Montesquieu, Part 17 to blupete's Essay
"An Essay On Government"
How to control or check government power was a question which a Frenchman by the name of Montesquieu pondered back in 1748.31
Montesquieu thought the best way to limit government power is to particularize the power into distinct
parishes, and then, in turn, to assign these parishes of power to the appropriate departments of
government. This control mechanism recommended by Montesquieu might be best illustrated by the
kind of control mechanism that exist in the control of nuclear missiles. My understanding of it is that
no one person can launch such a missile. There are, I believe, three responsible persons each equipped
with a key, each duty bound to check the "codes" before personally inserting and turning the key.
Montesquieu, and the political thinkers who followed him (noteworthy are the framers of the
American constitution of 1787), were anxious to see the existence of a controlling apparatus, so that
raw government power should not fall into the hands of a power hungry individual or group of power
hungry individuals. Government was to be broken down into three functions: executive, legislative,
and judicial. A member of the government in one of these functions has full power but only within his
appointed function. One department (legislative) is to make the laws, another (executive) is to run the
country under the laws and another (judicial) is to enforce the laws against all. It is a fine idea, and we
can see the trappings of it in most governments that exist in the world today. What needs to be asked
is whether it functions as it was imagined it might. This is a topic which I cannot examine here at this
place, but there are a number of questions to ask, including what impact the party system has on the
separation of powers?
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