Chapter

People and Elites in Republican Constitutions, Traditional and Modern

John P. McCormick

in The Paradox of Constitutionalism

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199552207
Published online January 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780191709654 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199552207.003.0007
 People and Elites in Republican Constitutions, Traditional and Modern

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Utilising the works of the early 16th century Florentine republicans, Guicciardini and Machiavelli, this chapter focuses on a critical distinction between traditional and modern constitutions. In traditional constitutions ‘the people’ signifies not only the body politic but also the common people with a distinctive interest in ensuring their freedom from oppression by the patrician class who invariably exerted a disproportionate influence in government. In modern constitutions, by contrast, ‘the people’ is invariably treated as a unitary entity of formally equal citizens, with class-blind representative forms that tend to shield from view the reality of elective oligarchy. The chapter acknowledges the necessity of maintaining within contemporary constitutional arrangements the tension between the instituted power of elected (patrician) rulers and the powers of the common people to check their more reckless or restrictive projects.

Keywords: Florentine republic; Guicciardini; Machiavelli; traditional constitutions; modern constitutions; the people; patricians; oligarchy

Chapter.  9742 words. 

Subjects: Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law

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