American Political Science Review

Research Article

The Design of Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws: The Triumph of Freedom over Determinism


a1 University of Notre Dame and Witherspoon Institute


One of the perennial puzzles of Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws is whether it has a coherent design. Although the dominant line of thinking is that this work has no unified structure, another believes it to have some organizing principle, even though proposals as to what it may be have failed to convince for lack of ability to account for various features of the work. I propose that The Spirit of the Laws is organized in a dialectical way, juxtaposing the antitheses of human freedom and determination. The tension between these is manifest in the first half of the work and resolved in the middle, and human freedom worked out and advanced in the second half. This article solves the long-standing question of the design of The Spirit of the Laws and reveals that the work's ultimate purpose is to champion human liberty over determination, contrary to the views of those who read the work as deterministic.


c1 Ana J. Samuel is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at University of Notre Dame and Research Scholar at the Witherspoon Institute, 16 Stockton Street, Princeton, NJ 08540 (


I thank the Witherspoon Institute and Earhart Foundation for their patient support; my dissertation advisor, Michael Zuckert; the coeditors and reviewers of the APSR, as well as Michael Sugrue, for helpful comments; and Robert P. George and Luis E. Tellez for their encouragement during the completion of this article.