esprit des lois

esprit des lois  (es prē dā lwȧ´), spirit of the laws.
Esprit des Lois  [es-prē´ dâ lwa  (or, Spirit of the Laws )].—A celebrated philosophical work by Montesquieu, published at Geneva in 1748. The author begins somewhat formally with the old division of politics into democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. He discusses the principles of each, and their bearings on education, on positive law, on social conditions, on military strength (offensive and defensive) on individual liberty, on taxation and finance. Then an abrupt return is made from the effects to the causes of constitutions and polity. The theory of the influence of physical conditions, and especially of climate, on political and social institutions—a theory which is perhaps more than any other identified with the book—received special attention, and a somewhat disproportionate space is given to the question of slavery in this connection. From climate Montesquieu passes to the nature of the soil as in its turn affecting civil polity. He then attacks the subject of manners and customs as distinct from laws of trade and commerce, of the family, of jurisprudence, of religion. The book concludes with an elaborate examination of the feudal system in France.