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Constitutionalism and the Separation of Powers

M J C Vile

Publication Year: 2012

Arguably no political principle has been more central than the separation of powers to the evolution of constitutional governance in Western democracies. In the definitive work on the subject, M. J. C. Vile traces the history of the doctrine from its rise during the English Civil War, through its development in the eighteenth century—when it was indispensable to the founders of the American republic—through subsequent political thought and constitution-making in Britain, France, and the United States. The author concludes with an examination of criticisms of the doctrine by both behavioralists and centralizers—and with "A Model of a Theory of Constitutionalism." The new Liberty Fund second edition includes the entirety of the original 1967 text published by Oxford, a major epilogue entitled "The Separation of Powers and the Administrative State," and a bibliography.

M. J. C. Vile is Professor of Politics at the University of Kent at Canterbury and author also of The Structure of American Federalism.

Published by: Liberty Fund

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-8


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pp. ix-10

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pp. xi-xii

This work concentrates upon the history and analysis of a strand of constitutional thought which attempts to balance the freedom of the individual citizen with the necessary exercise of governmental power-a dilemma facing us as much today as at any time in our history. I believe that the study of the ways in which this problem has...

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ONE The Doctrine of the Separation of Powersand Institutional Theory

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pp. 1-22

THE HISTORY OF Western political thought portrays the development and elaboration of a set of values-justice, liberty, equality, and the sanctity of property-the implications of which have been examined and debated down through the centuries; but just as important is the history of the debates about the institutional structures and procedures which...

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TWO The Foundation of the Doctrine

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pp. 23-57

THE MODERN VIEW that there are three functions of government, legislative, executive, and judicial, evolved slowly over many centuries, and it is important to realize that the categories which today form the basis for much of our thinking about the structure of government and its operation are the result of a gradual development of ideas that reflects problems...

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THREE The Theory of the Balanced Constitution

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pp. 58-82

THE DOCTRINE OF the separation of powers was born and developed in the particular circumstances of the Civil War and the Commonwealth, but with the Restoration, such an extreme theory, which had no necessary place for a King with a share in the legislative power, nor any place for a House of Lords, would of necessity have to be replaced with a view of the...

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FOUR Montesquieu

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pp. 83-106

THE NAME most associated with the doctrine of the separation of powers is that of Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron Montesquieu. His influence upon later thought and upon the development of institutions far outstrips, in this connection, that of any of the earlier writers we have considered. It is clear, however, that Montesquieu did not invent the doctrine of...

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FIVE The Matchless Constitutionand Its Enemies

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pp. 107-130

A LITTLE OVER a century after the outbreak of the English Civil War two major theories of constitutionalism had been developed, closely related to each other in their evolution and their logic, yet capable of becoming the intellectual weapons of two different schools of thought, bitterly divided on the "proper" constitution of government. The theory of the balanced constitution had been evolved from the ancient theory of mixed government...

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SIX The Doctrine in America

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pp. 131-192

ON THE 29 June 1776 twenty-eight years after the publication of the De l'Esprit des Loix, the "future form of government" for the State of Virginia was proclaimed in convention at Williamsburg. It began with...

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SEVEN The Doctrine in France

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pp. 193-232

THE PATTERN of mixed government and the separation of powers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries closely reflected the institutional developments of England and America, reacting to the problems those countries faced, providing the ideological materials with which they formulated solutions to those problems. The institutional development of...

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EIGHT The Rise and Fallof Parliamentary Government

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pp. 233-262

WE H A v E s E E N that in the constitutional thought of America and France up to the mid nineteenth century the separation of powers provided the only real alternative to some variant of the balanced constitution as a basis for a system of limited government. The only other possibilities were autocracy or a system of unchecked legislative domination...

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NINE From the Third Republic to the Fifth

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pp. 263-288

The connection between the doctrine of the separation of powers and the theory of parliamentary government, developed in the previous chapter, was a close and rather paradoxical one. The theory of parliamentary government, like its predecessor the theory of the balanced constitution, required a set of concepts concerning the division of the functions...

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TEN Progressivism and Political Science in America

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pp. 289-322

THE CONSTITUIONAL theory of the United States down to the Civil War was dominated by the interaction between the two doctrines of the separation of powers and checks and balances, forming a complex pattern of opposition and interaction, until they both dissolved into a number of tactical political positions with little coherence or consistency. The...

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ELEVEN Political Theory, Constitutionalism, and the Behavioural Approach

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pp. 323-345

THE TWENTIETH century is an age of cynicism and scepticism as far as political theory is concerned. It is argued that political "theory" is in fact little more than the expression of opinion or prejudice, or, to put it in another way, is the expression of an ideology which is not amenable to proof or disproof. The sceptic sees the antithesis of political theory in the strictly...

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TWELVE A Model of a Theory of Constitutionalism

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pp. 346-384

Possibly the dominant impression left by this survey of three centuries of Western constitutional thought is that we of the middle of the twentieth century live in an age which has inherited a number of different traditions, without being able ourselves to knit these varied strands into a coherent pattern, to...

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THIRTEENEpilogue: The Separation of Powers andthe Administrative State

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pp. 385-420

WHEN THE FIRST edition of this book was published in 1967 it was extremely unfashionable. The history and analysis of an institutional theory concerned with the limitation of the power of government clashed with the dominant intellectual trends of the time. There...


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pp. 421-442


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pp. 443-455

E-ISBN-13: 9781614878735
E-ISBN-10: 1614878730
Print-ISBN-13: 9780865971752

Page Count: 467
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: None