maintained by the pursuit of pleasure, perhaps by eating, drinking, and similar necessary activities. Second, Montesquieu speaks of procreation, where pleasure induces animals to preserve the species.[17] The impetus of pleasure, in both instances, allows for some variation of deed. A beast can modify behavior according to what brings pleasure (and, relatedly, what avoids pain). He, for example, can pursue different avenues for sustenance or alternative objects of mating when the first attempts fall short. We see domesticated animals, furthermore, trained to follow simple rules and even carry out basic tasks according to this insight.

Still, beasts only possess feeling according to Montesquieu, not knowledge. This state of existence limits their capability for education. Montesquieu declares of beasts, “[t]hey have natural laws because they are united by feeling; they have no positive laws because they are not united by knowledge.”[18] Animals can act according to instinct or sense perception. But they lack the additional component of knowledge. Knowledge’s absence places a serious restriction on animals’ educative capacities.

We learn better the nature of these restrictions when turning to human beings. Humans do possess components parallel to the material and the animal worlds. Montesquieu writes that “[m]an, as a physical being, is governed by invariable laws like other bodies.”[19] Possessing a corporeal form results in certain aspects of human life aligning with the purely physical world. Humans, for instance, cannot be taught to forego breathing or to replace cells with some other building block of material existence. Nor, consequently, do they need taught to breathe or to experience cell division. These parts of man adhere to laws quite apart from any act of learning by the human involved.

Like beasts, man also can feel. In fact, Montesquieu claims that this capacity serves as our first educative faculty. He speaks of “feelings” as that “which belong to men from the outset.”[20] We are born with a desire to pursue pleasure and to avoid pain. As with animals, this desire manifests itself in acts of self-preservation and in the desire to procreate. And as with animals, this capacity allows for some education. A young child, touching a hot cooking pan, can thence-forward recoil from kitchen utensils due to the experience of pain. Conversely, the same youth can learn to pine for chocolate once he or she feels the pleasurable sensation accompanying its consumption.

But, unlike either the material or the beastial realms, man also possesses the ability to procure knowledge. Montesquieu refers to it as “the faculty of knowing.”[21] This faculty appears to equate to the possession of reason. Montesquieu connects the faculty to man’s status as “an intelligent being.”[22] As such a being, man’s actions originate from more than mere sense perception or instinct, more than as simple reactions to the feelings of pleasure or of pain. Reason involves a higher, a more abstracted, a more imaginative form of analysis and decision.[23]

Montesquieu helps to differentiate feeling and knowledge in part by considering the beings, aside from humans, that exercise them. As discussed above, he connects feelings to beasts. He elsewhere connects reason to God. Montesquieu speaks of a “primitive reason”[24] underlying all that exists, underlying all law. This reason informs the rules God follows in His creation and preservation. But this reason, far from being “a blind fate,” must be understood itself as part of God’s wisdom and power—as part of His nature. Humans bear a resemblance to the divine here. Man, like God and unlike other created beings, makes his own laws. Montesquieu declares that “[l]aw in general is human reason insofar as it governs all the peoples of the earth” continuing that the specific laws of each nation consist of applying reason to particular circumstances.[25] The creation and application of laws involves contemplation unavailable to mere feeling. It involves conceiving of imaginative self-interest and abstracted justice.[26] Therefore, while feeling seems to place man closer to the beasts, reason seems to draw him closer to the Divine.

The capacity to know, furthermore, extends the range of feeling possible for human beings. Comparing animals to humans, Montesquieu argues that “[t]hey do not have our expectations, but they do not have our fears.”[27] Acquiring knowledge allows for one to think about possible future events—to exercise the imagination. Doing so can cultivate the hope of expectation. These expectations may elicit feelings of pleasure as one contemplates possible good future events or conditions. At the same time, knowledge enhances the feeling of fear. We also can envision painful or otherwise unpleasant forthcoming circumstances. Montesquieu gives the example of mortality, for “they [beasts] suffer death as we do, but without recognizing it.”[28] Animals may preserve themselves through the seeking of pleasure. But they do not have a concept of death. They are not able to imagine it, thus to contemplate it, thus to fearfully dwell on it. This point says something about education as well. The limitation caused by lack of knowledge lessens what even feeling itself can learn. For humans, knowledge can create the fear of death and the anticipation of abstract, imagined pleasures. But those fears and anticipations, once existing, then can drive the quest for knowledge. Not so with beasts, Montesquieu argues. Instead, the existence of knowledge allows for much greater educational possibilities for human beings.

