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Arendt and The Spirit of Laws

On a trip last year to the Hannah Arendt Collection housed in Bard College’s Stevenson Library, we came across a copy of Charles Baron de Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws.


The Spirit of Laws, first published in 1750, is a detailed treatise on the structures and theory of government by French philosopher Charles Baron de Montesquieu. The book includes the philosopher’s famous concept of the separation of powers.


Arendt made several annotations to her copy of this book. For example, on page 55, she placed a vertical line next to and underlined the following passage:

The great advantage of representatives is, their capacity of discussing public affairs. For this the people collectively are extremely unfit, which is one of the chief inconveniences of a democracy.


On the opposite page, she affixed a vertical line adjacent to the section that reads:

One great fault there was in most of the ancient republics, that the people had the right to active resolutions, such as require some execution, a thing of which they are absolutely incapable. They ought to have no share in the government but for the choosing of representatives, which is within their reach.

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The Hannah Arendt Collection at Bard College is maintained by staff members at the Bard College Stevenson Library. To peruse the collection’s digital entries, please click here.

For more Library photos, please click here.

Posted on 25 February 2016 | 8:00 pm

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