Constitutional Limits

One interesting aspect of democratic constitutions- the sets of rules by which nations are governed- is their aim to limit power. Here in the United Kingdom, the executive (Prime Minister and Cabinet) can be thwarted by Parliament. Power is vested in the Crown which can technically dismiss a Prime Minister and invite another to form a government. Our five-yearly parliaments mean a government’s tenure at Whitehall is regularly reviewed and terminated, its services no longer required. 

 Image by John R Perry from Pixabay

In the United States, the three branches of government can each check and balance the others. The President can veto Congressional bills and make appointments to the judiciary, influencing its thought. The Supreme Court can strike down presidential orders and laws if they are deemed to violate the constitution. Congress controls the funds which any White House policy requires and must approve presidential nominees. Congressmen and Senators, along with the states, may amend the very constitution which the Court so jealously guards.  

Confused? Essentially, the American system is designed to make dictatorships impossible. The British system makes dictatorships highly unlikely. Power is spread through various, semi-independent institutions and branches of state. A French Napoleon, a Russian tsar or a gold-braid covered general is unlikely to assume power. The British people were afraid of another Charles I who ruled without parliament, and the Americans of a George III whose parliament denied them representation. 

It was Victorian politician Lord Acton who remarked "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." Pitt the Elder said something similar, but less memorable, in the House of Lords in 1770: "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it". Acton was thinking of the French Nabulio who crowned himself emperor and the Roman principes who declared themselves gods. There is much concern about the current British government’s power-grab, telling us how to dress, how to socialise, and with whom, when to marry, how to worship, where to go and not to go. Perhaps it’s just temporary, a natural reaction to a pandemic. It’s also true that such shrieky claims were made of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair’s periods in Downing Street, though not so much of wartime premier Winston Churchill whose government really did control our lives. The jury is still deciding if Her Majesty’s present government is exceeding its powers; in any event, the electorate may well kick it out if it doesn’t soon return liberties taken.  

The Bible warns of a future world leader whose power will cover the whole world and every aspect of of life. He will claim our worship (2 Thes 2:3-4), exercise unlimited power (Rev 13:5,7), be commander in chief of all the world’s military (Rev 19:19) and be in possession of his own miraculous powers (Rev 13:13). Arising after a period of social breakdown and moral decay, the stability he offers will be a welcome relief to many on the earth. He will be bound by no constitution and share power with none save his own hellish master. Yet His destruction is certain and his time limited. He will be defeated by the only legitimately absolute ruler the universe has- its very Creator. National constitutions seek to limit rulers’ power because of their inability to use it well and for others’ benefit; Christ will rule with perfect equity and justice. His power will be absolute, commensurate with His beauty, purity, goodness and love.  

But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Hebrews 1:8 

Top image by fatoota from Pixabay