Constitutionalism is regarded as “a complex of ideas, attitudes, and patterns of behaviour elaborating the principle that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law.” (Fehrenbacher, 1) Thus, constitutionalism is the rule of law, written or implied, and is maintained by authority who is responsible for the sustainability of the entire system. Constitutionalism is regarded as the chief factor of the modern democratic world that has its roots in the ancient Greek political constructions. (Lamb, 110)
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It is believed that to be recognized as a democratic state with free citizens and fair law, constitutionalism is a necessity. It is true that it is not mandatory to have the ideas of constitutionalism documented. In case UK, the aspects of constitutionalism is more implied than written and it is regarded as an extension of social norms. In this context, it is to me noted that constitutionalism of UK is regarded as one of the most successful implication of constitutionalism. (Lamb, 114) Here the mode of constitutionalism has gone through many changes throughout the last four hundred years and “the protracted struggle for power between king and Parliament was accompanied by an efflorescence of political ideas in which the concept of countervailing powers was clearly defined” (Gordon, 5). As a result, constitutionalism can be defined as a rule of law where the authoritative power of implication of the law has been shifted from King or monarch to the general mass or a group of policy makers. (Lamb, 113)
On the other hand, absolutism, particularly in the context of European political development, is the definition of complete monarchical power, which was specifically unchallenged by any authoritative power like social elites, legislatures, churches or any other forms of institutions. The term, absolutism, is generally used in relation to some distinctive rulers, Kings or Monarch, of Europe during the period when capitalism was slowly taking over from the existing feudal form of society. (Zmora, 67-68) These rulers were Frederick the Great of Prussia, Charles XI of Sweden, Leopold I of Austria, Peter the Great, Ivan IV and Ivan III of Russia and Louis XIV of France. Absolutism ended the influence of the court nobility, rectified and decreased feudal partitioning. It also influenced state unification, development of state power and monarch power consolidation. (Anderson, 187)
Thus, it is clear from the discussion that there is huge amount of difference between constitutionalism and absolutism. While constitutionalism works in favour of democracy, with the help of nobles and later the mass, absolutism works against democracy by decreasing power of the general mass and nobles. In the context of usefulness and utility, it has been seen that constitutionalism scores much higher than absolutism. In the words of Bouwsma, “Nothing so clearly indicates the limits of royal power as the fact that governments were perennially in financial trouble, unable to tap the wealth of those most able to pay, and likely to stir up a costly revolt whenever they attempted to develop an adequate income” (Bouwsma, 15).
Thus, it can be easily seen that constitutionalism is a far better choice of government and this form of governance has been proved to be much better welfare state that is beneficial for the mass. Constitutionalism is modern form of rule where as absolutism is a form that became irrelevant around two hundred years back.
Anderson, Perry; Lineages of the Absolutist State; (London: Verso, 1974)
Bouwsma, William J, in Kimmel, Michael S; Absolutism and Its Discontents: State and Society in Seventeenth-Century France and England; (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1988) pp. 15
Fehrenbacher, Don E; Constitutions and Constitutionalism in the Slaveholding South (University of Georgia Press, 1989) at p. 1
Gordon, Scott; Controlling the State: Constitutionalism from Ancient Athens to Today; (Harvard University Press,1999); pp. 5
Lamb, Davis; Cult to Culture: The Development of Civilization; (Wellington: National Book Trust. 2004)
Zmora, Hillay; Monarchy, Aristocracy, and the State in Europe – 1300-1800; (New York: Routledge, 2001);