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Locke on Executive Power and Liberal Constitutionalism

  • Lee Ward (a1)

Abstract. Locke's teaching on executive power is widely seen as one of the most problematic features of his constitutional theory. It is generally interpreted to be either an endorsement of extra-constitutional prerogative or a statement of radical legislative supremacy. However, the primary assumption underlying both of these positions—namely, that Locke saw law and constitution as coextensive—is mistaken. On the contrary, Locke's treatment of executive power illuminates his conception of constitutional authority that is distinct from and superior to normal legislation, but also confines prerogative within fundamental legal limits. Locke thus adumbrated many of the key elements of liberal constitutionalism familiar to us today.

Résumé. On a tendance à voir dans la doctrine de Locke sur le pouvoir exécutif l'un des éléments les plus problématiques de sa théorie constitutionnelle. Le plus souvent, on l'interprète soit comme une validation de la prérogative extra-constitutionnelle, soit comme une expression de suprématie législative radicale. Cependant, l'hypothèse fondamentale sous-jacente à ces deux positions, selon laquelle, pour Locke, loi et constitution seraient coextensives, est erronée. Au contraire, la façon dont Locke traite le pouvoir exécutif met en lumière sa conception d'une autorité constitutionnelle qui est à la fois distincte de la législation normale et supérieure à elle et qui confine, en même temps, la prérogative dans des limites légales fondamentales. Il s'ensuit, donc, que Locke laissait pressentir de nombreux éléments clés du constitutionnalisme libéral que nous connaissons aujourd'hui.

Corresponding author
Dr. Lee Ward, Department of Political Science, Campion College at the University of Regina, Regina, SK S4S 0A2;
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Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
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  • EISSN: 1744-9324
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