Reading Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws
I read Charles Montesquieu today. What a nice man!
Just the title says it all - 'The Spirit of Laws' - and you get immediately that this guy is switched on to things. Then you read and have the pleasant realization that most of his ideas have actually been put into practice in present day democracy; followed by the even greater pleasure of recognizing ideas about democracy that are completely new.
Why, for example, have we not considered eliminating a standing army (as he suggests for democracies) and conducting a kind of limited temporary draft? Montesquieu suggests either drafting the rich and independent farmers (and wouldn't they have something to whinge about then!) or else use the criminal class as cannon fodder. Edward de Bono would be proud.
Then again, some things Monty says are outright bizarre. He reckons you can't have big democracies because of two problems. First, people care less for large states, and care more for a state the size of a city. Second, the Rupert Murdoch's and Bill Gates' of this world can use their wealth to sway democracy towards their favor.
The first problem seems largely solved by federalism: we can feel patriotic about being a "Texan" rather than a US citizen, or a "New South Welshman" instead of an Australian. The second problem is simply solved by anti-trust and anti-competition laws, as part of the apparatus of economics. But then again, economics is evidently not Baron Montesquieu's bag.
But the explanation of checks and balances, and the outline of the guiding principles behind the rise and fall of democracies, monarchies and tyrannies, is brilliant and obvious the moment you read it. How could he have anticipated the bushels of bureaucrats that would arise from his simple principle of having different authorities balancing one anothers' power? And, can we do better now?
I think we can do better. Doctor David R. Hawkins' new science of diplomacy, based on consciousness research, can identify the false balance from the real now, and detect from competing authorities whom is the true, and whom the false. But David R. Hawkins' exciting work is another story altogether.
Montesquieu's writing is cool and simple. I found his distinction between the form and the substance of the laws remarkably eastern, and the subtlty of his distinctions refreshingly open-minded. He doesn't tell you, but invites you to look at it with him. Nice guy, Montesquieu.