Separation of Powers--Does it Still Work?

Separation of Powers--Does it Still Work?

Separation of Powers--Does it Still Work?

Separation of Powers--Does it Still Work?

Excerpt

This book examines the widespread criticism that the structure of government in the United States is seriously flawed. The authors address the allegation that the constitutional separation of the executive and legislative powers makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the government to make and carry out policies to sustain our domestic prosperity, to conduct a sound foreign policy, and to sustain a strong national defense.

The separation of powers is distinctly American. Other Western democracies do not separate the legislature and the executive in our fashion, achieving a much closer coordination of the two, with little apparent loss of liberty for their people. The American doctrine grew out of a fear of tyranny. As James Madison put it, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands . . . may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." There was general agreement on this principle then, especially among severe opponents of the Constitution, who thought there wasn't enough separation in the Constitution. Madison replied that some combining of the branches and sharing of the powers was necessary to enable each branch to check the others and thus sustain the separation.

The controversy over separation of powers continues steadily, although with interesting changes, as the years go by. In the nineteenth century, Woodrow Wilson called for closer cooperation between legislative and executive, but with an inclination toward congressional leadership, or "congressional government." Today it is more common to hear calls for diminishing the separation in order to allow greater presidential leadership, to make it possible for a newly elected president "to form a government." But either way, the underlying analysis is the same, that the separation of powers works too well, to the detriment of effective government. And the hope is the same, that by diminishing or eliminating the separation of the two branches we will lessen their disruptive rivalry and increase their cooperation, coordination, and accountability.

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