- On Political Liberty: Montesquieu’s Missing Manuscript
- Political Theory
- Volume | Issue number
- 39 | 2
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
This essay draws attention to the importance of Montesquieu’s earliest and unpublished writings on liberty for our understanding of the famous eleventh book of the Spirit of the Laws. Montesquieu’s investigation of the nature and preconditions of liberty, the author argues, was much more polemical than it is usually assumed. As an analysis of his notebooks shows, Montesquieu set out to wrest control over the concept of liberty from the republican admirers of classical antiquity, a faction that he believed to be dangerously populist and revolutionary. In order to do so, Montesquieu came up with a redefinition of the concept of liberty that allowed him to argue that monarchical subjects could be just as free as republican citizens. This conclusion has important implications not just for our understanding of Montesquieu’s writings but also and more broadly for our understanding of the intellectual history of liberalism.
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