Montesquieu’s separation of powers


Before adressing the question of the separation of powers, it is necessary to get back to the conception of the power.

Montesquieu’s Democracy : democratic and ethic excellence

Most of the philosophers have thought the democracy according to their personal problems. In Montesquieu, the approach is legal. According to Rousseau, the problem is about social harmony and in Voltaire democracy is seen as a struggle against obscurantism and war.

We begin by Montesquieu. it is Needless to remind the major work is the Spirit of the Laws.

Montesquieu is a Democrat, no doubt about it.

His philosophy of subjectivity is summed up in one sentence:

In the state of nature all men are born in equal, but they can not continue. The Society makes them lose, and they recover it only by the laws

The nature of man is equal. It is the association of men which injects the inequality between them. The role, the purpose of the politics must be to restore and guarantee the equality of citizens.

What are the foundations of democracy in Montesquieu’s thought ?


The virtue in the service of equality in Montesquieu: a moral guarantor

Strangely, Montesquieu, as an historian of political ideas, give a moral ground to the foundation of democracy: the VIRTUE.

What is the virtue? Its definition is different from that given by the Greeks Plato and Aristotle. It is the love of the laws. However, laws are meant to guarantee equality. So virtue is love of equality.

We can define this virtue, love and laws of the country. This love, asking continual preference of the public interest before his own, gives all the particular virtues: they are only this preference. This love is singularly to democracies. In themselves, the government is entrusted to each citizen. The government is like all things in the world to preserve it, he must love it. “

He said only democracy needs of virtue: the aristocracy maintained by reason of some individuals, the tyranny of terror by the sovereign.

Montesquieu’s separation of powers : a legal guarantor

Montesquieu distinguishes 3 types of power: the executive (government), the judiciary (judges) and the legislature (the people).

The executive implements laws designed by the legislature, laws whose application is entrusted to the judiciary.

Why separation of powers?

Because if the legislature is the executor, nothing prevents it from being corrupted by implementing laws that are favorable.

If the executive is the judge, no control of public action is possible.

This triangular relationship allows the company to equilibrate.

On the other hand, as Machiavelli, Montesquieu defends democracy at random:

The suffrage for most people is the nature of democracy, voting by choice is that of the aristocracy.”

Finally, Montesquieu highlights two major threats to democracies:

The spirit of inequality, which leads to aristocracy or government of one, and the spirit of extreme equality, which leads to the despotism of one, as the despotism of a single eventually conquer


Cite this article as: Tim, "Montesquieu’s separation of powers, May 2, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, May 2, 2012,

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