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Controlling the State

Controlling the State

Constitutionalism from Ancient Athens to Today

Scott Gordon

ISBN 9780674009776

Publication date: 09/15/2002

This book examines the development of the theory and practice of constitutionalism, defined as a political system in which the coercive power of the state is controlled through a pluralistic distribution of political power. It explores the main venues of constitutional practice in ancient Athens, Republican Rome, Renaissance Venice, the Dutch Republic, seventeenth-century England, and eighteenth-century America.

From its beginning in Polybius' interpretation of the classical concept of "mixed government," the author traces the theory of constitutionalism through its late medieval appearance in the Conciliar Movement of church reform and in the Huguenot defense of minority rights. After noting its suppression with the emergence of the nation-state and the Bodinian doctrine of "sovereignty," the author describes how constitutionalism was revived in the English conflict between king and Parliament in the early Stuart era, and how it has developed since then into the modern concept of constitutional democracy.


  • While not defending any particular version of constitutionalism as best, Gordon argues persuasively that some form of constitutional government is necessary for both prosperity and the preservation of individual liberty.

    —R. Hudelson, Choice


  • Scott Gordon is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics and of the History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, Bloomington, and Professsor Emeritus of Economics at Queen’s University, Canada.

Book Details

  • 412 pages
  • 5-7/8 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Press