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Montesquieu's Teaching on the Dangers of Extreme Corrections: Japan, the Catholic Inquisition, and Moderation in The Spirit of the Laws


Explicitly and implicitly in The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu binds together the Japanese who persecute Christians and the Inquisitors of Catholicism who persecute heretics. In seeking purity, both sets of vehement reformers impose atrocious punishments. In so binding the abuses of the East and West together, the work is an expression neither of Orientalism nor of Eurocentrism as conventionally understood. Although Montesquieu thus offers a critical approach to Europe's vulnerability to reformers who go to extremes, whether pious zealots who seek to perpetuate Christianity or zealous Enlightenment philosophes who would seek to eradicate it, many commentators have focused on the work's apparent neutrality with regard to the various cultural phenomena it examines. The key to understanding Montesquieu's reserved tone lies in his commitment to moderation. Given the West's continuing vulnerability to extremism of various types, Montesquieu's moderate teaching on the need for moderation in corrections remains pressingly relevant.

Corresponding author
Nathaniel Gilmore is Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Sidney Smith Hall, Room 3018, 100 St. George Street, Toronto, ON M5S 3G3 ( Phone: 647-229-3867; Fax: 207-363-6401.
Vickie B. Sullivan is Cornelia M. Jackson Professor, Department of Political Science, Packard Hall, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155 ( Phone: 617-627-2328; Fax: 617-627-3660.
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An earlier version of this article was presented at the American Political Science Association convention in 2015 in San Francisco. We thank our respondent at that presentation Khalil Habib as well as Robert Devigne and Dennis Rasmussen for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. Our argument benefitted from the advice and suggestions of the reviewers and editors of the APSR. We are also grateful to Deborah Schildkraut and Samuel R. Sommers for offering insights from their respective areas of expertise. Finally, we thank Alexander Trubowitz for his editorial assistance.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
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