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Montesquieu and the Despotic Ideas of EuropeAn Interpretation of "The Spirit of the Laws"$
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Vickie B. Sullivan

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226482910

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226483078.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 24 July 2021

The Greatness of Machiavelli and the Despotic Disease of His Politics—Both Princely and Republican

The Greatness of Machiavelli and the Despotic Disease of His Politics—Both Princely and Republican

(p.23) Chapter One The Greatness of Machiavelli and the Despotic Disease of His Politics—Both Princely and Republican
Montesquieu and the Despotic Ideas of Europe

Vickie B. Sullivan

University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines the few references to Machiavelli in The Spirit of the Laws to reveal the extent and depth of Montesquieu’s engagement with the Florentine thinker. Although Montesquieu equivocally acknowledges his predecessor’s eminent status by calling him a great man, it becomes clear that he attributes to Machiavelli a dangerous political prejudice that has taken root, among other places, in France’s royal family. This chapter makes clear, however, that Montesquieu is no conventional anti-Machiavelli. He finds cause for concern not only in the notorious teachings of The Prince, but also in the severe republicanism that Machiavelli promotes in the Discourses on Livy. Machiavelli’s unreserved admiration for early Rome — including its unchecked accusations, collective judgments, and harsh penalties — blatantly conflicts with the principles of criminal judgment that Montesquieu advances in The Spirit of the Laws. Indeed, Montesquieu associates many of the tenets of Machiavelli’s republicanism with despotic rule. Nowhere is this odious connection more apparent than in Machiavelli’s recommendation of fear as a political instrument. This chapter also expounds Montesquieu’s cure for Machiavellianism in his proposal for a middle way that is consonant with both political liberty and true greatness.

Keywords:   Montesquieu, Niccolò Machiavelli, despotism, republicanism, tyranny, political liberty, Machiavellianism, ancient Rome, Cesare Borgia

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