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Essay: Evolution of Nationalism: Montesquieu to Marx and Div. of Powers For Modern Nat’lism

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The subject of this essay is the evolution of nationalism which was documented in the documents, The Spirit of Laws and The Communist Manifesto. Modern nationalism has changed significantly over time from Montesquieu to Marx. The elements that both documents have in common is that they both discuss society and politics. The elements that both documents disagree on is religion and the divine right ideology. The thesis of this essay is how The Spirit of Laws and The Communist Manifesto both tell us about modern nationalism which has been developed through the two Revolutions of 1848 and the separations of powers. The enlightenment focused on the two process, rationalism and secularism, and also popularized ideas of the scientific revolution and extended them to encompass every part of life which began to clear the way for modern nationalism to develop.3 The major elements that contributed to the evolution of modern nationalisms are humanitarianism, religious toleration, and liberty. The main issues which these themes were inspired from are law and punishment, the place of religious minorities, and the state’s relationship to society and the economy.2 Montesquieu was a figure of the Enlightenment and his treatise The Spirit of Laws was the most influential work of the Enlightenment. Based on the three major issues of the Enlightenment, modern nationalism evolved with the influence of Montesquieu and his treatise, The Spirit of Laws.  

The general idea of the Spirit of Laws argued that the temper of the mind and the passions of the heart altered in different climates.1 Montesquieu believed that the laws should take these effects into account, accommodating them when necessary, and counteracting their worst effects. Law and punishment were issues in Europe that were faced. Many criminals were treated very poorly and harshly by the European courts. The executive, legislative, and judicial systems of government were called the different branches “separation of powers” and was created because Montesquieu found it important to create different branches of government with different but equal powers. The separation of powers also refers to the distinct roles of the three branches. There were three different forms of government which were republics, monarchies, and despotisms. The republics souls were virtue, the monarchy’s souls were honorable, and the soul of despotism was very fearful, but Montesquieu was not opposed to despotism. Despotism was ruled by one individual and was known to be dangerous which is why “checks and balances” had been created and influential on the Enlightenment.2 The Enlightenment popularized ideas of the Scientific Revolution and extended them to encompass every part of life.4 The term rationalism is a system of belief in the possibility of rational explanations. An example of rationalism in the Montesquieu document is when Montesquieu discussed the experiment on the sheep’s tongue. “This observation confirms what I have been saying, that in cold countries the nervous glands are less expanded: they sink deeper into their sheaths, or they are sheltered from the action of external objects; consequently they have not such lively sensations.”1 This is an example of rationalism because Montesquieu is testing the sheep’s tongue and making observations and conclusions but it doesn’t necessarily mean his information is correct unless the information can be scientifically proven to be valid when tested. Rationalism does not necessarily lead to accurate conclusions because it is making decisions based on self-interest, logic and other concepts a person knows.4

Based on the Spirit of Laws, religions are a function of climate.1 Many people were deists who believed in a God that acted as a “divine watchmaker” and others were atheist or agnostics. Some enlightenment authors accepted religious beliefs and others rebelled against them making them secularist. Secularist believed in secularism which is a belief system that rejects religion as a root cause.4 Many secularist did not oppose to religion, but still believed that religion could be a choice to follow. For example, enlightenment thinkers saw Judaism and Islam to be backwards and superstitious but it was thought that religion should be voluntary and that states should promote tolerance because humanitarianism would influence the Enlightenment,2 Religion should be voluntary because as said in the Spirit of Laws, “once the soul has received an impression it cannot change it” showing that those who believe in a certain religion won’t change what they have been taught to believe in their whole life. Montesquieu did not believe in any kind of divine right which is why he rejected the divine right ideology. In the Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu considers religions “in relation only to the good they produce in civil society”, and not to be true or false giving people the choice to believe if it’s true or false themselves.1

The state’s relationship to society and the economy was another issue during the Enlightenment. People had created government, laws and rulers to protect private property to end human freedom and equality.4 Nations were promised to make nations more efficient, sufficient and prosperous.2 There were different classes during the enlightenment. The top class consisted of the king and his royal family, which followed with the landowning nobility, the clergy, merchants and craftsmen, and lastly peasants. Merchants and craftsmen often had competitions with other families to try to sell their goods which sometimes led to unemployment. People wanted a simpler tax system and no government interference.

