Great Economists Since Petty and Boisguilbert
Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz
Chapter 6: Charles-Louis de Secondat de Montesquieu (1689–1755)
Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu (1689–1755) was born into an aristocratic family at La Brède near Bordeaux. He was educated by the Oratorians at the famous College of Juilly and later at Bordeaux Faculty of Law. He became a lawyer in 1708 and, in 1716, inherited from his uncle the prominent position of président à mortier in the Bordeaux parlement – at that time a court of justice. Apart from holding this venal office (which he sold in 1726), Montesquieu was also a landowner and a wine merchant. His fame in the Republic of Letters began in 1721 with the publication of the Lettres persanes (Persian Letters), a critique of absolutism and religion in the form of an epistolary novel. He followed it in 1734 with Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence (Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and of their Decline). Elected to the Académie de Bordeaux in 1716 and to the Académie française in 1728, he travelled throughout Europe, and especially in England, between 1728 and 1731. It was, however, with the publication of De l’esprit des lois (The Spirit of the Laws) in 1748 that he achieved universal acclaim in the world of political science. Montesquieu’s economic thinking is concentrated in this work (especially in books VII, XIII, XX–XXIII) even if the Lettres persanes and the Considérations contain reflections on John Law’s...