Montesquieu’s doctrine of Separation of Powers

Montesquieu’s doctrine of Separation of PowersMontesquieu’s doctrine of Separation of Powers

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“Of all French political philosophers in the eighteenth century (other than Rousseau) the most important was Montesquieu. Of them all he had perhaps the clearest conception of the complexities of a social philosophy, and yet he too was guilty of extreme over simplification.” (Sabine)

Montesquieu was born in 1689 at Chateau de la Bordeaux in a noble aristocratic family. His father was an eminent French lawyer. At the age of twenty seven he became president of Parliament of Bordeaux, the most important of parliaments in France except that of Paris. For a long period of twelve years he continued as chief magistrate at Bordeaux, but he was not satisfied with the job because he was an extensive reader of literature and history and had deep sympathetic ties with the intellectual movements of his days. At last he left presidency and moved to Paris. In 1728 he visited Austria, Hungary, Venice, Rome, Switzerland, Holland and lastly England where he remained for above two years. During his tour, he came across the leading politicians and political thinkers in England and he was deeply impressed by the English conception of liberty and by the English system of Government.

After his return he settled at La Brede and kept himself busy with the task of writing of political philosophy. At that time France although under absolute control of King Louis XIV, yet was more fertile for growth of political theory but Frenchmen were not satisfied with the political situation, as were their fellows across the channel.

Important works of Montesquieu are:

1.The Persian Letter: He published these letters in 1721. it embodied a brilliant satire on the existing political, religious and social institutions in France.

2.Reflections and the causes of the Greatness and Decline of the Romans. This book was published in 1734.

3.The Spirit of Law published in 1748. This book won a great fame and immortality for Montesquieu because it came out after fourteen year unremitting labor and he made it a masterpiece for all ages.


Montesquieu’s doctrine of Separation of Powers

Montesquieu expounds his theory of separation of powers to set forth the governmental organization in order to safeguard the political liberty. He believed that the separation of powers among the different organs of the government is the best safeguard against tyranny. He pleads that each power must be exercised by a separate organ and a system of checks and balances should thus be established for solidarity and harmony of the state.

The theory of separation of powers among Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of government was best realized in the British Constitution. He came to realize that for maintaining liberty, the separation of powers was absolutely essential. Montesquieu did not rely upon observation. Locke and Harrington had taught him what to expect and for the rest he adopted the myth which was current among the English themselves. Bolingbroke said, “It is by this mixture of monarchial, aristocratically and democratically power blended together in one system and by these three estates balancing one another, that our free constitution of Government has been preserved so long inviolate.”

According to Montesquieu there are three kinds of power:

1.By virtue of the legislative power, the prince or magistrate exerts temporary or permanent laws and amends or abrogates those laws, which are contrary to the will of the subject.

2.By virtue of the executive powers, he makes peace or war, sends or receives Ambassadors, establish the public security and provide protection against invasions.

3.By virtue of the judiciary powers, he is vested with the powers to punish criminals and also to safeguard the life and property of the individuals.

When the executive and legislative are united in the same person, there can be no liberty because apprehensions may arise. If the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and the executive then again there will be no liberty. When it is combined with the legislative, the existence and liberty of people would be exposed to arbitrary rule. When it is combined with executive organ, then there will be violence and oppression in the capacity of a mortal God.

It is quite obvious from all above cited discussion, that the separation of powers among the three organs of governments fully ensures liberty and freedom, by imposing healthy checks on the despotism of the government bureaucrats. Montesquieu was of the view that liberty is an indispensable fundamental for human progress and glory. Everyone is born to enjoy it without any distinction of color, creed and religion.


1.Montesquieu’s study of English constitution is not very correct until this day; there is no full separation of powers between different governmental agencies. There the House of Lords is a legislative as well as a judicial body. The Lord Chancellor partakes of all the three functions of government.

2.If all the branches are made separate and independent of each other, each branch will endeavor to safeguard its interests and possibly may jeopardize other’s interest.

3.Perfect separate power in the functions of the government is impossible.

4.Mill was of the view “the separation of powers will result in a clash between the three different organs of the government because each one will take interest only in its own powers.”

In spite of all inconsistencies in the theory of separation of powers, it too wielded a considerable influence in Pakistan, France and America. Montesquieu is placed in the first rank of those distinguished thinkers who in the eighteenth century, held high standard of idealism in all that pertains to liberty.


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    Montesquieu’s views on Forms of Government

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