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Virtue, commerce and moderation in the ‘tale of the troglodytes’: Montesquieu's Persian Letters

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Recent scholarship has stressed Montesquieu's theory of moderate politics, suggesting that these contradictions exist only when we assume that Montesquieu was extolling the merits of a specific species of government (democracy, aristocratic republic, or monarchy) rather than a type of government (moderate). But unresolved is the point at which Montesquieu became enamoured with moderate regimes. Without entering directly into this debate, I am proposing that an examination of the ‘Tale of the Troglodytes’ reveals that Montesquieu's interest in moderate government extends at least back to the time of the writing of the Persian Letters. Further, I want to suggest that Montesquieu was, in this tale, developing an idea which would become of profound importance to his Spirit of the Laws, and that is the question of participatory politics. In a word, the sequel to the ‘Tale of the Troglodytes’ suggests that the practice of commerce could, within the context of the moderate regime, teach citizens the skill of practical politics.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of New Brunswick at St. John.

Publication date: April 1, 1991


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