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Montesquieu, Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de

Montesquieu, Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de (1689–1755) Best known for his satirical commentary on early eighteenth century Parisian life (the Persian Letters, 1721) and for his later masterpiece The Spirit of the Laws (1748), Montesquieu was a leading figure of the French Enlightenment, and arguably one of the founding figures of modern social science. His work in political philosophy explicitly recognized cultural diversity and related the different types of government and law to locally prevailing conditions, institutions, and mores. These ideas were profoundly influential on the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment (especially Hume, Ferguson, and Smith). Montesquieu was also a formative influence on Émile Durkheim. Latter-day commentators have tended to scorn Montesquieu's inclusion of climate and terrain among those conditions which shape law and government, though the more recent concern with environmental questions may yet qualify that judgement. An excellent introduction to his work and its sociological significance is given in Raymond Aron's Main Currents in Sociological Thought (1965).

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