Constitutions and Constitutional Trends since World War II: An Examination of Significant Aspects of Postwar Public Law with Particular Reference to the New Constitutions of Western Europe

By Arnold J. Zurcher | Go to book overview

4
The Position of the Representative Legislature in the Postwar Constitutions

By Edward G. Lewis UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS

IF democracy means governmental control by a majority of the voters, then an all-powerful legislature representing the current majority is vital to democracy. But if that legislature is limited in its powers by a constitution, so democracy is limited. This is because a majority of the voters, speaking through their legislature, are themselves thereby limited in their activities. Many statesmen and scholars insist that democracy must be more than majority rule. At its base, they say, is respect for individual rights. In their view, an unlimited majority would be as tyrannous as one-man rule, and the lack of limitations would violate an essential part of democracy -- the freedom of the individual.

In all the new postwar democratic constitutions limitations are put on pure majority rule. In all of them these limits take the form of bills of rights, though in Great Britain and some of the Commonwealth countries the formal constitutional structure still emphasizes the omnipotence of the majority, as represented by the legislature. This does not mean that individuals are less free or more likely to lose their freedom, but it does mean that the protections of the individual take a different form. They take the form of ordinary laws that the legislature may change at any time. The British Bill of Rights, however, even though it can be changed by Parliament, is an important part of the British system of government. Any fundamental change in it is extremely unlikely. In fact, it has lasted much longer (since 1689) than bills of rights written into

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