In the 1700s, France saw a flowering of Enlightenment thought. French philosophes (fee loh ZOHFS), or philosophers, felt that nothing was beyond the reach of human reason. As they examined ideas about government, law and society, they called for reforms to protect people's natural rights. Their ideas, like those of Locke, would shift political thought and strongly influence the development of democratic-republican government.
An early and influential philosophe was Baron de Montesquieu (MAHN tus kyoo). Montesquieu studied the governments of Europe, from Italy to England. He read about ancient and medieval Europe, and learned about Chinese and Native American cultures. He sharply criticized absolute monarchy.
In 1748, Montesquieu published The Spirit of the Laws, in which he discussed governments throughout history. Montesquieu felt that the best way to protect liberty was to divide the various functions and powers of government among three branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial.
He also felt that each branch of government should be able to serve as a check on the other two, an idea that we call checks and balances. Montesquieu's beliefs would influence the Framers of the United States Constitution.
Probably the most famous of the philosophes was François-Marie Arouet, who took the name Voltaire. “My trade,” said Voltaire, “is to say what I think.” He used biting wit as a weapon to expose the abuses of his day. He targeted corrupt officials and idle aristocrats. With his pen, he battled inequality, injustice, and superstition. He detested the slave trade and deplored religious prejudice.
Voltaire's outspoken attacks offended both the French government and the Catholic Church. He was imprisoned and forced into exile. Even as he saw his books outlawed and sometimes even burned, he continued to defend the principle of freedom of speech.
Denis Diderot (DEE duh roh) worked for years to produce a 28-volume set of books called the Encyclopedia. As the editor, Diderot did more than just compile articles. His purpose was “to change the general way of thinking” by explaining ideas on topics such as government, philosophy, and religion.
Diderot's Encyclopedia included articles by leading thinkers of the day, including Montesquieu and Voltaire. In these articles, the philosophes denounced slavery, praised freedom of expression, and urged education for all.
|FUNCTION||EXAMPLES IN U.S. GOVERNMENT||EXAMPLES IN BRITISH GOVERNMENT|
|EXECUTIVE||Enforces law||President||Prime minister|
|JUDICIAL||Applies law||Supreme Court||U.K. Supreme Court|
Montesquieu believed in the separation of the powers of government into branches. Who currently heads the executive branch of government in the United States?