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Montesquieu’s views on Forms of Government

Montesquieu’s views on Forms of Government

The classification of government of Montesquieu is base partly on the number of those who hold political power and partly on the manner in which that power is exercised. He gives more importance to the principle on which government is based than to its nature. He assigned a particular basic principle to every form of government. The principle of democracy was virtue, of an aristocracy virtue-cum-moderation, of monarchy honor while that of despotism was fear. He enunciated the dangers attending each form of government if it lost its basic principle.

Montesquieu forms the government into three types:

Montesquieu was of the view “A republican government is that in which the body or only a part of the people, is possessed of the supreme power.” To him, when in a republic, the body of the people is possessed of the supreme power it is called democracy. Sovereignty rests with the people in democracy. In Republics, there can be no exercise of sovereignty but by the votes of the people and these votes express their own will.

Montesquieu remarks that monarchial government is that in which a single person governs the state by fixed and established laws. He was of the view that the most intermediate power is that of nobility. This in some measure seems to be essential to a monarchy, whose fundamental maxim is no nobility no monarch, but there may be despotic process.

A despotic government is that in which a single person directs all functions of the government with his own capricious will, without any law and without fixed rules. His own words become laws of the land and complete subordination to these laws a expedient.

Each of the form is associated with its peculiar principle:

a) Democracy is based upon political virtue
b) Aristocracy is based upon moderation
c) Monarchy is based upon honor
d) Despotism is based upon fear and oppression

Relation between Forms of Government and religion & Size of State:

Montesquieu was of the view that certain religions had a definite affinity for certain types of governments. Islam goes well with Democratic Republican form of government, wherein fundamentals of religion i-e., equality, fraternity and freedom are deeply inculcated and practiced for the security of mankind and glory of the state. Roman Catholicism is closely affiliated with monarchial form of government with arbitrary rule and Protestantism even in this modern age is deeply attached with despotism and cruel expansionism.

Republican form of government is possible only in a state of small size; monarchy suited the moderate-sized state while a big country or an empire must have despotic government. Real democracy is possible only ion small city-state. France of Montesquieu’s time was too large for a republic form of government, Monarchy would suit her best. Montesquieu declared monarchy, a worst form of government and he unlike Machiavelli discarded the doctrine of aggrandizement and expansion.


1.It is quite wrong to assume, as Montesquieu does, that democracy and aristocracy are sub-types of republican form.

2.It is a quite unfair to place despotic government at par with monarchial and republican forms. Despotic state is not at all state because it is established by the absence of established law, and hence it is a lawless state, which should not be included in the plan at all.

3.Montesquieu’s scheme creates distinction between the republican and monarchic form based upon the number of persons who possess the supreme power, the distinction between the monarchic and despotic types depends upon the way in which the power of governments are to be exercised.

Montesquieu as the Aristotle of 18th Century

1.Montesquieu follows the inductive and historical methods of Aristotle and like him, takes keen interest in the practical political activities.

2.Like Aristotle, Montesquieu too pays his attention on the influence of physical environment on the life of man and social institutions.

3.Montesquieu steps into the shoes of Aristotle, when he recognizes basic types of government i-e, republican, monarchial and despotic.

4.Montesquieu closely follows Aristotle when he says that the fundamental types of political constitutions are fixed once and for all but they are different to some extent under the impact of the local conditions.

5.Montesquieu’s observation that the law of a society gives to its unique and particular character, has its parallel in Aristotle’s statement that the constitution of a state determines the very life and character of its people, if there occurs a change in the constitution, the state itself becomes altogether a different state.