Montesquieu and the Concept of Political FreedomJune 28, 2021
The French philosopher Montesquieu (1689-1755) expressed his political view in his work titled The Spirit of the Laws published in 1748.
In this work, he discussed the foundations and conditions of political freedom. Montesquieu defends political freedom and thinks that the laws constituting this freedom should be under constitutional guarantee. Montesquieu attaches great importance to the concept of “freedom”. Freedom has been given different meanings throughout history. Some considered it freedom to dethrone a tyrant, some to choose a person to submit to, and others to take up arms and use violence. There are even communities who think that growing a beard is freedom. Others have determined some forms of government as free and other governments as non-free governments.
According to Montesquieu, in democracies the people seem to do what they want, but political freedom is not the ability to do what one wants. Freedom in the state, that is, in a society with laws, can mean that a person can do what he wants and not be forced to do what he does not want. Freedom is the right to do whatever the law allows. A citizen cannot do what the law prohibits, and if he does, he loses his freedom.
According to Montesquieu, freedom is not the ability to do whatever one wants, as long as the law allows and to that extent. Freedom is freedom to do what one wants, as long as the law allows, and not to be forced to do what one does not want.
According to Montesquieu, neither democracy nor aristocracy are by their nature free forms of state. Political freedom is found only in governments where power is not abused, but anyone who holds power tends to abuse it. Therefore, the rules of government of a country should be determined by a constitution so that no one has to do what the law does not command him to do, and he is not prevented from doing some things that the law allows. A citizen’s political freedom means the peace of mind that comes from the security each person believes they have. To have this freedom, government must be such that one citizen does not fear another citizen.
According to Montesquieu, when the legislative power and the executive power are combined in one person or a community, there is no freedom. There is no freedom if the judicial power is not separated from the legislative and executive powers. So if a single person, or a group of elites, holds these three powers, everything is lost. Rulers who want to become tyrants start by gathering all three powers in their own hands.
Montesquieu argues that the concentration of legislative, executive and judicial powers in the same hand will abolish freedom in a country.
According to Montesquieu, since every free man must govern himself, the people as a whole must hold the legislative power. But since this is not possible, the people do it through their representatives. The benefit of electing representatives is that the elected representatives are at a level to discuss issues that the public is not at a level to discuss. According to Montesquieu, there are four forms of government: democracy, aristocracy, monarchy and despotism. Montesquieu thinks that among these four forms of state, two extreme forms, namely democracy and despotism, should be avoided. According to him, the most correct form of state is monarchy.
Compiled by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Atatürk University Department of Sociology Lecture Notes for Grade 1 “Introduction to Philosophy” and Grade 3 “History of Contemporary Philosophy” (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook