Montesquieu Institute: from science to society

Inspired by Charles Montesquieu

The Institute is named after Charles Montesquieu (1689-1755), the French philosopher and the founding father of the system of separation of power between executive, legislative, and judicial state bodies (Trias Politica).


Montesquieu's theory

'I would like to examine how the three powers (executive, legislative, and judiciary) are divided among all moderated forms of government we know, and in this way it would be possible for each institution to check its political liberty.' This was what Montesquieu wrote in his famous treatise 'The Spirit of the Laws', published in 1748.

In this book Montesquieu described the relation between the sustainable quality of a society and a balanced distribution of political functions within that society. In this respect, according to Montesquieu, the political powers should be distributed as follows among groups and organs of the society:

  • Management, time and effort, put into the acquisition of public support for the actions of the government, are in balance with the required speed and decisiveness of these actions ('support-decisiveness-balance', democracy versus effectiveness, legitimacy versus governability)
  • Actors involved are asked to deliver 'doable' effort (feasibility principle)
  • An imminent abuse of power by one actor can be blocked by the others (principle of checks and balances)

Montesquieu's 'formula' for the organisation of a sustainable and democratic society has to a large extent determined the organisation of many 'modern' parliamentary democracies. However, this formula provides some challenging questions: is it still applicable nowadays? Does it perhaps require adjustment or addition? Are there nowadays better theories to think of? Or have we simply lost sight of some aspects of this formula?


Objectives of the Montesquieu Institute

One of the objectives of the Montesquieu Institute is to stimulate both Dutch and foreign scientists to look for answers to this kind of questions by, for example, just like Montesquieu himself did:

  • searching for common roots, 'best practices' and failures in various European countries and analysing whether these could be of use in different context, or
  • going back in time to recognise and re-appreciate 'routes' we are familiar with or draw inspiration from failures and mistakes in order to take a different route.