What is a Constitutional Government?

Constitutional government can be best described as limited government. That is, there are certain things that the government may not do, whether it wants to or not; there are certain parameters beyond which the government may not go. There is an explicit limitation upon the powers of the government to act in a specific field of interest.

But remember that governments with constitutions are not necessarily constitutional governments. The fact is, we can find governments without “written” constitutions that can be appropriately called constitutional regimes, and conversely, we can find governments that do have written constitutions but do not properly fit within the behavioral parameters we have set for a regime to be called constitutional government.

To cite examples, Scholars agree that Great Britain does posses a constitutional government. There are limits beyond which the British government may not go- yet Britain does not have a single, written document that can be called a written constitution. On the othetr hand, althought the Soviet Union (the former USSR) had a constitution that was highly detailed and specific, many argued that the Soviet regime should not have been called a constitutional regime or constitutional government. Why? There were, until the very final days of the regime, no effective limitations on Soviet governmental power. Rights were conditional and the rights in question can be denied.

Basing from the discussion above we can propose two (2) general types of constitutions in relation to Human Rights:

  1. Constitutions that “gives” right – it implies that the government had also the powers to take away these rights.
  2. Constitutions that “recognize” rights – rights are not given; they are recognized, by limiting the things the government can do. Rights appear to be existing and these belong to the people, and the constitution recognizes this fact by forbidding Congress to limit them.