chapter  XIII
The Problem of Absolute Truth
Pages 30

XART from the problem of ·the substructure, i.e. thequestion whether the. primacy of influence belonged togovernment or to geography, no problem occupied Montesquieu so much, both on the conscious and on the subconscious level, as the question of the relationship between substructurally or socially determined ideas and eternal truth, that is to say, the problem of relativity. We have, in these pages, pleaded for an interpretation of Montesquieu's thought which sees him more as a predecessor of romanticism and historism than as a camp-follower of rationalism, and we have no reason now to abandon this opinion, for which we believe we have adduced substantial proof both in breadth and in depth. But this does not mean that we overlook the element of rationalism in our author. He was a rationalist, a believer in the existence of eternal truths but-to bring our interpretation into a short formula and to show its entire unity and consiste~cy -these truths do not show themselves in reality but only behind reality, not in life as it actually is, not in phenomenal life, but in life as it ought to be, in noumenallife. As far as observable facts go, the mature Montesquieu knew very well that they are explicable in terms of historical relativity rather than in terms of rationalistic absolutism. But even the mature Montesquieu felt that there is a tension between the variety and variability of existence on the one hand and the rest and immutability of essence on the other, and he saw in this tension one of the most excruciating problems with which the philosophical mind is confronted. He never solved it to his own satisfaction; indeed, we see how it occupied him more by a certain vacillation in his

argument concerning other things than by any direct discussion. But it was never far from the centre of this thought.