Neoclassical Liberal Democratic Theory and the American Constitution

Topics: Separation of powers, United States Constitution, Constitution Pages: 8 (2665 words) Published: April 2, 2013
Over past centuries there have been many different opinions, philosophies and approaches to government and politics demonstrated throughout the world. As time continues and humanity evolves, these approaches and opinions often change, yet their root philosophy, or ideological foundations, often remain. A political ideology can be defined as, “ a science of ideas: the study of the origins, evolution and nature of ideas… the application of human reason to economic, social and political changes”[1]. This notion of a classic ideology influencing modern government is not an exception for that of the United States. Through the study of the “Father of the Constitution,”[2] James Madison, it is most evident that this document he created was shaped around an ideology greatly influenced by classical political philosopher, John Locke. Madison incorporates Lockean philosophies of natural law and role of government with a democratized systematic approach, thus establishing a Constitution largely based upon the ideology of the Neoclassical Liberal Democratic Theory. The influence of this ideology is evident within three fundamental aspects of the American Constitution: the division of powers and federalism, the notion of checks and balances, and the process of the judicial review. Locke’s natural law supports the notion that individual freedom is an essential right, while his opinion of the role of government, in its most vital duty, is to serve, represent and protect the people. Madison, however, did not agree with Locke’s vision of human nature, denying his opinion in that humanity is generally good. Conversely, Madison did not trust the public, understanding human nature to be selfish, aggressive and unchangeable. Still, such as in Locke’s natural law, Madison believed that people had the right to some sort of self government and therefore aspired to create a government, “… guided by an enlightened and benevolent elected aristocracy, that would protect the interests of the people…”[3]. With these classical philosophies in mind, the Neoclassical Liberal Democratic Theory can be explained as an ideology understanding human nature to be essentially selfish and therefore in need of a government with enough power to discipline the masses, yet without the power to oppress them. This ideology is represented by a government with a large power base, so as to ensure neither the public nor the ruling class of citizenry could attain dominance over the other. As this essay will later argue, the United States, for its Constitutional elements, clearly represents such a system of governance.

The first American constitutional element to be discussed with a clear connection to the ideology of the Neoclassical Liberal Democratic Theory is that of the institutional division of powers, along with federalism. The institutional division of powers serves two main purposes: firstly, to maintain and share executive power in all three braches of government; executive, legislative and judicial. Secondly, the separation of personnel, so that no one person may hold office in more than one branch of government. Federalism, conversely, is the territorial division of powers. The United States, as every other country, allots for each state to carry out governmental functions. In the case of the United States, the institutional arrangement accomplishing this task is known as a confederal system, in this system the central government holds few responsibilities above the individual states, “ …extreme decentralization of power and a central government with few powers or responsibilities”[4].

The notion of the division of powers is highly relatable to some of Locke’s views of the role of government. This connection can be drawn to his desire for representative government, as Locke foresaw the legislative branch of government representing the people as a separate entity from the executive branch, “… he believed that the legislature, which was the direct agent of the...
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