The Spirit of the Laws by Montesquieu

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Summarize Montesquieu's view of liberty in The Spirit of the Laws. What does he view as the greatest threat to liberty, and how is it kept in check?

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Montesquieu (1689–1755) was an important French legal thinker, writer, and political philosopher. His The Spirit of the Laws (1748) had an important influence on America's governmental framework.

Montesquieu believed that government's primary responsibility was to provide for the safety of its subjects. This "political liberty of the subject" is maintained only through the existence of three discrete entities in a government: legislative, executive, and judiciary. He believed England was successful in achieving this balance. In Turkey, on the other hand: "these three powers are united in the Sultan's person" and the people do not have liberty. The Founding Fathers did not accept all of Montesquieu's ideas, however. Montesquieu believed that executive power should reside in the hands of a monarch, and this notion was rejected by America's Founding Fathers. Also, Montesquieu's ideas on climate's effect on politics had little impact on the creation of America's government.

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