The Separation of Powers and Modern Forms of Democratic Government
William B. Gwyn
To enquire, as some have done in this country in recent years, Does the separation of powers still work? is to ask one or more of three distinct but related questions. (1) Is the prescriptive doctrine of governmental organization associated with the expression, which was developed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, universally valid? (2) Is the doctrine manifested in the major forms of modern representative democracy, and have its effects been beneficial or detrimental? (3) Is the doctrine reflected in the operations of actual governmental systems, and to what effect? There are difficulties in evaluating what is commonly called the separation of powers at each of these levels of analysis, and a fully adequate analysis at each level requires consideration of the other levels as well. This essay is concerned with all three. Its treatment of the third focuses on the government of the United Kingdom, which is frequently said not to incorporate the separation of powers.
The separation of powers is a rather late addition to a body of organizational prescriptions articulated over the centuries by Western political writers as necessary to achieve or protect certain important values. The entire intellectual tradition, usually referred to as constitutionalism, is a broad one concerned not only with prescribing governmental arrangements but also with revealing the social, cultural, and economic prerequisites for their success. Although constitutionalists do seem to have been more concerned with protecting people against government than with the success of government in