Jun 14, 2017
Show 1839 Part 4 of 10. The Meaning and History of the Constitution.
This show was originally published as ACU Show 827 and is here republished.
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Welcome to Week 4
“The Separation of Powers: Preventing Tyranny”
Separation of powers is the central structural feature of the United States Constitution. The division of power among the three branches—legislative, executive, and judicial—is necessitated because human beings are imperfect. The imperfection of human nature means that well-structured government is necessary, though not sufficient, to prevent tyranny.
The United States Constitution is structurally designed in part to prevent tyranny. Separation of powers is the means by which power is divided and its accumulation in the hands of any single entity denied.
During the 1780s, most states had constitutions that formally divided the government’s power, yet in practice the legislatures dominated. The state constitutions required separation of powers in theory, but failed to deliver it in reality. As a result, the constitutions were little more than what Publius called “parchment barriers.”
In order for separation of powers to work, each branch of government must have the “constitutional means” to resist the encroachment of the other branches. This is what today we call “checks and balances.”
In addition to institutional checks and balances, there exist also the “personal motives” of people that will lead them to resist the encroachment of the other branches. Human nature is constant across the ages, according to Publius, and human beings are naturally ambitious. Instead of ignoring or attempting to suppress ambition, the Framers sought to channel it through the Constitution, so that it might serve the cause of liberty and justice rather than threaten it.
The Framers understood that human nature has noble characteristics that are essential to self-government, but also that it contains baser features, for which government must account. The Constitution’s structural separation of powers recognizes this truth, and in preventing tyranny makes self-government possible.
About the Lecturer-
Kevin Portteus is assistant professor of politics at Hillsdale College, where he has taught since 2008. Dr. Portteus is faculty advisor for the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program, and teaches courses in American political thought and American political institutions.
A visiting graduate faculty member in the American History and Government program at Ashland University, Dr. Portteus formerly taught at Belmont Abbey College and Mountain View College, in Dallas. Having published online through the Washington Times, Human Events, and BigGovernment.com, his book, Executive Details: Public Administration and American Constitutionalism, is under review for publication. He received his B.A., summa cum laude, from Ashland University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in politics from the University of Dallas.
Hillsdale College Free Online Courses-
Related ACU Shows-
Show 821 Part 1 and 2 of 5. Introduction to the Constitution Lecture Series
Show 822 Part 3 and 4 of 5. Introduction to the Constitution Lecture Series
Show 823 Part 5 of 5. Introduction to the Constitution Lecture Series
Related Hillsdale Course- Constitution 201
Hillsdale College Course Catalog
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Introduction to the Constitution—Available Now!
This twelve-lesson course explains the principles underlying the American founding as set forth in the Declaration of Independence and secured by the Constitution. The Founders believed that the principles in these documents were not simply preferences for their own day, but were truths that the sovereign and moral people of America could always rely on as guides in their pursuit of happiness through ordered liberty.
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This is a free, ten-week, not-for-credit online course offered by Hillsdale College. With introductory and concluding lectures by Hillsdale College President Larry P. Arnn, the eight lectures at its core—taught by Gary Wolfram, the William E. Simon Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Hillsdale College—will focus on the foundational principles of the free market. Topics will include the relationship of supply and demand, the “information problem” behind the failure of central planning, the rise of macroeconomics under the influence of John Maynard Keynes, and the 2008 financial crisis.
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Imprimis is the free monthly speech digest of Hillsdale College. The content of Imprimis is drawn from speeches delivered to Hillsdale College-hosted events. First published in 1972, Imprimis is one of the most widely circulated opinion publications in the nation with over 3.6 million subscribers.