What Is Constitutionalism?

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Definition of Constitutionalism


Regarding the operation of the state, constitutionalism refers to governance that respects the constitution or a government based on the rule of law or due process. Simply put, the term ‘constitutionalism’ denotes government by the constitution or belief in the idea of a constitutional government. In other words, it means strict adherence to the spirit of the constitution.

In Walker’s book “The Constitutional Good: Constitutionalism’s Equivocal
Moral Imperative” published in 1993,  Walker expresses that:

Whether purposely or inadvertently, and whether to greater or lesser degree, constitutionalism pries the polity away
from the holder of power and makes the constitution itself an object to be reckoned with.

In essence, constitutionalism is an ideal, often associated with the political theories of John Locke that the conduct of government or the exercise of political power must take place within the framework of constitution or impersonal, legal rules.

One may also perceive it as the principle of limiting the power of government in accordance with the provision of the constitution. It emphasizes the rule of law and the protection of citizens from human rights abuse and violation by government officials and private citizens.

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I need to point out to you that by implication, with the concept of constitutionalism, the limited power of government must not only be recognized and accepted; it must also guarantee the fundamental human rights of the citizens.

More importantly, to achieve constitutionalism, emphasis has been on strict adherence to the principles of separation of powers and checks and
balances as well as the respect for the rule of law, toleration of opposition, press freedom as well as continuous existence of an independent judiciary and constitutional courts.

While these are categorical imperatives for achieving the objectives of the state: maintenance of order and promotion of people’s welfare, I must call your attention to the fact that mere existence of a written constitution is no guarantee of constitutionalism. This means that while there may exist a codified body of rules to guide the operations of governmental structures and institutions, in reality political functionaries may not ensure strict adherence to them. To C. J. Friedrich, the goal of constitutionalism is
constitutional government.

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