Historical Writing of the West


  • Intellectual revolution of the west or in Europe was started by Rene Descartes, Sir Issac Newton and John Locke.
  • Industrial revolution was the cause for 17th and 18th century philosophical achievements and science and technology.
  • It also resulted in the development of concept of cartesianism, anti-cartesianism and enlightenment.
  • It also impacted the historical writing.

Rene Deseartes:

  • Cartesianism was formulated by French thinker Rene Descartes of the 19th century.
  • A soldier mathematician a physicist, lawyer and thinker.
  • He ridiculed all form of authority and criticized all authors, nothing appeared sacred to his pen.
  • Hence he was compelled to flee from France and found refugee at Netherlands and Sweden.
  • But recognised as great thinker and founder of modern philosophy.


Non-Reliability of books and placed his faith only on reason.

Cartesianism – Derived from Des – Cartes

No writing was accepted without rigorous criticisms

This principle was applied to Historical writings.

Even interpretation of Bible was attacked.

Montesquieu (1689-1755)

  • Montesquieu also applied cartesianism. He was a most remarkable historian.
  • He was born in Bordeaux in France. He studied science, literature and law.
  • His articles and journals earned him name and were elected as a member of Academy of Bordeaux.
  • His contribution to political philosophy of 18th century was unique.
  • He collected all copies of constitution of all countries and compared.
  • In Persian letters he criticises the monarchy, Government, church and other institution of the country.
  • In his considerations, he examines the glory and decay of Roman Empire.
  • His celebrated work ‘Spirit of Laws’ was a scientific, social and political phenomenon.


  • He finally concluded that there was no perfect form of government, suitable for all people under all conditions.
  • He says physical conditions decide the nature of government.
  • Despotism is best suited for countries of vast area.
  • Limited monarchy with no vast area.
  • Republican form of Government for a state with small area

He argues,

  • The nature of man to abuse power, leads every form of government into despotism.
  • Hence the authority of government should be broken into three natural divisions of law.
  • The law making body or legislature, law enforcing body or executive and law interpreting body or judiciary.
  • When two or more power remains united in a body or in same hands there would be tyranny.
  • To prevent this each branch of government should act as a check upon the other.
  • The theory of separation of powers and Checks & balances were very much important to safeguard the fundamental rights of the citizens.
  • Hence incorporated in the constitution of France, US and other democratic countries which value human rights.

Montesque on Common Interest:

He says,

  • Human life as a reflection of geographical condition and as not guided by reason.
  • Nature of institution are guided or shaped by physical environment.
  • Cultural development has intimate relationship with natural environment. Some of these theories are proved and has lasting value.
  • He says lenity and moderation rather than rigor and severity are better qualifications of good government.
  • He says taxation is the operation of the engine of oppression and is created to enslave people.

      He observes,

For monarchy, the principle of virtue is patriotism and for despotism it is fear.

To History:

He discarded theological interpretation of history and laid foundation for a scientific history of human culture.

  • But he was different from Voltaire and Rousseau. He gave importance to constitutional aspects, and became the father of constitution.
  • Rousseau gave importance to freedom and has became father of revolutions.


  • His writings were for the elite group.
  • His understating for history was a kind of natural history of man.

So he related and connected nature and culture. But what actually determines his character is his wisdom.