The Spirit of the Laws Questions and Answers
by Montesquieu

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Examine Montesquieu's theory of separation of powers. Why has he been called the Aristotle of eighteenth century? Discuss.

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Montesquieu explained his theory of Separation of Powers in his 1748 book, The Spirit of the Laws. Many of the thoughts that he records in this book would go on to form the basis of modern government, including the government of the United States. Montesquieu is sometimes called the Aristotle of his era because, like Aristotle, his views on politics shaped the course of national governments

One of Montesquieu's views was that the legislative and executive powers of a government should not be a part of the same governmental organ. A combination of the two could lead to the population's liberty being threatened: a tyrant could rise to power and exercise both powers. Montesquieu felt similarly about the separation of judicial and legislative powers. He warned of the cautions of allowing the individuals who make the law to also define its legality.

This line of thinking led Montesquieu to the necessary conclusion that all three forms of governmental power, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial, should exist in separate governmental organs. This separation of powers, Montesquieu reasoned, is critical to safeguarding the liberty of the people. The author's views were clearly prescient. The separation of powers is crucial to the functioning of many of the freest and most powerful countries in the world today.

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