Montesquieu's complex natural right and moderate liberalism: The roots of American moderation

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7 Scopus citations


The diversity in twentieth-century scholarship on Montesquieu's The Spirit of Laws helps to confirm his own appreciation for complexity, synthesis, and balance in both political theory and practice. This is the overlooked meaning of "moderation, " the key to his labyrinthine masterwork. His liberalism sought to capture the multiple dimensions of politics and the equilibrium, or moderation, in nature and human nature. Moderation informs his constitutionalism of balanced powers but also a natural right encompassing individual interest and humane sympathy for fellows. Reading the entire work, as Montesquieu requests, reveals that moderation and complexity provide its very plan and coherence-from its title, to its six-part structure, to its balancing of philosophy with humane letters. His natural right emphasizes tranquillity and political moderation, tempering modern liberalism with classical and medieval elements. Montesquieu's synthesis of such alternatives, and of the individual and social dimensions of our nature, also lends perspective on recent liberal theory and its critics. Both Rawlsian and communitarian concerns are better served by a tradition of theory that comprehends both, and which better captures the complexity of American political thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-250
Number of pages24
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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