We shift from seventeenth-century England to eighteenth-century France and from the methodological individualism of Hobbes and Locke to the methodological collectivism of Montesquieu and Rousseau. Working from a perspective that there is a general will apart and above the sum of the opinions of individuals, Montesquieu's work focuses primarily on the law and on manners of governing rather than the question of who governs. Like Locke, Montesquieu argues that the powers of government should be separated. Montesquieu's plan of separation between executive, legislative, and judicial powers is what the United States Constitution follows. Montesquieu asserts that the climate and environment affect men as individuals as well as society. Although many of his specific ideas seem quite silly now, we must give credit to Montesquieu for being perhaps the first social and political thinker to seriously consider the environment.
Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws
- Part I, Book 1-3, pp. 3-30
- Part II, Book 11, Chapters 1-6, pp. 154-166
- Part III, Book 14, Chapter 1-1, pp. 231-234; Book 19, Chapter 27, pp. 325-333
- Part IV, Book 20, Chapters 1-4, pp. 337-341
This course provides an overview of major works of social thought from the beginning of the modern era through the 1920s. Attention is paid to social and intellectual contexts, conceptual frameworks and methods, and contributions to contemporary social analysis. Writers include Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Marx, Weber, and Durkheim.
This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Fall 2009.