Starbucks, Montesquieu and Constitutional Reform #3

When Montesquieu has introduced the idea of channeling the strongest abilities of classes or castes of a society into the branches of governing power, he added a very important twist to the classical political thought. Greek historian Polybius stressed the need of the faction fight of the plebes and patricians to produce a balanced rule. But that faction divide was expected to be inside the branches, which were not supposed to be dedicated to particular classes. Montesquieu’s novelty (or rather reanimation of even more ancient principles) created a more effective and agile governing model, however in expense of potentially destructive rivalry and clash of the pure caste interests. The proposed solution was to introduce a less antagonistic opposition between the impulsed will of the whole caste and the formalized institutions of its representation. Such representative institutions of different castes will have a sense of common interests and mutual influence (like what we discussed in previous paragraphs), thus taming a promotion of selfish interests of the particular caste.

However, did Montesquieu himself, borrowing the ancient Greece, Rome, Persia and Barbaric Europe’s examples for his overview of types of government, three types of which he also used as building blocks for his proposal for the better state organization, as well using these historical excursions to demonstrate how the climate, geography, religion and traditions led to these particular ways of governing, did Montesquieu realized that these examples are not mere convenient showcases, which are very helpful in illustrating his ideas, but rather echoes of the bigger and older social and religious organization of PIE world? The organization that could be dated in the interval of 6-8 (may be even 12) thousand years ago, depending on what hypothesis of the Urheimat (Proto-Indo-European Fatherland) emergence we pick.

It’s very fascinating that now, reading Montesquieu and paying closer attention to the clues he left in his books in a light of PIE mythology, we can see a very deep reasoning for his conclusions and recommendations, which were seen originally as mosaic, illogical and unorganized. The question arises – did Montesquieu really invented principles of separation of branches of power and establishing mechanisms of checks and balances between them, or he did an excellent work in rationalizing and popularizing PIE cultural principles, without mentioning the real source of them to the world that was not ready to accept a thesis of supremacy of the ‘pagan’ governing principles over those dictated by the Church?

He clearly stated that the Abraham religions, at least in their orthodox roots and a zeal of fundamentalist reformations, which carry the despotic character of Middle East, are the threat to the Liberty. The only positive role of them can be seen in the Despotic states, where the rivalry of the Church or the Musk, or the Synagogue, and the despotic governing power may tame the later. A positive role of the Christian Church in Europe, through the softening customs, in Montesquieu’s view, comes from the reshaping and rethinking of Christian doctrine by the European adopters in a less dogmatic form.

As well, Montesquieu occasionally lets the thought out that the ‘pagan’ religions promote virtues of the building blocks of his system of political organization better. However, how deep he went in analyzing the ‘pagan’ mythology to be sure that it indeed had a possible effect on his thinking? We can search for tell-tale hints, saying a lot to us, armed with results of about two century of PIE linguistic and culture research, but meaningless for most contemporary readers of Montesquieu times.

When describing the best approximation to the ideal form of government in his time – English commercial republic, and its ancestral roots in German tribes customs, Montesquieu mentions special priests whose function on tribal councils – Things – was to tie over-violent participants up. What’s that about? Why to mention such, as it may seem, an insignificant custom? As we can look it up in Demuzil’s works, a binder is the typical function of Varuna deity. Varuna who forms, with help of Mitra, the dual ‘justice’, sovereign function. Where Mitra is the overseer of contracts. He is the day-time sky, luminous, calm, organized, formal, a maintainer. He protects those who follow the letter of contracts. The etymology of his name comes from PIE root *mei- “to exchange”.

A wonderful illustration of the “exchange” etymology can be found in the Livy’s story how the second king of Rome – Numa Pompilius, who was the Roman impersonation of the Mitra’s function – had, in a sense, an Abraham-like moment, bargaining with Jupiter for the protection of Rome from lightnings. In exchange, Jupiter asked for heads… “Of onions” – quickly picked up the conversation Numa. Jupiter, starting to lose his patience, elaborated: “…with hair”. “I’ll put some wool” – Numa agreed. “Live beings!” – thundered Jupiter. “I’ll give you fish” – keeping his cool, Numa answered. This conversation sounds literally bizarre, comparing to the seriousness and devotion of Abraham, but that conversation not only has ended a human sacrifice in Rome, but shaped the human history for many centuries ahead, steering Rome on the collision course with Carthage, Gaul and Judea, which, meanwhile, were keeping the human sacrifice and human body mutilation practices.

Mitra’s counterpart – Varuna – is a night sky, excessive, wild, magical, inspiring, informal – the one who binds the violators of rather spirit of contracts. Similarly, according to Plutarch, Romulus was followed by men with staves and girt with thongs, ready to bind those he ordered to be bound. While Numa, being an opposite to Romulus, has not erased, but rather perfected what was created by unruly and spontaneous founder of Rome, by creating formal laws and institutions.

These staves, called fasces, bound together with ropes, representing power and justice, gave rise, both, to term fascism, and symbolic of French and American Republics. You can find these symbols in White House, Supreme Court, Senate, most prominent monuments like Statue of Liberty or Lincoln Memorial, Universities and Military insignias, many state and local seals and buildings.

One of such Numa’s institutions was the College of Pontiffs that oversaw the ‘fas’ – religious and moral law – in contrast to ‘ius’ – civil and criminal law. Such a need in augmenting the formal jurist-organazer branch of the first PIE function by an informal magician-creator branch were recognized also by Celts, Persians, Germans and Slavs. However, an important distinction from the Roman (Numa’s) solution, based on assembly of representatives of all major religions, was the carriers of such higher truth or wisdom function in these cultures – Druids, Dervishes, Volhvs – instead, had not to belong to or associated with any temple to maintain an independence of their judging. The ill-effects of breaking that temple-free requirement of the Barbaric justice system by the invasion of the Canon law and the late Roman law in medieval Monarchic Europe are well shown by Montesquieu.

To be continued…


Montesquieu: The Spirit of the Laws (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)
Mitra-Varuna: An Essay on Two Indo-European Representations of Sovereignty
A History of Pagan Europe
The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (Oxford Linguistics)
Roman Law an Historical Introduction

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