Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re

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Author: Montesquieu

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MONTESQUIEU, Esprit des lois, Liv. XI, c. vi. World History

92.

Montesquieu’s Theory of the Three Powers (From the Spirit of Laws)

In every government there are three sorts of powers. . . .

By virtue of the first, the prince, or magistrate, enacts temporary or perpetual laws, and amends or abrogates those that have been already enacted. By the second, he makes peace or war, sends or receives embassies, establishes the public security, and provides against invasions. By the third, he punishes criminals, or determines the disputes that arise between individuals. . . .

The political liberty of the subject is a tranquillity of mind due to the assurance each person has of his safety. In order to have this liberty, it is requisite that the government be so constituted that no man need be afraid of another.

When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty, because apprehensions may arise lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, and then execute them in a tyrannical manner.

Again, there is no liberty if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control; for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression.

There would be an end of everything, were the same man, or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers,—that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and that of trying the suits of individuals.

Most kingdoms in Europe enjoy a moderate government, because the prince who is invested with the two first powers leaves the third to his subjects. In Turkey, where these three powers are united in the sultan’s person, the subjects groan under the most dreadful oppression.

In the republics of Italy, where these three powers are united, there is less liberty than in our monarchies. Hence their government is obliged to have recourse to as violent methods for its support as even that of the Turks; witness the state inquisitors, and the lion’s mouth into which every informer may at all hours throw his written accusations.

In what a situation must the poor subject be, under those republics! The same body of magistrates are possessed, as executors of the laws, of the whole power they have given themselves in the quality of legislators. They may plunder the State by their general determinations; and, as they have likewise the judiciary power in their hands, every private citizen may be ruined by their particular decisions.

The whole power is here united in one body; and though there is no external pomp that indicates a despotic sway, yet the people feel the effects of it every moment.

Hence it is that many of the princes of Europe, whose aim has been arbitrary power, have constantly set out with uniting in their own persons all the branches of magistracy and all the great offices of State.

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Chicago: Montesquieu, "Montesquieu’s Theory of the Three Powers (From the Spirit of Laws)," Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, ed. James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1908), 191–192. Original Sources, accessed December 1, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=UNSGREHF4HESBHF.

MLA: Montesquieu. "Montesquieu’s Theory of the Three Powers (From the Spirit of Laws)." Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, edited by James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1908, pp. 191–192. Original Sources. 1 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=UNSGREHF4HESBHF.

Harvard: Montesquieu, 'Montesquieu’s Theory of the Three Powers (From the Spirit of Laws)' in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re. cited in 1908, Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.191–192. Original Sources, retrieved 1 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=UNSGREHF4HESBHF.