Together, feeling and knowledge comprise humans’ capacity to learn. Montesquieu next articulates how these components lead to learning. How does exercising one’s ability to feel and to think result in an education? He touches on this question when he refers to man as “that flexible being.”[29] Humans’ flexibility manifests the use of their feelings and of their reason. Montesquieu explains this point when he notes that man’s flexibility takes place through adaptation “in society to the thoughts and impressions of others.”[30] Man’s flexibility resides in his ability to change his feelings, his thoughts, and subsequently his actions. That act of procuring, that change of mind, heart, and resulting deed is an education.

Furthermore, the context of this flexibility itself conforms to the underlying principle of law. Montesquieu declares that the adaptation that is education does not occur in solitude. It takes place with others, consisting of a kind of imitation of those around us. Thomas Jefferson once described man as inherently “an imitative being,” further noting that this imitation was “the germ of all education in him.”[31] We learn in community. We learn in relationship. That is part of our nature. That is part of the law of human beings.

Part of education’s possibility, though, entails its difficulty. For one, man’s capacity to learn means he does not possess the content of that learning to begin with. Here Montesquieu separates human feeling from human knowledge. As noted above, Montesquieu argues that humans possessed feeling from the start. Man knew to pursue pleasure and avoid pain in the most primitive state of nature. The same was not so regarding knowledge. Montesquieu here carefully distinguishes the capacity to know from its actual attainment. Discussing man in the state of nature, prior to political society, Montesquieu says that “[a] man in the state of nature would have the faculty of knowing rather than knowledge.”[32] Education is possible in part because it gains man what he otherwise lacks. Man needs help to know, acquiring that knowledge only “when it is shown to him.”[33]

Humans possess a number of drawbacks inhibiting this acquisition, blinding or at least obscuring man to knowledge of himself and of the world around him. Thus, Montesquieu declares that man “is subject to ignorance and error, as are all finite intelligences.”[34] Man’s reason is flawed. Thus, so is the knowledge that reason acquires. Furthermore, human experience of feeling itself presents a barrier to education. Montesquieu points out that “[a]s a feeling creature, he falls subject to a thousand passions.”[35] Feeling can teach the wrong thing. It can override the proper function of reason, pushing humans to learn in error. Education, while seeking to correct these problems, also must face their corrupting opposition.[36]

An additional problem for education arises in Montesquieu’s understanding. For learning is not like Christian baptism—a once-for-all moment not capable (or needful) of repetition. Education’s accomplishments are ever preliminary, persistently fragile. For this showing of our nature to ourselves is tenuous. Montesquieu states that man, though able to gain knowledge, is equally capable “of losing even the feeling of it when it is concealed from him.”[37] Humans can forget what they already learned. As his quote intimates, this forgetting can be complete, stretching beyond acquired knowledge to even what one learns by feeling. The problem of acquiring learning and of maintaining it, taken together, helps explain Montesquieu’s observation that “[t]he intelligent world is far from being as well governed as the physical world.”[38] The distinction comes from how well those ruled by these laws follow them. A human being, Montesquieu declares, “constantly violates the laws god has established and changes those he himself establishes.”[39] He does so due to the possibilities and the limitations on his capacity to feel and to know. In other words, in his capacity to learn.

Thus, education for Montesquieu is a process of showing, of revealing what otherwise is concealed. At the end of Book I, Chapter 1, Montesquieu returns to particular fields of knowledge to call each to the task of reminding. He does so by giving examples both of what man loses without persistent education and how law, broadly defined, can bolster against that loss. Returning to theology, its instructors must know that “[s]uch a being [man] could at any moment forget his creator; god has called him back to him by the laws of religion.”[40] To the philosopher, Montesquieu says he must recall that “[s]uch a being could at any moment forget himself; philosophers have reminded him of himself by the laws of morality.” To the study of politics, its teachers must never forget regarding man that “[m]ade for living in society, he could forget his fellows” and that “legislators have returned him to his duties by political and civil laws.”[41] In each instance, Montesquieu describes education as involving the constant task of remembrance. This task, moreover, involves the remembrance of law—of the nature of God, of man, of the world—and the necessary relationships subsisting between them.