Society during 1848 consisted of many classes like freemen, slaves, patricians, plebeians, lords, serfs, guild masters and journeymen. These classes became simplified from many classes to just two which are known as the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Simplifying these classes has made a huge impact in history. The bourgeoisie was a capitalist class that owned most of society’s wealth. The proletarians were the lower working class that consisted of people who get by in life by working instead of owning and investing in businesses like the bourgeoisie.5 Class antagonisms already existed before the two classes were created but, creating both classes resulted in european tensions which resulted in the industrial revolution and the french revolution.6  The states cared more for the bourgeoisie because they helped create the industrial revolution and also helped with capitalism. In order for capitalism and production to increase technology had to constantly be improved meaning some people would go from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat because their skills were no longer needed due to the fact the the machines could do their job for them. Society has developed modern nationalism because it has established the world market and also increase capital by creating production and exchange. With the help of the bourgeoisie, all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations were put to an end.5

Politics during the 1848 consisted of the states favoriting the bourgeoisie. Having the bourgeois as a class created many political developments such as the Modern Industry and the world market. Communism, an extreme form of socialism, is a political theory from Karl Marx.  Communism influenced class war. Communism also made all property publicly owned and made sure that each person worked and got paid based on their abilities and skills. The states would eventually become a communist society because the workers thought that everyone deserved to have equal rights.This was done by the workers seizing the state, reorganizing production, and abolishing private property.2 The workers doing so resulted into the abolishment of division of labor and class antagonism. Politics and Marx and Engels ideas has helped develop modern nationalism because Engel stated that the proletariat only could free themselves and become equal by overthrowing the bourgeoisie. They both were on the proletariat’s side helping them to gain political power. “Workingmen of all countries, unite!” is how the Communist Manifesto is concluded due to the Communist revolution between both classes. He believed the proletarians could win the world and if they didn’t, they had nothing to lose except for the chains they are all attached to because of how they are controlled.5

The Spirit of Laws and The Communist Manifesto both disagreed on religion. While Montesquieu talked about secularism, Marx and Engel believed religion was apart of the ancient world. Christianity was the religion that ancient religions were overcome by.5 The bourgeoise used religion to keep their position in society and the proletariats just turned to faith to pray for a better life. Religious fervor, chivalry and sentimentalism have all been sacrificed due to communism which abolished all religions.

In conclusion classes have changed from master versus slave, to lord versus serfts, to bourgeois versus proterlair.2 “The bourgeoisie has played a most revolutionary role in history” and the states became most dependent on the bourgeoisie because of the industry they have created.5 All of the workers have became less important due to the technology. Marx described the worker as a soldier, and as a slave. The Spirit of Laws and The Communist Manifesto both tell us about modern nationalism which has been developed through the two Revolutions of 1848 and the separations of powers. From Montesquieu to Marx, modern nationalism has changed from the creating a constitutional system of government and the separation of powers creating equality to society becoming capitalist showing favoritism to the rich, that eventually became changed to socialism which result in a fight of not having equal rights.  Montesquieu had a huge impact on modern nationalism. Even though he was opposed to the divine right ideology he still accepted that the different forms of government helped evolve the Enlightenment and further on. Without Montesquieu’s contributions, separations of power would not be used all around the world until this day. Montesquieu believed that the laws of many countries could be made be more liberal and more humane. Likewise, religious persecution and slavery can be abolished, and commerce can be encouraged. These reforms would generally strengthen monarchical governments, since they enhance the freedom and dignity of citizens. Law and punishment, religious minorities, and the state’s relationship to society and the economy have all been issues during the Enlightenment but due to the influence of Montesquieu and his treatise, The Spirit of Laws, modern nationalism has evolved because of how he has shaped others to think and improve their nations.   

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