In Defense of Separation of Powers
James W. Ceaser
It is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society.
Only once in recent history has a major democratic regime changed its basic institutional structure with the clear aim of remaining a democracy. That change occurred in France in 1958, when Parliament could not form an effective government in the face of the Algerian crisis and the imminent threat of a military coup. While Parliament fiddled, Paris nearly burned. France had lost the sine qua non of any functioning government: the power--let us call it, with John Locke, the "executive power"--to act with energy and discretion to save the nation from conquest or disintegration. To remedy this fatal flaw, the founders of the Fifth French Republic, drawing heavily on the American presidential model of government, instituted a unitary and independent executive elected outside Parliament and endowed by the constitution with a broad grant of power. The new office was designed to ensure that there would always be a force to act for the state, even in the event of a stalemate among the political parties on the normal policies of governing. The nation's heart would never cease to beat. 1
Today in the United States several prominent persons are urging the American people to undertake a similiar act of constitution making. Oddly enough, however, while many in this group proclaim their desire to strengthen the executive office, they are recommending the opposite course from that taken in France in 1958; they are calling for a change from a presidential (or separation of powers) system to something akin to a parliamentary system. They propose this change not because the United States faces an immediate crisis but because the government does not function as well as it might--because, in Lloyd Cutler's words, we are unable to "'form a Government' [that can]