“Montesquieu’s Moderation: A Liberal Art for the Commercial World,” with KICD Postdoc Constantine Vassiliou


As part of our Spring 2020 series of in-house talks, Kinder Institute Postdoctoral Fellow in Political Thought & Constitutionalism Constantine Vassiliou will present on Montesquieu’s often overlooked anxieties concerning unchecked modern commerce, as well as his philosophical vision for how immoderation and political despotism might be curbed via “fellow-feeling” and “empathy” (see abstract below). The talk, which is free and open to the public, will be held on Friday, January 31 at 3:30pm in Jesse hall 410. It is part of our “Pursuit of Happiness Hour” Friday Colloquium Series, made possible with the support of Logboat Brewing Co.


Montesquieu is well-known as a paragon of the “Moderate Enlightenment”—a promoter of modern commerce and theorist of constitutional balance, whose ideas famously influenced eighteenth-century Scottish and American political thought. However, scholars often overlook his anxieties over the dysfunctional features of modern commerce that equally made it a source of immoderation and political despotism, if left unchecked. In exploring how Montesquieu and key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment confronted the dangers associated with modern commercial culture, Constantine will argue that eighteenth-century political moderation is not merely a legalistic notion, but a deeper, cross-Atlantic vision of how “fellow-feeling” and “empathy” formed the basis of a healthy liberal society.

Constantine Vassiliou earned his B.A. in Political Science from Mount Allison University, and both his M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Theory from the University of Toronto. His research points to a perennial problem in political economy that continues to the present-day unresolved: how to balance commercial considerations with the public interest? He considers this question through the lenses of Enlightenment-era political philosophers who met similar challenges during capitalism’s nascent stages. His dissertation considered Montesquieu’s conception of political moderation in the context of John Law’s economic system in early eighteenth-century France. His current project examines how the politics of the South Sea ‘Bubble’ in England [1720] informed early debates in American political economy, with a view towards gaining a deeper understanding of how financial crisis impacts citizens’ trust in public institutions. Constantine was recently awarded a Visiting Research Fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. He joins the Kinder Institute as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Political Thought & Constitutionalism.