Montesquieu' 'The Spirit of the Laws'

Montesquieu' 'The Spirit of the Laws'

A Critical Edition

Edited and translated by W. B. Allen

The Spirit of the Laws is the canonical text of modern republicanism and the English translation – always deficient heretofore – is critical to an appreciation of those deliberations that led to adoption of the Constitution of the United States. The present update recovers the sense of the original French.

PDF, 950 Pages


January 2024

£50.00, $64.95

EPUB, 950 Pages


January 2024

£50.00, $64.95

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About This Book

The Spirit of the Laws not only systematizes the foundational ideas of “separation of powers” and “balances and checks,” it provides the decisive response to the question of whether power in the nation-state can be limited in the aftermath of the Westphalian settlement of 1648. It describes a civilizational change through which power becomes domesticated, with built-in resistance to attempts to absolutize (or make total) political power. As such, it is the Bible of modern politics, now made more accessible to English readers than it ever has been.

There have been in English only two prior translations of this work that first appeared in 1748. The deficiencies of those two efforts have been broadly identified in the scholarship. Although the text is still used with regularity in university instruction (having been recovered after a lull in the 1950s and 60s), it deserves – and now receives – a presentation that enhances its usefulness in the analysis both of politics and the philosophical foundations of human life.

Montesquieu’s singularity – the first secular argument against race-based slavery and only the second secular argument against the servitude of women – provides a special heritage for the modern word to preserve and a key to making operational those fundamental insights within the context of sustained political and cultural development. The replacement of blood and tribe with the universal attributes of humanity (while recognizing the highly variable ecologies of communities) constitutes the single-most important moral and political development of the modern world. And The Spirit of the Laws bears a primary responsibility for that accomplishment.


Bill Allen has been wrestling with Montesquieu’s œuvre now for more than fifty years; and, to his great credit, he has resisted the propensity, nearly universal among scholars, to treat the French philosopher as a partisan of one or another form of government. In this brilliant, provocative book, he challenges the consensus that the author of The Spirit of the Laws was a liberal on the Lockean model by drawing attention to passages on natural law in that work that do not fit this hypothesis. Then he elaborates an account of Montesquie’s thinking that places him in between Plato and Aristotle, on the one hand, and Hobbes and Locke, on the other. No one who reads this work with care and ruminates on the implication of Allen’s argument can rest satisfied with the reigning orthodoxy. —Paul A. Rahe, Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage, Hillsdale College Roger and Martha Mertz Vising Fellow in Classics, The Hoover Institution

In his new translation and commentary on The Spirit of the Laws, W. B. Allen has unveiled the plan, structure, and political profundity of Monesquieu's magnum opus. He has also captured that oh-so-very elusive idea of "esprit" that restlessly occupies the nucleus of Montesquieu’s work. Allen's book is a show of philosophical brilliance revealing philosophical brilliance, set against a backdrop of political moderation and hushed grandeur. -- Colleen Sheehan, Professor of Politics with the School of Civic and Economic Thought at Arizona State University.

A wide-ranging, deeply reflective, and richly thought-provoking contribution to the study of Montesquieu and of his influence on the American constitutional tradition. -- Thomas L. Pangle, Joe R. Long Endowed Chair in Democratic Studies, Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin

Author Information

W. B. Allen studies and writes broadly in political philosophy and history, with special focus on traditions of self-government and liberalism.


No series for this title.

Table of Contents

Vol. 1 : The Spirit of the Laws by Montesquieu: Translator’s Preface; Author’s Foreword; Author’s Préface; Part One: Book I–Book VIII; Part Two: Book IX–Book XIII; Part Three: Book XIV–Book XIX; Part Four: Livre XX–Book XXIII; Part Five: Book XXIV–Livre XXVI; Part Six: Book XXVII–Book XXXI; Vol. 2 : The Mind behind the Laws; The Translation of Power.


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