The Spirit of the Laws Questions and Answers
by Montesquieu

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Does Montesquieu believe that monarchy is always the best form of government? Why or why not?

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In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu discussed political theory and the three types of governments. He further described the merits of a constitutional system of government and the need for separation of powers.

Montesquieu acknowledged the existence of three types of governments: a republic, a monarchy, and despotism. A republic is considered democratic when it extends wider citizen rights and aristocratic when some of these rights are restricted. In a monarchy, there are fixed laws, but authority is vested in a king or queen. In a despotic government, authority is vested in a despot and the system has no fixed laws.

Montesquieu advocated for the separation of powers where the government is made up of three separate arms: the executive, legislature, and judiciary. The three arms are expected to check the powers of each other preventing the concentration of power around a particular individual or group. He further, suggested that separation of powers would be achieved in a democratic government.

Although his work was not an attack on the monarchical or despotic systems of government, Montesquieu asserted that a republic, especially a democracy, was a better form of governance. This was because a democracy would only succeed if founded on strong virtues.

THERE is no great share of probity necessary to support a monarchical or despotic government: the force of laws, in one, and the prince’s arm, in the other, are sufficient to direct and maintain the whole: but, in a popular state, one spring more is necessary, namely, virtue.

In addition, over-reliance on a despot places the government in a precarious position. When the individual fails, the state crumbles.

A moderate government may, whenever it pleases, and without the least danger, relax its springs: it supports itself by the laws and by its own internal strength. But, when a despotic prince ceases one single moment to lift up his arm, when he cannot instantly demolish those whom he has intrusted with the first employments, all is over: for, as fear, the spring of this government, no longer subsists, the people are left without a protector.

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