Montesquieu BaronCharles de

Montesquieu BaronCharles de

(1689-1755) French aristocrat and early sociological thinker, chiefly remembered for the account of his massive social investigations contained in The Spirit of the Laws (1748). Educated in natural history physiology and law, Montesquieu first came to the attention of Paris's social élite with the publication of his Persian Letters (1721), which examined familiar French customs from the point of view of the cultural outsider.

The Spirit of the Laws, however, is a more massive and seriously sociological study It consists of 31 books, written over a period of 20 years, examining different forms of government, ecological influences on social structure, culture, trade, population, religion and law.

Montesquieu's conception of the precondition of political liberty, which he valued, was a form of PLURALISM, i.e. that freedom depended on a balance of power distributed among various groups or institutions. He was among the first to examine the legal apparatus of society in its social context, and is thus regarded as a founding figure in the SOCIOLOGY OF LAW. Montesquieu is also remembered for his advocacy of EMPIRICISM, and his early delineation of Asiatic despotism (see ASIATIC MODE OF PRODUCTION AND ASIATIC SOCIETY).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000