|About the Book|
“Everyone is convinced that this book lacks method, that there is neither plan nor order and that after one has read it one doesnt know what he has read.”So ran Voltaire’s blunt assessment of Montesquieu’s lifes work, the landmark DE L’ESPRIT DESMore“Everyone is convinced that this book lacks method, that there is neither plan nor order and that after one has read it one doesnt know what he has read.”So ran Voltaire’s blunt assessment of Montesquieu’s lifes work, the landmark DE L’ESPRIT DES LOIS (ON THE SPIRIT OF LAWS, 1748), in a critique that has resonated among perplexed readers to this day.Montesquieu remains best known for only one of the ESPRITs six hundred chapters, articulating a concept that became foundational for the American constitution—the formal separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers—but which he explicitly sought to supersede.Based on a Cambridge Ph.D. thesis, ANARCHY WITH A TENDENCY TO ORDER seeks to recover Montesquieus own meaning by placing his work in its historical context.Taking its cues from an eclectic and now obscure array of targets and foils, it demonstrates how Montesquieu sought to couch an unnatural political argument—that modern states could in fact become more stable by prioritising private rights over the public good, and restraining their own proclivity for territorial expansion—in a way that might make it palatable to his target audience of conventionally-minded French policymakers. This entailed using old terms in new ways, distancing himself from his more controversial influences, and remaining silent on the extent to which he was turning received wisdom on its head.The price of this heuristic strategy was steeper than Montesquieu bargained for. Casual readers, particularly outside of France, were left fascinated but bewildered by the ESPRITs meagre description of human nature, its cryptic allusions, its exhaustive (and exhausting) study of French feudalism. Most responded by selectively engaging with the elements they could grasp, rather than the theory as a whole.Yet the more astute, including Rousseau and many members of the Scottish Enlightenment, perceived and built on an intellectual achievement far more coherent and sophisticated than anachronistic labels later hung on the work would suggest.Drawing on an extensive array of published and unpublished primary sources, including Montesquieus own library and private papers, ANARCHY WITH A TENDENCY TO ORDER traces the lines of Montesquieus polemic as the author himself saw it—what he was trying to say, what he was up against, and how he sought to get around.This fresh approach casts DE LESPRIT DES LOIS in a light that’s as instructive for contemporary political theorists as intellectual historians. Neither ancien regime apology nor liberal manifesto, Montesquieus theory emerges as a critical bridge between two pivotal aspects of the modern theory of the state—the seventeenth century emphasis on its military function, and the later focus on its role in the economy—in short, between Thomas Hobbes and Adam Smith.