Montesquieu therefore argues that education is both possible and precarious. Humans possess the capability to learn through both their feelings and their reason, with the latter’s acquisition of knowledge being the higher capacity. At the same time, acquiring knowledge is difficult and constantly in threat of falling away through man’s proneness to forget. Education, though a possible thing, is one in need of constant care, constant cultivation.

Education’s Purpose

Finally, beyond its (tenuous) possibility, Montesquieu asserts education’s objective. To understand its purpose, we must dig deeper into the concept of human knowledge. What does it mean for humans to acquire it? What does the answer to this question tell us about education’s objective? Montesquieu answers these questions when he contrasts knowledge of “the nature of things” to the holding of what he calls “prejudices.” He first describes his own work in terms of this contrast: “I did not draw my principles from my prejudices but from the nature of things.”[42] Prejudices are something to be avoided, their absence a praiseworthy trait in The Spirit of the Laws. Montesquieu then states that he hopes this virtue in his own work will result in a similar effect on his readers. He in fact declares that “I would consider myself the happiest of mortals if I could make it so that men were able to cure themselves of their prejudices.”[43] The Spirit of the Laws itself holds the potential to help limit, even at times to remove, human prejudice.

More than merely defending The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu here points to the purpose of education. Education’s goal resides in mimicking Montesquieu’s own effort, in replacing prejudice with knowledge of the nature of things. To further understand this claim, we must unpack what Montesquieu means by prejudices in contrast to nature. He at one point defines prejudice as “not what makes one unaware of certain things but what makes one unaware of oneself.”[44] Prejudice, then, lay in a lack of self-knowledge. But what, specifically, about oneself are we unaware? Here we must recall that prejudice contrasts to knowing “the nature of things.” If prejudice involves not knowing oneself, then its opposite is knowledge of one’s own, human nature. In this sense, prejudice means ignorance of the law of man, either in its universal status or its application to specific human beings—not knowing one’s nature entails not understanding the necessary relations stemming from that nature.

One, however, might take Montesquieu’s point too narrowly, focused as it seems on the self. May this prejudice prove limited in scope, only applying internally and not to other persons, to God, to beasts, or to any other form of existence? This perspective seems unlikely. Ignorance of self does not stop with the self. For it is the self that perceives and that interacts with the rest of the world. Knowledge of one’s own nature forms the basis for other knowledge. As we distort our own nature, we subsequently twist our understanding of our relationship to the rest of existence. Thereby, we distort our study of law. Therefore, Montesquieu’s curing of prejudice, to think in Aristotelian terms, is to move from opinion to knowledge. Education is this curing, this movement. Beginning with oneself, it extends to all law, to knowledge in all its forms.

In discussing this purpose, Montesquieu also describes why one should desire its attainment. What good results in moving from prejudice to knowledge? First, Montesquieu argues for its importance to a political community. Prejudices result in the downfall of regimes, knowledge of nature in their maintenance, even improvement. In The Spirit of the Laws’ most famous book, Book 11, Montesquieu notes that all polities seek two goals. The common goal of each is “to maintain themselves,” a form of self-preservation writ-large. All political communities also pursue another goal—a reason for existing beyond mere self-perpetuation. This goal varies according to regime—religion for the Hebrews, commerce for Marseilles, expansion for Rome.[45] To seek both goals, regimes must know themselves—what it takes for them to survive, what actions align with their particular purpose. Montesquieu speaks of the lack of this knowledge in terms of prejudice. He argues that “[t]he prejudices of magistrates began as the prejudices of the nation.”[46] Healthy regimes, therefore, must cultivate knowledge of nature and root out harmful prejudice. And they must do so in ruler and ruled alike. Since prejudices in the ruler often originate as prejudices of the general spirit, Montesquieu declares that “[i]t is not a matter of indifference that the people be enlightened.”[47] The society as a whole must receive an education if the society as a whole is to truly sustain its existence and its own purpose.

Second, the curing of prejudices redound to the advantage of individuals. In particular, removal of prejudice reduces the experience of despotism—the form of government Montesquieu early on claims to be legitimate yet which he then spends the rest of the work undermining. “The prejudices of superstition” for instance, “are greater than all other prejudices” in Montesquieu’s view.[48] Superstition can exercise a totalizing grip on those who hold it. This totalizing grip often goes hand-in-hand with despotism, giving supposed divinity to rulers, for instance, that then justifies their capricious, often cruel whims. Prejudices like superstition thereby distort and abuse human beings. Its counter—knowing the nature of things— on the other hand results in the protection of individuals in their persons and their liberty. Summarizing this point in discussing the institution of slavery, Montesquieu claims that “[k]nowledge makes men gentle, and reason inclines toward humanity; only prejudices cause these to be renounced.”[49]

Montesquieu is far from utopian in how far education can go in fulfilling its purpose. In fact, he describes honor, the defining principle of Monarchy, as “a prejudice” which legislators must refine, mitigate, and use. At the same time, he reiterates the need to limit prejudices’ existence as well as their pernicious exercise. A true education partakes of both benevolent tasks.

In doing so, Montesquieu reiterates the difficulty of education. He states regarding his own book that “[m]any times I began this work and many times abandoned it; a thousand times I cast to the winds the pages I had written; every day I felt my paternal hands drop.”[50] The difficulty stemmed in part from his own attempts to overcome prejudice in search of nature. In his Preface, he notes that his work on The Spirit of the Laws that “I followed my object without forming a design; I knew neither rules nor exceptions.”[51] Montesquieu did not begin with preconceptions that he must affirm. Doing so would leave ample room for prejudice, for a lack of self-knowledge. But doing so is also common, easy, and sometimes imperceptible.

But the task, while difficult, can bear fruit. As Montesquieu argues about man in general, education is possible. He declares regarding his own efforts that:

I have set down the principles, and I have seen particular cases conform to them as if by themselves, the histories of all nations being but their consequences, and each particular law connecting with another law or dependent on a more general one.[52]

Montesquieu, then, also explains education’s purpose in terms of law. Human education must seek to remove or mitigate prejudice in search of the nature of things. This understanding of nature itself results in better comprehension of the resulting necessary relations. Good for the community and for the individual, this difficult task of education remains for Montesquieu a task understandable as the study of law.


The Spirit of the Laws, then, is a work about education. In defining law as he does, Montesquieu sets up its study as a common ground for all academic fields. He furthermore defends education’s fragile possibility, based on man’s status as a “flexible being” capable of acquiring new feelings as well as new knowledge in the context of community. And Montesquieu articulates education’s purpose, the painstaking movement from prejudice to knowledge of nature for the good of individual and political community.

While describing education, Montesquieu’s volume also is a work of education. Through reading its discussion of man’s nature and its resulting, necessary relations, one can gain a wealth of learning about politics, human beings, and the various disciplines which contribute to these subjects. In both ways, he contributes to the long-standing discussion of education within political philosophy.

Through The Spirit of the Laws, too, one can get to the heart of teaching. Montesquieu declares that “[b]y seeking to instruct men one can practice the general virtue that includes love of all.”[53] Teaching involves not just the cultivation of virtue, but its practice. In particular, it involves the exercise of affection. The best teaching is an act of love—for the subject matter, for the student, for the truth. And in so doing, whether he knows it or not, a teacher practices self-love, engaging as he does in noble pursuits in community with others.

At the end of his Preface, Montesquieu declares “[i]f this work meets with success, I shall owe much of it to the majesty of my subject.”[54] The majesty of education’s main part lay in its content, in learning the great truths. That should be cause in teachers for humility. But Montesquieu adds, “still, I do not believe that I have totally lacked genius.”[55] The subject matters most. But the means matter as well. Teachers matter as well. Montesquieu concludes by declaring, with Corregio, that “I, too, am a painter,” thereby comparing The Spirit of the Laws to a work of art, his composition of it to the task of an artist. Yet he just as well could have made another comparison, one no less noble. Here he could have said that, along with Plato, Aristotle, and other political philosophers, that “I, too, am a teacher.”[56]


Works Cited

Aquinas, Treatise on Law, trans. Alfred J. Freddoso. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2009.

Hamilton, Alexander, John Jay, and James, Madison. The Federalist, Gideon Ed. eds. George W. Carey and James McClellan. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001.

Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. Boston: Lilly & Waite, 1832.

Locke, John. Some Thoughts Concerning Education and of the Conduct of the Understanding. eds. Ruth W. Grant and Nathan Tarcov. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1996.

