Difference Between Absolutism and Constitutionalism

The system of governments ensures the welfare of the state. During the 15th century, the two political philosophies accounted for the major system of the governments. They are – absolutism and constitutionalism. Both the systems have distinct differences and various features in their mechanisms of operation in society.

Absolutism vs Constitutionalism

The main difference between absolutism and constitutionalism is that governance of states under absolutism is done under the power of “divine’s right to rule” while governance of states under constitutionalism is by “the rule of law”. Absolutism provides unlimited power to the sovereign while constitutionalism restricts the unlimited power of the sovereign and regulates the social systems.

Absolutism and Constitutionalism

Absolutism has been derived from the concepts of philosophers Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes. The extraction of finances and money was carried out directly from the public by the supreme power of the king. This lead to a luxurious lifestyle and exhibition of pomp and power by the king.

On the other hand, constitutionalism has been derived from the political theories of the philosopher John Locke. The crucial quality of constitutionalism is that it acts as a legal limitation on government and as an antithesis of the arbitrary rule. Constitutionalism is the antonym of despotic government.

Comparison Table Between Absolutism and Constitutionalism

Parameters of Comparison AbsolutismConstitutionalism
DefinitionAbsolutism refers to the uncontrollable and unlimited power with Monarch under the name of “divine’s right to rule” Constitutionalism refers to the controlled and limited power provided to the sovereign under the governance of the rule of law
CharacteristicsMonarch holds power, the king lives a luxurious lifestyle, and the interests of the state are chosen by the sovereign Specific set of norms, values and structures check the balance on the government, and the authority of law holds responsible both the sovereign as well as the subject
Prominent philosophersThomas Hobbes, Jean Bodin John Locke
Expression of freedom The liberties of the people were curtailed and the lower classes was oppressedPeople have ultimate freedom and liberty and the rights of the people are protected
Expansion in countries Spain, ancient Europe France, and other places Netherlands, ancient Roman Empire, England, and in the modern world

What is Absolutism?

The word absolutism has originated in the year 1753 from the theological sense. The word gained prominence in 1830, in the political domain. The derivation of the word is from the French word “absolutisme”. Absolutism can be used as a noun in both countable and uncountable forms.

During the mid 18th century, absolutism refer to the doctrine of preordination, where the doctrine stated that the acts of God are in an absolute manner. Absolutism also forms the basis of the doctrine of absolute decrees, in theology. In the early 19th century, political science had principles and practices on arbitrary government or absolute government. The Hegelian philosophy had the concept of absolutism for unconditioned reality.

Absolutism can also be used in the domain of philosophy. In the late 19th century, belief in some metaphysical absolute could also be referred to as absolutism. The word also has a positive meaning attached, which involves the state of being absolute. Hyponyms of absolutism refer to moral absolutism. Absolutism also refers to a period in European history that was influenced by enlightened absolutism. This period was during the 18th to early 19th century.

Absolutism as a noun can also refer to absolute monarchy which is usually a form of government and involves dictatorship. The word can also be used to refer to abstinence from alcohol and the principle involved. In physics, absolutism could be referred to as the absolute theory which involves absolute space, in contrast to relationalism.

What is Constitutionalism?

Constitutionalism refers to a compound of attitudes, behavioral patterns, and ideas that elaborate the principles of authority of Government and the limitations of the body of fundamental laws. Various political organizations also have constitutionalism which operates for the protection of liberties and interests of citizens under mechanisms of power, which is institutionalized.

Constitutionalism can have both descriptive as well as prescriptive usage and connotations. In descriptive usage, constitutionalism denotes the struggles for recognition of various consent, privileges, rights, and freedoms. In prescriptive usage, constitutionalism denotes the various features and essential elements which are a part of the Constitution. The approach of prescriptive constitutionalism is to address the Constitution as it should be.

The salient features of constitutionalism include the description and prescription of the limitation as well as the sources of government power which are usually a derivation of the fundamental laws. It forms the power structure of a society. It provides strong protection concerning the interests of the citizens, especially to the social minorities.

The use of constitutionalism is mostly in a rhetorical sense. It deals with the legitimacy of the government. Constitutionalism is also criticized by various scholars like Jeremy Waldron, Murray Rothbard, and others. They regard constitutionalism as incapable of protecting the rights and restraining governments. It is even called undemocratic by Jeremy Waldron.

Main Differences Between Absolutism and Constitutionalism

  1. Absolutism involves a single supreme power or king while constitutionalism involves a decentralized system where the power is divided among various institutions.
  2. In absolutism, the supreme power can directly collect wealth from the public while in constitutionalism collection of money or finances requires formal procedure and cannot be collected directly.
  3. Absolutists states have a standing army all the time while constitutionalists states have an army mobilized only during the period of war and chaos.
  4. Absolutism can limit and restrict the freedom of the mass while constitutionalism ensures more liberty and freedom.
  5. Absolutism oppresses the lower classes while constitutionalism provides equality to all the classes and protects the rights of the people.

Conclusion

The operation of both absolutism and constitutionalism is for the welfare and wellbeing of the public. Both are extensively responsible for the protection of their state. Both the systems collected finance in the form of taxes from the people. Though the system of the collection was different for both.

The exhibition of authority and power is different in both systems. The basic concepts of both systems are different from each other. Both the system of governments played a crucial role during the 15th century and benefited society in various ways.

References

  1. https://academicjournals.org/journal/ERR/article-abstract/F7D26A14889
  2. https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/cdozo34&section=37
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