Distribution of Power and Environmental InfluenceJune 26, 2021
French lawyer Charles-Louis de Secondat, later Baron de Montesquie (1689-1755) was the foremost political theorist of the 1700s. Montesquieu is particularly known for his two main contributions. The theory of separation of power as a condition of freedom and the theory of the influence of different circles on politics.
In his work On the Spirit of Laws, Montesquie proposes a double thesis regarding law: the natural rights thesis, which is based on the principle that different laws are formulated from one and the same law, and the thesis that these different formulations of law are determined by different social and natural environments. Montesquie thus avoids the relativism that often arises when we reject the natural rights thesis, and the unproductive dogmatism that arises when we regard a universal law of natural rights as real without explaining how that law relates to concrete situations. On the Spirit of Laws considers in detail this connection between the various circles and the specific formulations of the corresponding law.
The idea of natural rights was nothing new. The thesis that we know this law with the help of a common mind is not new either. What is relatively new is Montesquie’s recommendations that we investigate the connection between the environment and the structure of laws in an observational way. However, this idea was not entirely new. Both Aristotle and Machiavelli had suggested this before. Moreover, Montesquieu was not exactly empirical in his treatment of the environment. This was largely limited to a fairly accurate intuition in a number of aspects, such as climate, soil, commercial structure, mode of production, and the influence of customs on politics and legislation.
In addition, Montesquieu makes a classificatory presentation of three types of government (republic, monarchy, and despotism) and three corresponding principles (virtue, honor, and fear). The next (reminiscent of Aristotle) tripartite distinction was probably determined by the political concerns of Montesquieu’s age: the Republic was a perfect picture of ancient Rome. Despotism, on the other hand, was the terrible picture that France could come to. And monarchy reflects Montesquieu’s view of British government as an ideal for France. Montesquieu has always been a defender of freedom, political realism, and the scientific attitude, although he did not succeed in fully meeting the conditions he set for scientific research. Montesquieu thought that there was a distribution of power between the judiciary, executive and legislative institutions in England. This distinction occupied an important place in the history of ideas based on the North American and French declarations of political freedom at the end of the 1700s.
The principle of separation of powers is actually an ancient idea. We can find this in Plato’s Laws and Aristotle’s Politics. We can see this happening to some extent in medieval empires as well. We also find this idea in Locke’s thought. However, the jurist Montesquieu developed the separation of powers thesis and emphasized the issue of having a system of legal control and a reasonable balance between the various government bodies. The separation of powers will be applied to the relationship between the judiciary, executive and legislative functions.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook