Despotism Is All Around Us: The Warnings of Montesquieu

Vickie Sullivan

Aeon | 2018

“If legal barriers sometimes fail to protect us from miniature despots, then political despotism is not as distant as many think. Montesquieu, the 18th-century French philosopher who brought the term ‘despotism’ into our political vocabulary, would not be surprised at the disjunction between the putative liberty of our society and the experience many have as the victims of irresponsible power within it. In The Spirit of the Laws (1748), he shows that despotism is an ever-present danger and a persistent threat to human flourishing everywhere and always. Even those fortunate to live outside the borders of a despotic government can still be victimised by despotic practices. In response, Montesquieu teaches that the unmasking of despotism must remain a central endeavour in social and political life.”

“Charles de Montesquieu,” Artist Unknown, courtesy Liberty Fund

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