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Fearing Monarchs and Merchants: Montesquieu's Two Theories of Despotism

Roger Boesche
The Western Political Quarterly
Vol. 43, No. 4 (Dec., 1990), pp. 741-761
DOI: 10.2307/448734
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/448734
Page Count: 21
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Fearing Monarchs and Merchants: Montesquieu's Two Theories of Despotism
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Abstract

Although he did not invent the word despotism, Montesquieu more than any other author established it in our lexicon of political and politicized words. When we examine Montesquieu's concept of despotism, however, we see an attack on two forces undermining the status of the French nobility — an encroaching monarchy that sought to rule absolutely, and a tantalizing commercialism that threatened France with a licentious servitude. There are, as a consequence, two theories of despotism in the writings of Montesquieu. One theory, directed at his fear of monarchical power, is carefully developed, while the other theory emerges only obliquely in his ambivalent and anxious attitudes toward the new commercial world of the middle classes.

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