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Charles-Louis de Secondat Montesquieu, 1689—1755
Montesquieu is a French political philosopher whose major work appeared under the title The Spirit of Laws. It consisted of two volumes, comprising 31 books in 1,086 pages. It is one of the
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greatest works in the history of political theory and in the history of jurisprudence. Its author had acquainted himself with all previous schools of thought but identified himself with none.
Of the multiplicity of subjects treated by Montesquieu, none remained unadorned. His treatment of three was particularly memorable.
The first of these is his classification of governments. Abandoning the classical divisions of his predecessors into monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, Montesquieu produced his own analysis and assigned to each form of government an animating principle: the republic, based on virtue; the monarchy, based on honour; and despotism, based on fear. His definitions show that this classification rests not on the location of political power but on the government's manner of conducting policy; it involves a historical and not a narrow descriptive approach.
The second of his most noted arguments is the theory of the separation of powers. Dividing political authority into the legislative, executive, and judicial powers, he asserted that, in the state that most effectively promotes liberty, these three powers must be confided to different individuals or bodies, acting independently. It at once became perhaps the most important piece of political writing of the 18Lh century. Though its accuracy has in more x^ecent times been disputed, in its own century it was admired and held authoritative; it inspired the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Constitution of the United States.
The third of Montesquieu's most celebrated doctrines is that of the political influence of climate, Basing himself on the experience of his travels, and on experiments, he stressed the effect of climate, primarily thinking of heat and cold, on the physical frame of the individual, and, as a consequence, on the intellectual outlook uf society. According to Montesquieu, other factors (laws, religion, and maxims of government) are of a non-physical nature, and then-influence, compared with that of climate, grows as civilization advances,
After the book was published, praise came to Montesquieu from the most varied headquarters. The Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote from London that the work would win the admiration of all the ages; an Italian friend spoke of reading it in an ecstasy of admiration; the Swiss scientist Charles Bonnet said that Montesquieu had discovered the laws of the intellectual world as Newton had those of the physical world. The philosophers of the Enlightenment accepted him as one of their own, as indeed he was. His fame was
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now worldwide. But renown lay lightly on his shoulders. His affability and modesty are commented on by all who met him. He was a faithful friend, kind and helpful to young and unestablished men of letters, witty, though absent-minded, in society,
Voltaire was the most influential figure of the French Enlightenment Considered by his contemporaries as the greatest poet and dramatist of the century, he is now better known for his essays and tales. His precocious wit, his upbringing among a group of libertines, and his predilection for aristocratic circles were to mark his life, as his classical education by the Jesuits was to form his taste.
For writing some satirical verses, he spent a year imprisoned in the Bastille (1717—1718), after which he adopted the name Voltaire, Subsequently he quarrelled with a nobleman, was returned briefly to the Bastille in April 1726, then went into exile in England for three ynars. Thert1 he absorbed the lessons nf British liberties, deism, and literature Then, for safety, he moved (1759) to Ferney, just inside the French border, which remained his home until his triumphal return to Paris in February 1778,
Voltaire was pre-eminent in almost every genre. He catapulted to fame in 1718 with Oedipus. His historical works — History of Charles XII, Age of Louis XIV, Essay on Manners — are landmarks of historiography.
Most of all, however, Voltaire was, and remains, famous as a philosopher, a fighter for reform. His ideas were expressed in poems, tracts, pamphlets, and tales, which are still universally read and admired His philosophical works include the Treatise on Metaphysics (1734), The Disaster of Lisbon (1756), and the influential Philosophical Dictionary, a witty compendium of his ideas,
Finally, Voltaire was the most prolific correspondent of the century. His thousands of letters portray his life and personality, reflect his wit and ideas, and describe his times.
Voltaire was the leader and chief organizer and propagandist of the reformist group called Philosopher's. He strove for collaboration with the more radical of the encyclopaedists, such as Diderot, but in 1770 the two groups could not agree on the issue of atheism or on tactics. Although Voltaire is known principally as a reformer and teller of tales, he was one of the originators of modern historiography. Although his use of history for non-historical purposes — propaganda,
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debunking, philosophical explanations — were justly criticised, he demanded authentic documentation and broke with tradition in his conception of history as the history of civilisation social, economic, and cultural, as well as political.
Jeremy Bent ham, 1748—1832
The philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham was born in London on thel5ch of February 1748. Ht> proved to be something of a child prodigy: while still a toddler he was discovered sitting at his father's desk reading a multi-volume history of England, and he began to study Latin at the age of three. At twelve, he was sent to Queen's College, Oxford, by his father, a prosperous attorney, who decided that Jeremy would follow him into the law, feeling quite sure that his brilliant son would one day be Lord Chancellor of England.
Bentham, however, soon became disillusioned with the law, especially after hearing the lectures of the leading authority of the day, Sir William Blackstone. Instead of practicing the law, he decided to write about it, and he spent his life criticising the existing law and suggesting ways for its improvement His father's death in 1792 left him financially independent, and for nearly forty years he lived quietly in Westminster, producing between ten and twenty sheets of manuscript a day, even when he was in his eighties. For those who have never read a line of Bentham, he will always be associated with the doctrine of Utilitarianism and his attempts to make the punishment more precisely fit the crime. This, however, was only his starting point for a radical critique of society, which aimed to test the usefulness of existing institutions, practices and beliefs against an objective evaluative standard. He was an outspoken advocate of law reform, a pugnacious critic of established political doctrines like natural law, and the first to produce a utilitarian justification for democracy. He also had much to say on subjects as diverse as prison reform, religion, poor relief and international law. A visionary far ahead of his time, he advocated universal suffrage.
By the 1820s Bentham had become a widely respected figure, both in Britain and in other parts of the world. His ideas were to influence greatly the reforms of public administration made during the nineteenth century, and his writings are still at the centre of academic debate, especially as regards social policy and legal positivism and welfare economics.
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PART III. NOTORIOUS CRIMINALS "~
According to the Bible, he was the first murderer. The story is told in Genesis, Chapter Four. He was a tiller of the soil and his brother AbeL was a shepherd, They were both sons of Adam and Eve. When the Lord accepted Abel's offerings and rejected those of his, he was very "wroth and his countenance fell". He fell upon his brother Abel and killed him. When the Lord asked him where his brother was, he asked the famous question "am I my brother's keeper?". For his crime, he was banished to be a wanderer over the earth, but to prevent him from being killed, God put a mark upon him to protect him. According to the Bible, he went to live in the land of Nod, east of Eden.