I know tout can be translated to "all" or "everything", and perdu translated to "lost". But what do "tout" and perdu mean here? All of what? What's lost?

I don't think Montesquieu is writing literally...the UK won't be lost just because it loses the separation of powers. Just before this quote, Montesquieu described three functions of government: the Legislative or law-making function, enacting rules for society; the Executive or law-applying function, covering actions taken to maintain or implement the law, defend the state, conduct external affairs, and administer internal policies; and finally the Judicial or law-enforcing function, which is the determining of civil disputes and the punishing of criminals by deciding issues of fact and applying the law.

Montesquieu, la Constitution d'Angleterre, MJP English translation.

Il n'y a point encore de liberté si la puissance de juger n'est pas séparée de la puissance législative et de l'exécutrice. Si elle était jointe à la puissance législative, le pouvoir sur la vie et la liberté des citoyens serait arbitraire: car le juge serait législateur. Si elle était jointe à la puissance exécutrice, le juge pour-rait avoir la force d'un oppresseur.

Tout serait perdu, si le même homme, ou le même corps des principaux, ou des nobles, ou du peuple, exerçaient ces trois pouvoirs: celui de faire des lois, celui d'exécuter les résolutions publiques, et celui de juger les crimes ou les différends des particuliers.

Dans la plupart des royaumes de l'Europe, le gouvernement est modéré, parce que le prince, qui a les deux premiers pouvoirs, laisse à ses sujets l'exercice du troisième. Chez les Turcs, où ces trois pouvoirs sont réunis sur la tête du sultan, il règne un affreux despotisme.

In this quotation, he's contending that the three functions of government should be carried out by separate organs of state and that each organ should only carry out its own function. For instance, the Legislature should not judge and the Executive should not make laws. The Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches should have equal status so each could control the excessive use of power by another branch.


By tout, Montesquieu is referring to the liberty (mentioned earlier: il n'y a point de liberté), and beyond that, the justice, the legitimacy of the regime.

If the executive, legislative and judiciary powers are not separated, liberty and justice would be lost and lead to what we call today a dictatorship.


Text. For the same reasons set forth in another answer, la liberté. We're dealing with details on the same topic, the preceding lines are about la liberté politique and its requirements and then what stems from the confusion of those branches. Then you have your quotation and a few lines further down you have "voyez quelle peut être la situation d'un citoyen dans ces républiques [...]" and you're exploring examples where the aforementioned requirements might not have been met and the impact of this. Of course la liberté is not something construed in a vacuum etc. and that's really what the text and its topic are all about. In my opinion the author completely masters the language and the topic in this famous work, and takes it exactly where he wants to, showcasing its vital importance in the process.

Grammar and usage. That being said, generally tout as a pronoun stands for "toutes les choses", and in context of what would be lost that would certainly highlight the utmost importance and seriousness of the consequences of not meeting the conditions discussed.

Furthermore, the pronoun tout may be used in a literary turn of phrase to mean "everyone" (« Tout avait fui, même les médecins », Chateaubriand) (LBU14 §766). In context that would mean the same as "tous seraient/nous serions tous perdus" (everyone would be/we would all be lost), not unlike "we would fail" in a way, as in we would fail at having this liberty, again, if...

Incidentally, tout can also be used to mean l'essentiel in certain cases. Like in avoir tout pour plaire, tout is not construed as meaning to have every single thing to please, but rather about having what it takes to please, what's essential to pleasing, whatever that may be. But in context, once again, what is of the utmost importance, what is essential for everyone and which would be lost, that liberté, makes sense.

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    +1 if only for the author completely masters the language and the topic !
    – jlliagre
    Feb 15 at 14:21

I think it can be said that Montesquieu could have been more specific; his formulation gives an impression of vagueness and is somewhat a slipshod characterization that the reader might be tempted to impute to a real writer's block in the process of materializing what actually corresponds to it, if not worse. We can't but speculate, inspired by the spirit of his discourse, that he means by that "all possibilities of a salutary form of government would be foreclosed".

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