The Roman Republic in Montesquieu and Rousseau
Posted: 22 Feb 2011
Montesquieu and Rousseau both use the example of the Roman Republic in their works to explore the desirable yet irretrievable aspects of ancient republics. Yet, the real work that Rome has been doing in their works has been largely neglected. Montesquieu’s Considerations on the Greatness of the Romans and Spirit of the Laws use the Roman example to present a theory of political association to which Rousseau’s competing theory in the Social Contract responds. I show that in opposition to the usual picture of Montesquieu as an advocate of institutional design, he relies on correcting mores rather than institutions to ensure a stable state while being agnostic about regime types and largely unconcerned with legitimacy. Rousseau agrees that for a state to survive, a pragmatic approach is necessary, but he also argues that a theory of right is integral to a stable state, even if it requires dilution in order for it to be practicable. I argue that the Roman example serves as a battleground for the competing theories of these two powerhouse political philosophers. Rome is a model for what history can teach us and shows the manner and extent of the faith of these authors in the possibility for change in the political realm.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation