The Persian Letters

Montesquieu’s main theme within The Persian Letters comprises the destruction of a society based on man’s natural administrative principles. In the novel, the author provides a different but interrelated set of situations that explains the steps towards the lifecycle of a natural society. In this context, Montesquieu incorporates a series of arguments that aid in the elucidation of his theme. Accordingly, the main argument provided by the author involves the destruction of a society through self-interest and its subsequent renaissance due to the adoption of virtue by people. Based on this assertion, it is evident that self-interest derides a society of its humanity. The author believes that a society administered by selfish needs and desires of the people leads to its own unavoidable destruction. In addition to this, Montesquieu provides that the observance of ethical and morally sound principles such as virtue by each individual leads to the formulation of a utopian society.

In support of the stated contention, Montesquieu utilizes an illustration based on the society of the Troglodytes. The Troglodyte society is an interesting example of the dangers of self-interest and the disparate aspects that result from the adherence to virtue. For the author, the society possesses the capability to change positively or negatively based on the natural predispositions exhibited by the people themselves. In this respect, the inclination of the people towards self-interest creates a destructive and corrupted society. For instance, the Troglodytes choose a state prevailed by selfishness and non-recognition of a common authority. For instance, they kill the king and his family and even after instituting a magistrate republic, they massacre the judges[1]. Accordingly, illustrations of self-interest are apparent where the Troglodytes focus on gratifying their own sexual and material needs by engaging in criminal acts such as wife abductions and property robbery[2].

The context of the article constitutes a significant relationship with the contents of public administration. Accordingly, most of the themes emphasized by Montesquieu’s composition involve the results that originate from the actions of people in accordance to their natural principles. In this respect, the author illustrates the degrading temperament of the principle of self-interest and the way it violates the natural order of things. The relationship between the article and public administration becomes further apparent upon the introduction of the common good. The lack of observance towards a general interest by the Troglodytes leads to the inevitable destruction of their society. Consequently, public administration requires a utilitarian approach in order to satisfy the needs of the commoners. By observing the common good, the society is able to transform into a utopian community that will live by principles such as virtue rather than self-interest.

Nonetheless, the article provides a rational approach of the principles that may erode or build an effectual administrative system. Indeed, it is certain that self-interest erodes the society since no individual is willing to sacrifice his or her own satisfaction for the wellbeing of another. It is also true that natural predispositions, if ungoverned, possess overbearing implications on a society’s functionality. Based on this, it is essential to implement a system of legislations that tame such selfish tendencies. However, this assertion negates Montesquieu’s thought especially on autonomy. For the author, laws serve as a means of eroding virtue within a society. Based on Montesquieu, civilians should govern themselves by their own virtue regardless of the moral yoke it imposes on their need to live comfortably. However, is it safe for man to live without law? It certainly is not. In the end, people become restless and require change. Thus, if a system of public administration is insufficient and absent, then it is not possible to restrict a society from reverting to uncouth ways such as those expressed by the original Troglodytes.


Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat, and Robert J. Loy. The Persian Letters: A New Translation. Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1966.

[1] Charles-Louis de Secondat Montesquieu and Robert J. Loy, The Persian Letters: A New Translation (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1966), 134.

[2] Charles-Louis de Secondat Montesquieu and Robert J. Loy, The Persian Letters: A New Translation (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1966), 135.

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