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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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Aristotle’s “Manner of Thinking” and the Deleterious Use of His Ideas

Aristotle’s “Manner of Thinking” and the Deleterious Use of His Ideas

(p.169) Chapter Six Aristotle’s “Manner of Thinking” and the Deleterious Use of His Ideas
Montesquieu and the Despotic Ideas of Europe

Vickie B. Sullivan

University of Chicago Press

In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu claims that Aristotle’s political ideas grew out of his jealousy of Plato and his passion for Alexander the Great. Like Aristotle, Montesquieu finds much to criticize in Plato’s legislation. But, as is argued in this chapter, Montesquieu also perceives a worrisome affinity between the two philosophers. In Aristotle’s writings, as in Plato’s, the Frenchman identifies misguided proposals to forbid commerce and to limit human reproduction. Especially repugnant for Montesquieu is Aristotle’s doctrine of natural slavery, as well as his recommendation for the enslavement of non-Greeks. Montesquieu lavishes Alexander with praise precisely because he spread commerce and recognized the equality of non-Greek peoples, casting aside the prejudicial lessons of his teacher. Regarding Aristotle’s influence in Christian Europe, Montesquieu charges the philosopher with promulgating an erroneous idea of monarchy that ignores the importance of constitutional restraints on the prince’s will. Moreover, he attributes to Aristotle’s teachings the Scholastic prohibition on lending at interest that perpetuated barbarities against European Jews. Uncovering the despotic prejudices behind Aristotle’s doctrines, Montesquieu seeks to relieve Europe of their deleterious influence.

Keywords:   Montesquieu, despotism, Aristotle, Plato, Alexander the Great, slavery, commerce, Scholasticism, representative assemblies, monetary interest

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