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Session of February 24

Lecture of M. Denis KNOEPFLER, Foreign associate of the Academy : « Pour la Lycie (et l’Achaïe) contre la Hollande (et la Suisse) : nouvelles perspectives sur Montesquieu et le fédéralisme ? ».

Summary : In Book IX of L’Esprit des Lois, Montesquieu is primarily dealing with the federative states of his own time : the Swiss Leagues and, above all, the Republic of United Provinces of Netherlands. Surprinsingly, however, in his chapter 3 he wants to demonstrate that even the Dutch people, although having in Europe the most democratic constitution, is inferior in three ways to the old nation of Lycia (Asia Minor) as described by the Geographer Strabo (Book XIV 3). But it has been recently pointed out by the author of the present communication (Journal des Savants, 2013, p. 43-86) that Montesquieu’s famous comparison between Lycia and Holland is an addition to the main text, introduced only a few years before its publication (1748).
One can today go a step further by emphasizing the very reason that may explain the use of this rather unexpected example of the Lycian constitution (already praised by some previous thinkers on political matter, for instance Bodin, Emmius and Harrington). Indeed, the restoration - that happened in 1747 with the help of the British monarchy - of the function of stathouder of the United Provinces has constrained Montesquieu to reject the Dutch constitutional model in order to attend to the interests of France in the war against England. Despite its short-lived motivation, Montesquieu’ praise of Lycia has left some traces not only in the great Encyclopedy of Diderot (1765) but also in the debate about the federal constitution of the United States (1787).
Lastly, it will be reminded why the Lycian model has been nevertheless dismissed, from the end of eighteenth century onwards, to the benefit of Achaia. As a matter of fact, the Koinon of Lycian cities - not created before the conquest of Asia Minor by the Romans (2nd century BC) - never was a completely independent state, and not even a very peaceful country until its integration in the Roman Empire. Instead, the Achaian Koinon knew during the hellenistc period a great – albeit also tragical – historical destiny. Moreover, it is now proved beyond any doubt that the system of proportional representation, which the author of L’Esprit des Lois so rightly admired in the Lycian state, had been directly borrowed from the Achaian federal institutions.

Key Words : Montesquieu, Federalism, Lycia, Achaia, United Provinces of Netherlands, Swiss Confederation, United States of America.


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