The Spirit of the Laws by Montesquieu

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Democratic and aristocratic states are not in their own nature free. Political liberty is to be found only in moderate governments; and even in these it is not always found. It is there only when there is no abuse of power.

Montesquieu shows he is a realist about human nature: giving one person or a small group too much power and trusting them to do the right thing or trusting in a particular form of government is naïve and a recipe for disaster. The only way to avoid abuse of power is to make sure that no one person gets too much power. Power must be distributed broadly for there to be a secure and just state.

Again, there is no liberty, if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control; for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression.

In book XI, Montesquieu discusses the importance of the separation of the powers of the state so that no one individual or group of people can seize too much control. This concept had an enormous impact on the Founding Fathers's structuring of the United States government: the three branches of government—executive, legislative, and judicial—are designed to be in tension with each other. Each one is supposed to keep the other two in check.

There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.

Once again, Montesquieu cuts to the...

(The entire section is 427 words.)