The Specter of Rome in Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws.
Shufro, Zachary E.
- In his De L’Esprit des Lois, Montesquieu examines the laws and cultures of a wide range of countries, laying out the positive and negative aspects of their political systems. His particular areas of interest, in which he sees the supreme example of political liberty and one of the most grave failings of a government, respectively, are the governments of England and France. This thesis seeks t... read moreo examine the origins and structures of these two legal codes, in order to determine how and why the laws of England have as their fundamental nature the preservation of individual liberty, and why the laws of France fail to do so; I purport that Montesquieu believes this failing on the part of France is due to their wholesale adoption of a Roman-based legal code in the late XIIth century. While the laws of England remained unchanged in character and in fundamental spirit, the French legal and political system went through a series of rapid changes in the medieval period, from the Frankish structure of the Merovingian Dynasty, to the feudalism of the Carolingians, to the concentrated power of the king under the Capetians. Roman law, and the specter of Rome’s imperial majesty, play a fundamental role in this evolution; Montesquieu’s analysis of the development of the French government reveals this influence to its fullest extent. Ultimately, I seek to understand not only the manner in which English, French, and Roman law interplayed in the development of modern regimes in western Europe, but the significance that Montesquieu assigns to the end product’s evolution – or deviation – from its early beginnings.read less