The Weaker Sex and The Separation of Powers

“Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Baron De Montesquieu (1689-1755) was an 18th century French philosopher, political thinker and social commentator.  He was the first of the great French scholars associated with the Enlightenment a period in which the power of reason was brought to bear against the intolerance of religion and social norms.

Baron de Montesquieu

His ideas about the separation of powers had an enormous impact and became the basis for the United States Constitution.  Despotism he said was a danger for any government and he believed absolute power could be prevented by a system divided among the executive, legislature and a judiciary.

Despite Montesquieu’s belief in the principles of a democracy, he did not feel that all people were equal.  He approved of slavery and thought women were weaker than men and had to obey the commands of their husband.

However, Montesquieu also felt that women had the innate ability to govern:

It is against reason and against nature for women to be mistresses in the house… but not for them to govern an empire.  In the first case, their weak state does not permit them to be preeminent; in the second, their very weakness gives them more gentleness and moderation, which, rather than the harsh and ferocious virtues, can make for a good environment.

It was Montesquieu’s argument that women were too weak to be in control at home, but their calmness and gentleness would be helpful qualities in making decisions in government.

We Can Do It!Now in our day — 250 years later — with the likes of the late Geraldine Ferraro, Condoleezza Rice, Hilary Clinton and Michelle Bachman among many the United States sees women rising to prominence in government. It’s a sign of the times that if not my generation our children will most likely see our first woman President.

I’m reminded of a quote…

My idea has always been that if we could bring the mothers of the
various nations together then there would be no more war.

Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), from the movie “Howard’s End”

4 thoughts on “The Weaker Sex and The Separation of Powers

  1. Love the above comment about a search and destroy mission for Bin Laden. I’ll be snickering all day over that one! And strangely enough, though I sure don’t fully agree with this guys views about women and slavery on one hand, I do like the logic he uses with respect to government and women there! YES!

  2. Hi Rick,

    Great post. I really don’t know much about Montesquieu. I studied Michel de Montaigne quite a bit. I translated him for my graduate translation test. He predates Montesquieu. But my main focus during my MA was John Milton who was pretty close to a contemporary of Montesquieu. Now I’m curious to check if they ever talked about one another.

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