Montesquieu on government systems (1748)


Montesquieu on government types and systems, from his 1748 text on political philosophy The Spirit of the Laws (De l’esprit des Lois):

“There are three kinds of governments: the republican, the monarchical and the despotic. Under a republic the people, or a part of the people, has the sovereign power. Under a monarchy one man alone rules, but by fixed and established laws. Under a despotism a single man, without law or regulation, impels everything according to his will…

When in a republic, the whole people possesses sovereign power, it is a democracy. When this power is in the hands of only a part of the people, it is an aristocracy. In a democracy the people, in certain respects, are the monarch; in others, they are the subject. It cannot reign except by its votes, and the laws which establish the right of voting are therefore fundamental in this form of government.

A people possessing sovereign power ought to do itself everything that it can do well; what it cannot do well it must leave to its ministers. Its ministers, however, are not its own unless it nominates them; it is therefore a fundamental principle of this government that the people should nominate their ministers…

There are two excesses which a democracy must avoid: the spirit of inequality, which leads to an aristocracy or a government by one man; and the spirit of excessive equality, which ends in despotism.”