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Post Western Political Thought---Montesquieu

Montesquieu


“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.

Criticism:

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


The classification of government of Montesquieu is base partly on the number of those who hold political power and partly on the manner in which that power is exercised. He gives more importance to the principle on which government is based than to its nature. He assigned a particular basic principle to every form of government. The principle of democracy was virtue, of an aristocracy virtue-cum-moderation, of monarchy honor while that of despotism was fear. He enunciated the dangers attending each form of government if it lost its basic principle.

Montesquieu forms the government into three types:

1)Republic:
Montesquieu was of the view “A republican government is that in which the body or only a part of the people, is possessed of the supreme power.” To him, when in a republic, the body of the people is possessed of the supreme power it is called democracy. Sovereignty rests with the people in democracy. In Republics, there can be no exercise of sovereignty but by the votes of the people and these votes express their own will.

2)Monarchies:
Montesquieu remarks that monarchial government is that in which a single person governs the state by fixed and established laws. He was of the view that the most intermediate power is that of nobility. This in some measure seems to be essential to a monarchy, whose fundamental maxim is no nobility no monarch, but there may be despotic process.

3)Despotism:
A despotic government is that in which a single person directs all functions of the government with his own capricious will, without any law and without fixed rules. His own words become laws of the land and complete subordination to these laws a expedient.

Each of the form is associated with its peculiar principle:

a) Democracy is based upon political virtue
b) Aristocracy is based upon moderation
c) Monarchy is based upon honor
d) Despotism is based upon fear and oppression

Relation between Forms of Government and religion & Size of State:

Montesquieu was of the view that certain religions had a definite affinity for certain types of governments. Islam goes well with Democratic Republican form of government, wherein fundamentals of religion i-e., equality, fraternity and freedom are deeply inculcated and practiced for the security of mankind and glory of the state. Roman Catholicism is closely affiliated with monarchial form of government with arbitrary rule and Protestantism even in this modern age is deeply attached with despotism and cruel expansionism.

Republican form of government is possible only in a state of small size; monarchy suited the moderate-sized state while a big country or an empire must have despotic government. Real democracy is possible only ion small city-state. France of Montesquieu’s time was too large for a republic form of government, Monarchy would suit her best. Montesquieu declared monarchy, a worst form of government and he unlike Machiavelli discarded the doctrine of aggrandizement and expansion.

Criticism:

1.It is quite wrong to assume, as Montesquieu does, that democracy and aristocracy are sub-types of republican form.

2.It is a quite unfair to place despotic government at par with monarchial and republican forms. Despotic state is not at all state because it is established by the absence of established law, and hence it is a lawless state, which should not be included in the plan at all.

3.Montesquieu’s scheme creates distinction between the republican and monarchic form based upon the number of persons who possess the supreme power, the distinction between the monarchic and despotic types depends upon the way in which the power of governments are to be exercised.



Montesquieu as the Aristotle of 18th Century


1.Montesquieu follows the inductive and historical methods of Aristotle and like him, takes keen interest in the practical political activities.

2.Like Aristotle, Montesquieu too pays his attention on the influence of physical environment on the life of man and social institutions.

3.Montesquieu steps into the shoes of Aristotle, when he recognizes basic types of government i-e, republican, monarchial and despotic.

4.Montesquieu closely follows Aristotle when he says that the fundamental types of political constitutions are fixed once and for all but they are different to some extent under the impact of the local conditions.

5.Montesquieu’s observation that the law of a society gives to its unique and particular character, has its parallel in Aristotle’s statement that the constitution of a state determines the very life and character of its people, if there occurs a change in the constitution, the state itself becomes altogether a different state.
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Originally Posted by Arain007 View Post
Montesquieu’s views on Forms of Government


The classification of government of Montesquieu is base partly on the number of those who hold political power and partly on the manner in which that power is exercised. He gives more importance to the principle on which government is based than to its nature. He assigned a particular basic principle to every form of government. The principle of democracy was virtue, of an aristocracy virtue-cum-moderation, of monarchy honor while that of despotism was fear. He enunciated the dangers attending each form of government if it lost its basic principle.

Montesquieu forms the government into three types:

1)Republic:
Montesquieu was of the view “A republican government is that in which the body or only a part of the people, is possessed of the supreme power.” To him, when in a republic, the body of the people is possessed of the supreme power it is called democracy. Sovereignty rests with the people in democracy. In Republics, there can be no exercise of sovereignty but by the votes of the people and these votes express their own will.

2)Monarchies:
Montesquieu remarks that monarchial government is that in which a single person governs the state by fixed and established laws. He was of the view that the most intermediate power is that of nobility. This in some measure seems to be essential to a monarchy, whose fundamental maxim is no nobility no monarch, but there may be despotic process.

3)Despotism:
A despotic government is that in which a single person directs all functions of the government with his own capricious will, without any law and without fixed rules. His own words become laws of the land and complete subordination to these laws a expedient.

Each of the form is associated with its peculiar principle:

a) Democracy is based upon political virtue
b) Aristocracy is based upon moderation
c) Monarchy is based upon honor
d) Despotism is based upon fear and oppression

Relation between Forms of Government and religion & Size of State:

Montesquieu was of the view that certain religions had a definite affinity for certain types of governments. Islam goes well with Democratic Republican form of government, wherein fundamentals of religion i-e., equality, fraternity and freedom are deeply inculcated and practiced for the security of mankind and glory of the state. Roman Catholicism is closely affiliated with monarchial form of government with arbitrary rule and Protestantism even in this modern age is deeply attached with despotism and cruel expansionism.

Republican form of government is possible only in a state of small size; monarchy suited the moderate-sized state while a big country or an empire must have despotic government. Real democracy is possible only ion small city-state. France of Montesquieu’s time was too large for a republic form of government, Monarchy would suit her best. Montesquieu declared monarchy, a worst form of government and he unlike Machiavelli discarded the doctrine of aggrandizement and expansion.

Criticism:

1.It is quite wrong to assume, as Montesquieu does, that democracy and aristocracy are sub-types of republican form.

2.It is a quite unfair to place despotic government at par with monarchial and republican forms. Despotic state is not at all state because it is established by the absence of established law, and hence it is a lawless state, which should not be included in the plan at all.

3.Montesquieu’s scheme creates distinction between the republican and monarchic form based upon the number of persons who possess the supreme power, the distinction between the monarchic and despotic types depends upon the way in which the power of governments are to be exercised.



Montesquieu as the Aristotle of 18th Century


1.Montesquieu follows the inductive and historical methods of Aristotle and like him, takes keen interest in the practical political activities.

2.Like Aristotle, Montesquieu too pays his attention on the influence of physical environment on the life of man and social institutions.

3.Montesquieu steps into the shoes of Aristotle, when he recognizes basic types of government i-e, republican, monarchial and despotic.

4.Montesquieu closely follows Aristotle when he says that the fundamental types of political constitutions are fixed once and for all but they are different to some extent under the impact of the local conditions.

5.Montesquieu’s observation that the law of a society gives to its unique and particular character, has its parallel in Aristotle’s statement that the constitution of a state determines the very life and character of its people, if there occurs a change in the constitution, the state itself becomes altogether a different state.
I am confused that google and some other websites answer that according to Montesquieu the despotism best suits islam, but here it is quoted that republic matches islam, so what it actually is, kindly put some light.
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