The natural place of virtue is near to liberty; but it is not nearer to excessive liberty than to servitude….
Democratic and aristocratic states are not in their own nature free. Political liberty is to be found only in moderate governments; and even in these it is not always found. It is there only when there is no abuse of power….
To prevent this abuse, it is necessary from the very nature of things that power should be a check to power. A government may be so constituted, as no man shall be compelled to do things to which the law does not oblige him, nor forced to abstain from things which the law permits….
When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner….
Again, there is no liberty, if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control; for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression.
There would be an end of everything, were the same man or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) was one of the leaders of the intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment. Enlightenment philosophers, inspired by the scientific advances made by Isaac Newton and others, tried to explain various aspects of human existence based on logic and reason.
In The Social Contract (1762), Rousseau states that early people living in a state of nature were free, in the sense that they could do whatever they wanted. Of course, they were also at the mercy of other people who were doing whatever they wanted.
In forming or joining a society, Rousseau says, each person enters into an implicit contract. A social contract exists between each person and the group of all people. The individual gives up some of his or her freedom in exchange for the protection and benefits offered by the group.
Rousseau referred to this group of people, acting as one for the benefit of all, as the “body politic,” or the “Sovereign.” It is this Sovereign that establishes the government.
What we have just said confirms … that the depositaries of [people who are entrusted with] the executive power are not the people's masters, but its officers; that it can set them up and pull them down when it likes; that for them there is no question of contract, but of obedience and that in taking charge of the functions the State imposes on them they are doing no more than fulfilling their duty as citizens, without having the remotest right to argue about the conditions….
It is true that … the established government should never be touched except when it comes to be incompatible with the public good; but the circumspection [careful thought and judgment] this involves is a maxim [general truth or rule of conduct] of policy and not a rule of right, and the State is no more bound to leave civil authority in the hands of its rulers than military authority in the hands of its generals….