SPIRIT OF LAWS, The (L'Esprit des Lois). °Montesquieu,' says Professor Gid °converted social philosophy into de scriptive social science." An eminent modern sociologist thus concisely summarizes the fun damental contribution of one of the most prom inent participants in that general intellectual movement which brought about the transforma tion of social philosophy into the modern science of sociology. The work which right fully entitled Montesquieu to this important distinction was (The Spirit of which appeared in 1748.
Spirit of Laws' has traditionally been regarded as primarily, if not entirely, a contribution to the literature of political theory and, more specifically, as the work which gave the doctrine of the °separation of powers' its vital impulse and made it both a persistent dogma in political science and a ciple in modern constitutions. Viewed in its broadest aspects, however, this major work of Montesquieu was more than the instrument for the promulgation of a single dogma in political theory; it was even more than an extensive treatise on general political theory; it was, in fact, a most significant and influential contribu tion to the literature and methodology of gen eral social science. (The Spirit of Laws' was differentiated from the contemporary works on political theory not only by the profundity and scope of its inquiry, but also through the method by which it approached the problem of the analysis of the chief factors in social and political organizations. It was the first great inductive and objective analysis of social and political processes since Aristotle's written some 2,000 years before. There had been plenty of semi-descriptive material in the works of earlier and contemporary writers, but this had been mainly concerned with scenes and episodes from biblical and classical mythology and history, in which the presentation of the exploits of Nimrod, Seth and Enoch and the heroes of Homer and Livy had been much more conspicuous than an analysis of contem porary societies. Montesquieu reflected the in fluence of the geographic discoveries of the two previous centuries by virtue of the fact that he turned his attention to the many and varied types of existing societies and sought his amen of nature" among living savages rather than among the mythical personages who had ex hibited their characteristics in the period before the °fall of man." The Spirit of Laws,' then, was as truly the point of departure for modern descriptive sociology as was Hume's of Human Nature' for psychological sociology.
By emphasizing the fact that wide observation must precede generalization, he gave a practi cal application in social science to the general methodological principles which had been ad vanced in natural science by Francis Bacon. This constitutes the enduring contribution of Montesquieu to the history of social science and political theory and it will remain unim paired long after his specific doctrines have become obsolete and forgotten.
Such is the general significance of the work of Montesquieu as set forth in The Spirit of Laws' ; his specific contributions may now be summarized. Among the more important of these was his conception of the origin and nature of law. Comte, in describing the signifi cance of Spirit of Laws,' said on this point: °The great strength of this memorable work appears to me to lie in its tendency to regard political phenomena as subject to in variable laws like all other phenomena? Mon tesquieu's definition of law as °the necessary relations springing out of the nature of things" was truly epoch-making, being in all probabil ity the first correct statement of what is now generally accepted as an accurate definition of a sociological law. From the different types of relationships there proceeded the various types of laws, as, for example, political law grows out of the relations of the governed and gov erning in any political community; and civil law out of the everyday relations between the individual citizens in the community. Laws, springing thus out of basic relationships, must be related to the partic,plar circumstances of a given society and its environing conditions. Laws are, therefore, natural and beneficial just in proportion as this perfect adaptability between a law and its social environment is attained. Finally, all types of laws are closely inter related and should be consistent in their totality. The highest achievement of human intelligence is to secure this consistency of all types of laws and to prevent the encroachment of any type upon the domain of another. The entirety of these relationships — of social groups and in dividuals giving rise to human laws; of laws to the social and physical environment, and of the different types of laws to each other, con stitutes the spirit of laws and Montesquieu's main task was to trace in sorr: detail the nature and results of these relationships.