Modernity and Enlightenment in The Persian Letters by Charles Montesquieu

Modernity and Enlightenment in The Persian Letters by Charles Montesquieu

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Modernity and Enlightenment in The Persian Letters by Charles Montesquieu

The Persian Letters (1721), a fictional piece by Charles Montesquieu,
is representative of ‘the Enlightenment,’ both supporting and showing
conflict with its ideas. The initial perception of European people,
in particular the French, is of a busy people with goals and ambition
whose focus is progress; in this way they are able to gain knowledge -
a core foundation to Enlightenment. One particular section of the
Persian Letters states that the revolt against the authorities was
lead by women, who through reason, saw the inequity of their treatment
and formed a voice. In Montesquieu's story, their decision to change
tradition was part of a powerful movement towards this new found

The pressure for people to conform was greatly impressed by the King.
With the Enlightenment movement, came recognition of this and a
rebellion of what Montesquieu calls, the King’s “invisible enemies”
formed. These were people trying to break the mold and think for
themselves, using reason and searching for answers outside what they
had been told to believe.

However the ignorant authority described in the letters is opposing to
this new movement. The King colluded with the Pope and Gaelic church
over ways to retain control and openly practice the way of life that
the new ideology condemned. Another issue arising with the
Enlightenment was that it was difficult to maintain. This is
illustrated in the story of the Troglodytes. Even these beings who
existed in a Utopia of perfect reason and morality ended up corrupted
by the burden of their own virtue.

Both Euro...

... middle of paper ...

... then acting to bring about change.
Without the stories mentioned in ‘The Persian Letters’ other groups
would not have received the ideas these people spread and would not
have gone on to study and experience them for themselves.

These stories and especially the fable of the Troglodytes incorporate
both the process of discovering Enlightenment, and in comparison the
terror of disintegration without it. Through their experience they had
built up knowledge of what corrupted their people, and the best way to
avoid negative events in their community.


“Montesquieu” World Book Encyclopedia, volume XIII, pp 130-131

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