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Montesquieu's Liberalism and the Problem of Universal Politics


  • Date Published: November 2018
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781108428170

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About the Authors
  • Dubbed 'the oracle' by no less an authority than James Madison, Montesquieu stands as a theoretical founder of the liberal political tradition. But equally central to his project was his account of the relationship of law to each nation's particular customs and place, a teaching that militates against universal political solutions. This teaching has sometimes been thought to stand in tension with his liberal constitutionalism. In this book, Keegan Callanan argues that Montesquieu's political particularism and liberalism are complementary and mutually reinforcing parts of a coherent whole. In developing this argument, Callanan considers Montesquieu's regime pluralism, psychological conception of liberty, approach to political reform, and account of 'the customs of a free people', including the complex interaction of religion and commerce. Callanan concludes that, by re-orienting our understanding of liberalism and redirecting our attention toward liberty's distinctive preconditions, a return to Montesquieu's political philosophy leaves us better prepared to confront liberal democracy's contested claim to universality.

    • Offers a fresh, unifying account of Montesquieu's political philosophy that explores the connections between Montesquieu's politics of liberty and his extensive analysis of the relationship between place, culture, and political institutions
    • Considers the ancient and modern influences that shape Montesquieu's particularist liberalism
    • Demonstrates the relevance of Montesquieu's thought to problems and questions in contemporary liberal theory and practice
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'A thorough, searching study of Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws, the grandest and most comprehensive modern work on politics. Keegan Callanan explains its unique form of particularist liberalism, reviews and renews the scholarly controversies, and shows how Montesquieu intends 'to equip reformers, not merely to warn them'. With this elegant guide, Callanan aims to rouse today's liberalism from its lazy and misleading abstractions.' Harvey C. Mansfield, Harvard University, Massachusetts

    'Keegan Callanan's brilliant book, explaining how universal principles should be applied in a multicultural world, shows us how Montesquieu is still perfectly relevant for us today.' Céline Spector, University of Paris-Sorbonne

    'This masterful new book by Keegan Callanan goes to the heart of Montesquieu's effort to develop a theory of liberal government grounded on a universal moral foundation yet attuned to the particular needs of specific times, places and conditions. Callanan's study extends beyond The Spirit of the Laws to treat critical issues about the future of liberal regimes in a more globalized world. With this work Callanan establishes himself as an important new figure in the fields of democratic theory and the history of political philosophy.' James W. Ceaser, University of Virginia

    'In this lucid study of Montesquieu, Keegan Callanan presents to us the foremost liberal thinker whose strong commitment to liberal principles leads to an appreciation for the ways different constitutional forms can be compatible with these principles. At the same time, Callanan demonstrates that Montesquieu insists upon the need for liberal mores and manners that support, without being alien to, liberalism. Rousseau once said that Montesquieu 'knows how to teach by the things he says and by those he makes one think'. Callanan helps Montesquieu's teaching effort by bringing his thoughts to light.' Christopher Kelly, Boston College, Massachusetts

    'Two of the most celebrated and fundamental elements of Montesquieu's thought, his respect for cultural diversity and his embrace of liberal constitutionalism, are often thought to be at odds with one another. This deeply researched, consistently thoughtful, and finely crafted study shows that Montesquieu's critique of universalism is not only compatible with his liberalism, but flows directly from it as a matter of principle. Indeed, Callanan argues that today's liberals can and should learn from his combination of the two.' Dennis Rasmussen, Tufts University, Massachusetts

    'With lively prose and remarkable efficiency, Callanan (Middlebury) contrasts two variants of liberalism. … Given the length of Montesquieu's own 1748 work on the subject … [Callanan] provides an engaging summary and analysis that is relatively short but powerful and relevant. Readers gain not only an insightful overview of Montesquieu's landmark arguments but also of the challenges free societies face generally.' G. A. Moots, Choice

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2018
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781108428170
    • length: 312 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 160 x 22 mm
    • weight: 0.58kg
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    1. Montesquieu and classical particularism
    2. Montesquieu and humanist constitutionalism
    3. Regime pluralism
    4. Understanding liberal culture
    5. Religion, secularism, and liberal society
    6. 'The spirit of tolerance and gentleness'
    7. Political change and the psychology of liberty

  • Author

    Keegan Callanan, Middlebury College, Vermont
    Keegan Callanan holds the Christian A. Johnson Junior Professorship in Political Thought at Middlebury College, Vermont. His research and writing have appeared in publications such as History of Political Thought, Political Research Quarterly, and The Wall Street Journal. He has held visiting fellowships at the University of Virginia and Princeton University. A graduate of Bowdoin College, Callanan received his Ph.D. from Duke University, North Carolina.

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