This book’s primary purpose is to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, a seminal book in classical liberal thought. Persian Letters is a delightfully rich, sympathetic satire of commercial society’s promise and discontents, covering a wide range of issues and themes that shaped the direction of liberal modernity. It consists of a series of letters largely written by two Persian travelers to Paris, who allow modern readers to view Parisian life from the perspective of an outsider. The volume includes contributions from prominent scholars of Montesquieu’s and early career scholars who have recently unearthed new and exciting avenues for understanding this important hinge-figure in modern political thought.
Jeffrey Church is professor of political science at the University of Houston.
Alin Fumurescu is associate professor of political science at the University of Houston.
Constantine Vassiliou is visiting assistant professor in political science at the University of Houston.
Foreword, Helena Rosenblatt
PART I: The Persian Letters in the History of Political Theory
Chapter 1. Philosophizing the Passions: The Seraglio as Laboratory in the Persian Letters Céline Spector
Chapter 2. Conflict in the Persian Letters, Pauline Kra
Chapter 3. Persian Letters in Time: Adhesive Past: Bright, Unstable Present: Divergent, Fragile Futures, Michael Mosher
PART II: The Persian Letters on Nature and Convention in Politics
Chapter 4. Pitfalls of Abstract Ideals: Usbek on the Law of Nations, Andrea Radasanu
Chapter 5. Faces of Monarchy in West and East and the Limits of Traditional Jurisprudence: Montesquieu in Dialogue with Bodin in the Persian Letters, Rebecca Kingston
Chapter 6. The Struggle for Recognition and the Economy of Esteem in and out of the Seraglio, Robert Sparling
PART III: The Persian Letters on Commercial Society
Chapter 7. The Plague of High Finance in Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, Emily Nacol and Constantine Christos Vassiliou
Chapter 8. The Political Economy of the Persian Letters; or, Self-Interest Wrongly Understood, in Three Lessons, Ryan Hanley
Chapter 9. Female Modesty and the Spirit of Commerce in Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, Lee Ward
Chapter 10. Rica in Paris: Sociability and Cosmopolitanism in the Persian Letters., Megan Gallagher
PART IV: The Persian Letters as a Critique of Modernity
Chapter 11. Who is the Hero of the Persian Letters, Jeffrey Church
Chapter 12. Hiding in Plain Sight: Montesquieu as a Friendly Influence in The Persian Letters, Vickie Sullivan
Chapter 13. What did Usbek—and the Reader—Know, and When Did He Know It?, John T. Scott
Chapter 14. The Book of Relations: Reflections from Montesquieu's Persian Letters, Stuart Warner
Chapter 15. The Unknown Chains of Enlightenment: The Irony of Philosophy or an Ironic Philosopher, Peter Lund
About the Contributors
Montesquieu’s Persian Letters is one of the gems of the Enlightenment, at once amusing and profound, accessible and sophisticated. This marvelous collection of essays not only does justice to the book’s complexities but also demonstrates that the issues and questions raised by Montesquieu’s story remain as relevant today as they were three centuries ago.
This volume is a most welcome and truly important contribution to serious interpretive reflection on what is perhaps the most understudied, and least well understood, great work of political philosophy. A true galaxy of contributors includes many of the most distinguished scholars of Montesquieu and of French Enlightenment political thought—each of whom has penned a gem of an essay. A true feast for the intellect!
This impressive volume -- the first dedicated to Montequieu's Persian Letters -- will not only serve as a benchmark for future scholarship on this important philosophical novel, but it will also inspire. It restores a very important part of Montesquieu's work to his overall political thought, and there is not one weak contribution in it.
Montesquieu’s Persian Letters offered a sophisticated analysis of the Enlightenment and an ambitious blueprint for political education. The essays collected in this timely and original book were written to celebrate three centuries since the publication of Montesquieu’s work. They remind us that Persian Letters is an immensely complex work that continues to fascinate us today.
This impressive collection invites conversation with Montesquieu’s first work, giving the Persian Letters the attention it deserves. Readers rediscover this philosophical novel as a great Enlightenment argument for philosophical, moral, religious, and political moderation. Just as Letters deploys diverse voices – avoiding the single-mindedness of earlier moderns – the editors wisely gathered a heterogenous range of contributors for a balance of views. Successive chapters approach the Letters with care, from distinguished scholars to new voices, together striking the perfect note: instructive reflections that also make you want to study anew the classic work itself.
The Persian Letters is both the most scintillating of Montesquieu’s works and the most mysterious. While paving the way for the better known works of his that followed, it caused a sensation by its frank discussions of issues still contentious today. It was the work of Enlightenment that more than any other problematized the Enlightenment. The present volume features sixteen scholars ranging from the well known to the up and coming to offer a range of new perspectives on interpreting this fascinating novel.