Laws Made to Limit the Power of a Ruler

Limited government is one of humanity`s greatest achievements. It is only imperfectly appreciated by a part of the human race; And where he is appreciated, his mandate is always precarious. The experience of the last century has highlighted the uncertainty of constitutional government and the need for courage and vigilance to maintain it. There are two parts that are downright revolutionary. The first is the fact that the people are sovereign – not a divine monarch or a combination of kings, lords and commons. The people set the conditions of governance in written constitutions. The second is that the people restrict the exercise of power by their government by laws that are neither capricious nor arbitrary and that apply uniformly, even to leaders and representatives who promulgate and apply the people`s law. Together, these two innovations in political science provide a profound model for self-government: the people are in control, they are the source of authority from which rules are made, and the rules apply to all. Countries whose citizens are governed by the absolute decisions of the ruler were not necessarily unhappy.

A government whose king or queen reigns with justice and wisdom can enjoy great legitimacy as long as the authority of the ruler is accepted. Sometimes people accept their boss because they are afraid of the consequences if they don`t. As Machiavelli said, „It is better to be feared than loved.” As long as the feared ruler brings prosperity or protects the lives of his subjects, it is quite possible that his people will be happy. For a limited government to survive, we need a renewal of the two forces Madison calls control of government: popular dependence, in the form of informed citizens, jealous of their rights, and always vigilant against the unconstitutional or unjustified exercise of power, and incumbents who take their oath of office seriously and accept the responsibilities that come with it. These different movements have reinforced each other in several ways. The affirmation of the freedom of the Church and even of its supremacy over secular powers was linked to the idea of the higher law, by which all are judged – emperor, pope and peasant. As the jurist Henry Bracton, a judge in the reign of Henry III, noted about royal authority: „The law makes him king. Let the king, therefore, give to the law what the law gives him, dominion and power; for there is no king where the will reigns, and not the law. If the king considered himself above the law, it was the task of the royal council – the forerunner of parliament – to restrain him: „If the king was unbridled, that is, the law, they should put the bridle on him.” Not only did the nascent parliament stand above the king, but also above parliament. As Sir Edward Coke remarked in the 17th century, „if an Act of Parliament is contrary to common law and reason, or can be applied repugnant or impossible, the common law will thwart it and declare such an Act invalid.” The roots of limited government go back a long way, to the establishment of the principle of the higher law by the ancient Hebrews and by the Greek philosophers. The story of the golden calf in the Book of Exodus and Aristotle`s explorations of nature both established – in very different ways – the principle of the higher law. The law is not simply an expression of will or power; It is based on transcendent principles.

The legislator is bound by the law as well as the subject or citizen; No one is above the law. An absolute ruler can be accepted because people believe or accept the idea that God has given him the right to rule. This belief is known as divine right, which has often been associated with a monarchy, a form of government in which the power of the king or queen is hereditary. A similar idea legitimized the Chinese emperor, whose reign was threatened when his subjects felt he had lost the „Mandate of Heaven.” The American experience of limited government has produced a level of freedom and prosperity that was virtually unimaginable just a few centuries ago. This experiment, of course, revealed flaws, none of which were more visible and repugnant than tolerance of slavery, or „involuntary theft” as his libertarian opponents called him, for depriving an individual of his property over himself. This particular evil was eliminated by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which demonstrates the self-correcting nature and fundamental resilience of the American constitutional system, which could survive a catastrophe like the Civil War. The U.S. system was established to ensure limited government. The independent existence of the United States was based on certain truths: The rule of law is a principle that all persons, institutions, and bodies are accountable to laws that: The history of attempts to introduce absolutism in the Netherlands and England was well known to the American founders, who eventually became British settlers. One cannot understand the American attempt to install a limited and representative government without understanding the history of England. What they fought against was the principle that the powers of the state are „full”, that they fill the entire space of power. In 1598, King James I of England (then King James VI of Scotland) wrote that „the King is above the law, both as author and as giver of strength”.

In 1610, James delivered a speech to the Lords and Commons of Parliament at White Hall in which he railed against the notions of popular consent and the rule of law, declaring that „to deny what God can do is blasphemy. So it`s turmoil in the subjects to discuss what a king can do at the height of his power. The Dutch, like the British and Americans after them, became a shining example of what was possible when people were free: prosperity was possible without the guided hand of the king and his bureaucrats; social harmony is possible without forced religious conformity; And law and government were possible without an unlimited and absolute sovereign. Today, at least, most governments claim to be governed by law. The most common clue is the existence of a written constitution, but the most important question is whether the constitution is really the „plan” that determines how and what policies are made. For example, Nigeria is officially a democracy with a written constitution that one dictator after another ignored. On the other hand, Britain never had a constitution as a single written document, but was regulated by law for centuries. For much of their history, the English have had a limited monarchy or a king or queen who have followed the rule of law. The rule of law exists in any political system in which not all those in power can set their own rules, but must follow an established code of law. In ancient times, a Byzantine emperor established the Code of Justinian, a set of laws bearing his name that survived long after his death. We still follow parts of that code today.