1 minute read


Ancient Conceptions, Medieval Conceptions, Early Modern Conceptions, Modern Conceptions, Islamic Conceptions, Chinese Conception

Constitutionalism is commonplace in modern political discourse in the West and beyond, yet it remains an elusive concept. Some have considered it impossible (and unnecessary) to give a definition of it. Nonetheless, one can discern several common features of the concept: the rule of law, not of men; limitations of political authority; the protection of civic rights and liberties; and rule based on the free consent of the ruled. Placing limitations on the exercise of political power is central to the notion of constitutionalism, and measures for that end include admonition to the deviant ruler; the assertion of the people's right to resist, punish, or depose a tyrant; the division of sovereignty via federalism; and the separation of powers, or other checks and balances.

Paradoxical as it may seem, the presence of a constitution is not necessarily a manifestation of constitutionalism. A constitutionalistic constitution forms a political entity, establishes its fundamental structure, and determines the limits within which power can be exercised politically. But some constitutions in the modern world, like those of the former Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, do not limit the exercise of political power. A constitution of this sort is designed to constitute and empower the state, but not to control it.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Condensation to Cosh