Absolutism vs Constitutionalism: Difference and Comparison

The system of government ensures the welfare of the state. During the 15th century, the two political philosophies accounted for the major system of government.

They are – absolutism and constitutionalism. Both systems have distinct differences and various features in their mechanisms of operation in society.

Key Takeaways

  1. Absolutism is a political system in which a monarch has absolute power and authority over the state.
  2. Constitutionalism is a political system in which power is shared between the government and the citizens, and a constitution limits the government.
  3. In Absolutism, the monarch has unlimited power, while in Constitutionalism, power is limited and balanced among different branches of government.

Absolutism vs Constitutionalism

The 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 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 vs 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 led to a luxurious lifestyle and the king’s exhibition of pomp and power. 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 arbitrary rule. Constitutionalism is the antonym of despotic government.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonAbsolutismConstitutionalism
DefinitionConstitutionalism refers to the controlled and limited power provided to the sovereign under the governance of the rule of law. People have ultimate freedom and liberty, and their rights of the people are protected
CharacteristicsA specific set of norms, values and structures check the balance of the government, and the authority of law holds both the sovereign and the subject responsible.People have ultimate freedom and liberty, and their rights of the people are protected.
Prominent philosophersThomas Hobbes, Jean Bodin John Locke
Expression of freedom Spain, ancient Europe, France, and other places The people’s liberties were curtailed, and the lower classes were oppressed.
Expansion in countries Spain, ancient Europe France, and other places Netherlands, the ancient Roman Empire, England, and the modern world

What is Absolutism?

The word absolutism originated in the year 1753 in the theological sense. The word gained prominence in 1830 in the political domain.

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The derivation of the word is from the French word “absolutism”. Absolutism can be used as a noun in both countable and uncountable forms.

During the mid-18th century, absolutism referred to the doctrine of preordination, where 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. Political science in the early 19th century had principles and practices on arbitrary 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 called 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 influenced by enlightened absolutism. This period was during the 18th to early 19th century.

Absolutism, as a noun, can also refer to absolute monarchy, a form of government involving dictatorship. The word can also 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, behavioural 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.

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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 addresses the Constitution as it should be.

The salient features of constitutionalism include the description and prescription of the limitation and the sources of government power, which are 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 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, collecting money or finances requires formal procedure and cannot be collected directly.
  3. Absolutist states have a standing army all the time, while constitutionalist states have an army mobilized only during periods 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.
  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

Last Updated : 13 July, 2023

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