Arguably no political principle has been more central than the separation of powers to the evolution of constitutional governance in Western democracies. In the definitive work on the subject, M. J. C. Vile traces the history of the doctrine from its rise during the English Civil War, through its development in the eighteenth century—when it was indispensable to the founders of the American republic—through subsequent political thought and constitution-making in Britain, France, and the United States. The author concludes with an examination of criticisms of the doctrine by both behavioralists and centralizers—and with "A Model of a Theory of Constitutionalism." The new Liberty Fund second edition includes the entirety of the original 1967 text published by Oxford, a major epilogue entitled "The Separation of Powers and the Administrative State," and a bibliography.
The Doctrine of the Separation of Powers and Institutional Theory
The history of Western political thought portrays the development and elaboration of a set of values—justice, liberty, equality, and the sanctity of property—the implications of which have been examined and debated down through the centuries; but just as important is the history of the debates about the institutional structures and procedures which are necessary if these values are to be realized in practice, and reconciled with each other. For the values that characterize Western thought are not self-executing. They have never been universally accepted in the societies most closely identified with them, nor are their implications by any means so clear and unambiguous that the course to be followed in particular situations is self-evident. On the contrary, these values are potentially contradictory, and the clash of interests to be found in the real world is so sharp that the nature of the governmental structures through which decisions are arrived at is critically important for the actual content of these decisions. There has therefore been, since earliest times, a continuous concern with the articulation of the institutions of the political system, and with the extent to which they have promoted those values that are considered central to the “polity.”