The Institutional Perspective on Values and Virtues

  • Elinor Ostrom
  • Vincent Ostrom
Part of the IIAS Series: Governance and Public Management book series (GPM)


Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, Smith, Kant, and the American federalists all sought ways to understand how to create values and virtues in the public sector. Montesquieu expressed the basic anomaly in a straightforward way. Virtue is the basic motive governing republics in which each individual is presumed to be self-governing and the legislative power is presumed to reside in the whole community. But to prevent the abuse of power, it is necessary that the architecture of authority relationships be fashioned on the principle that ‘power should be used to check power’. Madison, in Essay 51 of The Federalist, expressed the same principle in the following language:

This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other—that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State. (n.d. [1788]: 338)


Public Choice Action Situation Institutional Arrangement Logical Foundation Institutional Perspective 
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© Elinor Ostrom and Vincent Ostrom 2011

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  • Elinor Ostrom
  • Vincent Ostrom

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