Too Great a Temptation

Liberty Letters, John Locke, 1689

Perhaps the most fundamental violation of the Constitution today, and the most dangerous, is the combining of the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative powers under one head. English political philosopher, John Locke, gave this counsel on this subject in 1689:

“The Legislative Power is that which has a right to direct how the Force of the Commonwealth shall be employed for preserving the Community and the Members of it. But because those Laws which are constantly to be Executed, and whose force is always to continue, may be made in a little time; therefore there is no need, that the Legislative should be always in being, not having always business to do. And because it may be too great a temptation to humane frailty apt to grasp at Power, for the same Persons who have the Power of making Laws, to have also in their hands the power to execute them, whereby they may exempt themselves from Obedience to the Laws they make, and suit the Law, both in its making and execution, to their own private advantage, and thereby come to have a distinct interest from the rest of the Community, contrary to the end of Society and Government: Therefore in well ordered Commonwealths, where the good of the whole is so considered, as it ought, the Legislative Power is put into the hands of divers Persons who duly Assembled, have by themselves, or jointly with others, a Power to make Laws, which when they have done, being separated again, they are themselves subject to the Laws, they have made; which is a new and near tie upon them, to take care, that they make them for the public good.

“But because the Laws, that are at once, and in a short time made, have a constant and lasting force, and need a perpetual Execution, or an attendance thereunto: Therefore ’tis necessary there should be a Power always in being, which should see to the Execution of the Laws that are made, and remain in force. And thus the Legislative and Executive Power come often to be separated.”


“In all Cases, whilst the Government subsists, the Legislative is the Supreme Power. For what can give Laws to another, must needs be superior to him: and since the Legislative is no otherwise Legislative of the Society, but by the right it has to make Laws for all the parts and for every Member of the Society, prescribing Rules to their actions, and giving power of Execution, where they are transgressed, the Legislative must needs be the Supreme, and all other Powers in any Members or parts of the Society, derived from and subordinate to it.”

Source: John Locke, Two Treatises of Government.

The Liberty Letters are researched, and edited (with occasional commentary) by Steve Farrell. In the above John Locke quote introductory remarks have been added, the spelling has been modernized, and abbreviations have been eliminated. As edited: Copyright © 2012 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.