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Notes from Republicanism on Montesquieu

On Montesquieu:

The data that Montesquieu is using is not reliable, besides he is a racist against Chinese. What is interesting is his discussion of geopolitics and states.

So for Mont, the larger the size of the state the less likely it is to be a republic.

Large Despotism
Medium Monarchy (aristocratic almost)
Small Republic

The explanation for why this is so has to do with interior balancing (as complement to external and internal balancing in international realm) and the dynamics of rebellion and revolution.

The question has to do with how many are needed to overthrow the elites. In small polities let us say the elites are a hundred and the masses are a thousand. In this situation it is not difficult because collective action is easier to organize. If you need a ration of one to two to overthrow elites in this case you only need to organize two hundred individuals. Additionally proximity to tyrant makes him an easy target and makes tyranny felt strongly among the population.

If we have an elite of 10 million on a 100 million mass population , the coalition of citizens needed to topple tyrants via collective action is much more difficult, nearly impossible. Although things such as increase in communication and transportation technology improve the capability of communication, it also improves the capability of repression as well.

Montesqieu has a typology of regimes with having different Species/natures and different principle/spirit (civic personality, dominant norms, common mentality)

There are 3 type of regimes republic monarchy and despot. Republics is the combination of many and few in which neither rule. Monarchy which is few combined to one, and despotism in which there is noi check whatsoever on one. So Montesqieu was in favor of aristocrats because they checked the king though later this owuld be seen as reactionary on his behalf.

Structure Principle/Ethos 
Popular state Virtue
Aristocracy Moderation
Monarchy Honor (which leads to war)
Despotism Fear

To deal with the problems of scale in statehood and loss of freedom, Montesqieu proposes four recommendations that will overcome this problem.

  1. Security Liberalism: A person is not free until they are free from the fear of the state. No arbitrary powers.
  2. Separation of powers: Separation of powers ensures that despotism will not arise. Three different powers judicial, legislative, and executive. (the point here as prof Deudeny understands it is tat the powers are shared by the different bodies. So judiciary body, executive body, and legislative body all share in the three powers creating checks and balances.
  3. Confederate republic: Point 2 and 3 are the key innovations that enable republics to break the size barrier. large size is desirable in international realm because it prevents other powers from beating you up., But you do not want to slip into tyranny. It had been a rule that one had to choose one or the other international strength or internal liberty. Montesquieu provides a way out of this.
  4. Commerce.  Another synthesis of already existing ideas. Once commerce reaches a critical mass and is anchored in a strong state, it will promote a phase shift in  the entire system with regard to despotic power. Capacity of despot to act arbitrarily and appropriate territory or money is limited because wealth will leave the country.

Note: What is the size of the ideal polity. I think Jefferson argued that it had to boiled down to what he called “wards” which consisted of hundreds of people not even thousand as the basic unit of political representation.

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