MONTESQUIEU, CHARLES LOUIS DE SECONDAT, BARON DE LA BREDE ET DE°


MONTESQUIEU, CHARLES LOUIS DE SECONDAT, BARON DE LA BREDE ET DE° (1689–1755), French writer and political philosopher. Montesquieu inherited the humanistic French tradition of Jean *Bodin, with his vision of a society tolerant toward all religions, including Judaism. His earliest statement on the Jews was in the Lettres Persanes (1721), 50, where he described Judaism as "a mother who has given birth to two daughters [Christianity and Islam] who have struck her a thousand blows." In L'Esprit des lois (25:13), published in 1748, he reacted to the burning of a ten-year-old Jewish girl by the *Inquisition with an eloquent denunciation cast in the form of an argument written by a Jew: "You complain [he said to the inquisitors] that the emperor of Japan is having all the Christians in his domain burnt on a slow fire; but he could answer you: 'We treat you, who do not believe as we do, as you treat those who do not believe as you do'… If you do not want to be Christian, at least be human." Nevertheless, he was not entirely uncritical of the Jews. Also in the Lettres persanes, his traveler writes: "Know that wherever there is money there are Jews." In a passage from Mélanges inédits, which was published posthumously (1892), the rabbinic texts are considered to have fashioned the low taste and character of the Jews, for there was not "one among [the rabbis] of even a minor order of genius." But this private opinion of Montesquieu at his most Christian was unknown in the 18th century. His relativistic view, which ran counter to *Voltaire's absolute deism in favor of an appreciation of the Jew and Judaism as one of the many valid forms of culture and religion, was one that influenced history.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

J. Weill, in: REJ, 49 (1904), 150ff.; R.R. Lambert, in: Univers Israélite, 94 (1938/39), 421ff.; R. Shackleton, Montesquieu… (Eng., 1961), 354–5; A. Ages, in: Romanische Forschungen, 81 (1969), 214ff.; A. Hertzberg, French Enlightenment and the Jews (1968), index; L. Poliakov, Histoire de l'antisémitisime, 3 (1968), index.

[Arthur Hertzberg]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.