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BBC Radio 3
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The Separation of Powers

Tristram Hunt follows the surprising journey of another idea that developed in Britain and then spread around the world: the 'Separation of Powers'.

With a new Supreme Court opening in the UK, historian Tristram Hunt looks at the idea behind it: the separation of powers. He examines how the doctrine was developed by the French Enlightenment thinker Montesquieu, who observed the British constitutional system in the 18th century - comprised of a judiciary, an executive and a legislature - and saw it as a way of keeping tyranny at bay. Tristram starts his journey in Paris where an absolute monarchy during the 1720s led to a fierce underground debate about liberty. Ideas flowed between Paris and London and Montesquieu crossed the English Channel to better understand the English Constitutional system and the English. One of the outcomes of this was his magnum opus 'The Spirit of Laws', which articulates the importance of the 'separation of powers' to defend liberty. This idea was central to the framing of the U.S. Constitution and Tristram sees how the doctrine is embodied in the layout of Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., reflecting the relatonships between the Supreme Court, the Senate and the White House. Finally, he returns to the new Supreme Court in London to discuss whether it is, in fact, a 300 year old British idea returning home.

This series was first broadcast in Autumn 2009.

45 minutes

Last on

Thu 29 Jul 2010 21:15

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