Montesquieu. The Spirit of the Laws, eds. and trans. Anne M. Cohler, Basia C. Miller & Harold S. Stone. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Anti-Education: On the Future of Our Educational Institutions, eds. Paul Reitter and Chad Wellsom, trans. Damion Sears. New York: NRYB Classics, 2015.

            . Untimely Meditations. Ed. Daniel Breazeale, trans. R. J. Hollingdale. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Plato. The Republic, trans. Alan Bloom. New York: Basic Books, 1968.

Rahe, Paul A. Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Emile or On Education, trans. Allan Bloom. New York: Basic Books, 1979.



[1] Plato, The Republic, trans. Alan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1968); John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education and of the Conduct of the Understandingm eds. Ruth W. Grant and Nathan Tarcov (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1996); Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile or On Education, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1979); Friedrich Nietzsche, Anti-Education: On the Future of Our Educational Institutions, eds. Paul Reitter and Chad Wellsom, trans. Damion Sears (New York: NRYB Classics, 2015); Nietzsche, “Schopenhauer as Educator” in Untimely Meditations. Ed. Daniel Breazeale, trans. R. J. Hollingdale. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997); John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971).

[2] Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, eds. and trans. Anne M. Cohler, Basia C. Miller & Harold S. Stone (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 3.

[3] Consider the subtitle of Paul A. Rahe’s book, Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty: War, Religion, Commerce, Climate, Terrain, Technology, Uneasiness of Mind, the Spirit of Political Vigilance, and the Foundations of the Modern Republic. Paul A. Rahe, Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).

[4] Montesquieu, 3.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 4.

[11] Ibid., 3.

[12] Ibid., 310.

[13] Ibid., 4.

[14] Studying the laws’ spirit showcases this point. This spirit forms a whole but one can only recognize that whole through understanding each contributing part, both in itself and in relation to the others. And the spirit is comprised of many, many particulars, the separating of which in real circumstances proves difficult if not impossible.

[15] Montesquieu, 5.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Montesquieu, 5.

[20] Ibid., 7.

[21] Ibid., 6.

[22] Ibid., 5.

[23] In making these distinctions, Montesquieu’s thoughts bear a striking resemblance to Thomas Aquinas’ argument that “there is an ordering of the precepts of the natural law that corresponds to the ordering of the inclinations” specifying those of “all substances,” those “in common with other animals” and those “proper to him [man].” See Aquinas, Treatise on Law, trans. Alfred J. Freddoso (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2009), 94.2

[24] Montesquieu, 3.

[25] Ibid., 8.

[26] Consider Aristotle’s discussion of speech versus voice in The Politics, Book 1.

[27] Montesquieu, 5.

[28] This fear sheds light on Montesquieu’s subsequent discussions of despotism. Despotism’s principle—its primary means of functioning—resides in the use of fear. Knowledge’s capacity to enhance fear also enhances the ability, as well as the danger, to rule humans despotically as opposed to animals.

[29] Montesquieu, xliv.

[30] Ibid., xliv-xlv.

[31] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (Boston: Lilly & Waite, 1832), 170.

[32] Montesquieu, 6.

[33] Ibid., 5.

[34] Ibid., 4.

[35] Ibid., 5.

[36] Montesquieu’s articulation of why man disobeys both laws of his own creation and those of created nature bears a resemblance to arguments made by James Madison in Federalist 10. There, Madison explained that humans never would attain perfect, willing agreement. He described man’s “reason” as “fallible.” Furthermore, he writes that “as long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves.” See James Madison, “Federalist 10” in The Federalist, Gideon Ed. eds. George W. Carey and James McClellan (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001), 43.

[37] Montesquieu, 5.

[38] Ibid., 4.

[39] Ibid., 5.

[40] Ibid., 9.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid., xliii.

[43] Ibid., xliv.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., 156.

[46] Ibid., xliv.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid., 294.

[49] Ibid., 249.

[50] Ibid., xlv.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid., xliii

[53] Ibid., xliv.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid., xlv.

[56] Ibid.


Adam CarringtonAdam Carrington

Adam Carrington

Adam M. Carrington is an Assistant Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College. His scholarly and teaching interests include Constitutional Law; Politics and Literature; and the theory of Separation of Powers.

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