Montesquieu on Geography – a Necessitarian or Pre-Geopolitical Paradigm?

Adam Danek

Montesquieu’s thought on geography used to be connected with intellectual tradition of geographical determinism (furthermore, as one of its most typical cases). On the other hand, it has recently been included in the so-called “pre-geopolitics”: reflection on the influence of geographic factors on political phenomena, which has been developing since Antiquity and preceded the emergence of geopolitics as a modern academic current. The article shows that linking Montesquieu with geographic determinism in previous source literature is unjustifiable, while the ideas of this French philosopher, which refer to geography turn out to be close to modern geopolitical thought. The opponents of geopolitics similarly accused its exponents of professing geographic determinism. The classical geopoliticians of Germany (K. Haushofer, A. Grabowsky, O. Maull) and France (J. Brunhes) regarded the author of The Spirit of the Laws as a forerunner of geopolitics. The eminent French (Brunhes, C. Vallaux, L. Febvre) and American (E. Churchill Semple) geographers imputed to Montesquieu the necessitarian point of view, which is particularly noticeable in his supposed absolutization of climatic influence on the development of civilization. The author shows that Montesquieu was not an adherent of geographical determinism, since he affirmed that autonomous human actions and immaterial factors (such as traditions, mores or institutions) can prevail over the effects of geographic factors in the history of particular countries. In this matter the ideas of the French philosopher appear to be similar to the opinions expressed by the majority of protagonists of modern geopolitics, which was also misinterpreted as monocausal determinism. Moreover, Montesquieu was the first thinker of the Enlightenment era who considered (within such a widerange of aspects and connections with social life) an impact of geography on grand political processes such as emergence and decline of states, evolution of political regimes or progress of wars. Therefore we shall recognize Montesquieu as one of founders of pre-geopolitical tradition in history of philosophy.

DOI: 10.37240/AHFiMS.2019.64.6



Keywords: Montesquieu · the spirit of the laws · geography · environmental determinism · geosophy · geopolitics

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