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The Design of Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws: The Triumph of Freedom over Determinism

  • ANA J. SAMUEL (a1)

One of the perennial puzzles of Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws is whether it has a coherent design. Although the dominant line of thinking is that this work has no unified structure, another believes it to have some organizing principle, even though proposals as to what it may be have failed to convince for lack of ability to account for various features of the work. I propose that The Spirit of the Laws is organized in a dialectical way, juxtaposing the antitheses of human freedom and determination. The tension between these is manifest in the first half of the work and resolved in the middle, and human freedom worked out and advanced in the second half. This article solves the long-standing question of the design of The Spirit of the Laws and reveals that the work's ultimate purpose is to champion human liberty over determination, contrary to the views of those who read the work as deterministic.

Corresponding author
Ana J. Samuel is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at University of Notre Dame and Research Scholar at the Witherspoon Institute, 16 Stockton Street, Princeton, NJ 08540 (
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Paul O. Carrese 2003. The Cloaking of Power: Montesquieu, Blackstone, and the Rise of Judicial Activism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Machiavelli . [1532] 1998. The Prince. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Paul A. Rahe 2001. “Forms of Government: Structure, Principle, Object and Aim.” In Montesquieu's Science of Politics: Essays on The Spirit of the Laws, eds. D. Carrithers , M.A. Mosher , and P.A. Rahe . Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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