Montesquieu, Charles de Secondat de (1689–1755)

Charles de Secondât, Baron de Montesquieu was a leading legal and social philosopher of the French Enlightenment. He is best known for the theory of separation of powers, which he advanced as a safeguard against arbitrary rule. Montesquieu's ideas deeply impressed the American Founders, particularly James Madison, and the U.S. Constitution owes much to Montesquieu's analysis of the nature of good government.

Montesquieu inherited great wealth and a magistracy in the parlement of Bordeaux—a regional law court, rather than a legislative body. In the 18th century, the parlements of France represented one of the few independent authorities in the French state, and Montesquieu learned much about government from firsthand experience. Often the parlements feuded with the monarchy; Montesquieu was to witness arbitrary power in the person ...

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