Pub. date: 2011 | Online Pub. Date: October 04, 2011 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412994163 | Print ISBN: 9781412959636 | Online ISBN: 9781412994163| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Constitutionalism is sometimes regarded as a synonym for limited government. On some accounts, this doctrine is associated in turn with minimal or less government. But that is only one interpretation and by no means the most prominent historically. A more representative general definition would be that constitutionalism seeks to prevent arbitrary government. At its most generic level, arbitrariness consists in the capacity of rulers to govern will-fully—that is, with complete discretion—and to serve their own interests rather than those of the ruled. Constitutionalism attempts to avoid these dangers by designing mechanisms that determine who can rule, how, and for what purposes. However, constitutional traditions differ as to what precisely counts as an arbitrary act and which mechanisms offer the best defense against their occurring. The classical, neo-republican tradition of political constitutionalism identifies arbitrariness with domination of the ruled by their rulers and seeks to avoid it by establishing a condition ...