Limited government

In political philosophy, limited government is where the government is empowered by law from a starting point of having no power, or where governmental power is restricted by law, usually in a written constitution. It is a key concept in the history of liberalism. The United States Constitution presents an example of the federal government not possessing any power except what is delegated to it by the Constitution — with the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution making explicit that powers not specifically delegated to the federal government are reserved for the people and the states. The Magna Carta and the United States Constitution also represents important milestones in the limiting of governmental power. The earliest use of the term limited government dates back to King James VI and I in the late 16th century.[1] Limited government put into practice often involves the protection of individual liberty from government intrusion.[2]

Argument for limited government

An important expositor of the case for limited government was Robert Nozick in this 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle coined the term night-watchman state in an 1862 speech in Berlin. A night-watchman state is a model of a state whose only functions are to provide its citizens with the military, the police and courts, thus protecting them from aggression, theft, breach of contract and fraud and enforcing property laws.

Whether this conception results in a minimalist state under the present conditions of political economy is open to debate, given the pervasive integration of the military–industrial complex into the modern world's technological and petrochemical industries: aerospace, radio, radar, microelectronics, supercomputing, materials science, satellites, GPS, telemetry, information theory and heavy industry (such as the Heavy Press Program) all have mixed-economy origins. But at least conceptually, if not in practice, the model of the night-watchman state outlines a limited-government mandate.

Limited government and the United States


The original authors of the United States Constitution saw fit to limit the powers of government, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson. Here, Jefferson outlined three basic statements widely adhered to by the people of the American colonies. Supporters of the Declaration believed that these statements were not sufficiently adhered to by or through the English monarchy. In order to prevent this travesty the framers of the constitution made limited government a principle tenet of the constitution. Among the assertions were that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that governments are instituted in order to preserve these rights. It was the colonial experience of many Americans that the English government was not adhering to these premises, and it was for this reason that the colonies saw fit to establish their own government in which all three of these assertions would be respected.[3][4]

The Preamble to the Constitution serves to communicate the goals sought to be accomplished by specifically enumerating the powers of the United States government—the promotion of “the general Welfare” is one of these goals. The Preamble does not grant any power to the government, rather it serves to explain the limits of the delegated powers listed later in the Constitution. This is to say, in the case of the general welfare clause, that the government is not allowed to exercise its powers on a whim, rather they must be exercised for the general welfare of the country.

The Bill of Rights

With the ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights came a new era of government in which the powers and restrictions of government were both explicitly outlined. The Bill of Rights added to the American Constitution, along with other constitutional amendments, limits the power of government in two ways. First, it restricts the range of governmental authority by prohibiting the government from intruding in certain areas, like religious worship or freedom of speech, and grants the government authority over specifically enumerated aspects of life, like regulating the economy and collecting taxes. Second, it sets certain procedures the government must follow when dealing with the people. Examples of this include the protection from unreasonable search and seizure of property and protection from cruel and unusual punishment for crimes for which one is convicted. The explicit outline of what the government is permitted to do and barred from doing combined with the power of common people to seek repairs for breaches of their constitutional rights is what protects the rights of the people.[3]

The Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution are examples of how the government acknowledges it doesn't have complete dominion over every facet of the people's lives, and that the federal government is not the only entity with governmental power in the United States. The Ninth Amendment reads “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others held by the people.”[5] This shows the federal government doesn't have the ability to infringe upon the rights of the people in any circumstance, even if the rights aren't explicitly protected by the Constitution.

The Tenth Amendment states “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”[6] This limits the authority of the United States government to those powers listed in the Constitution and concedes the premise that individual States retain the powers not granted to the national government but that are also not barred to the States by the Constitution. Also, it grants that the people themselves retain power under this system of government as well. These are key points of the concept of limited government established by the Constitution in the United States because they overtly state the power of the federal government is not unlimited.


Where the government oversteps its authority, the people have the right, as listed in the Constitution, to make their grievances known through petition and through public elections for government office. As 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln once said, "Our government rests in public opinion."[7] A principle tenet of the Republican conception of limited government is what Lincoln called self-government, a "sacred right [...] at the foundation of the sense of justice."[7] The rationale behind this is simple: "No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other's consent."[7] It is the adherence to republicanism that allows citizens to perpetuate the idea that the government must not only adhere to the Constitution, it must also listen to the will of the people. If the people disapprove of the actions of those in power and the rules they legislate, they have the ability to put new people in power who will better represent the public interest. Since, under the Constitution, the government is ultimately held accountable by the people, the public always has the opportunity to keep the government's power in check.

Checks and balances

The Constitution also partially prevents the government from expanding its own power by creating a system of checks and balances through the separation of powers. Articles One, Two, and Three of the Constitution create three separate branches of government, equal in level power, but different in responsibility, that all control the government. In assuming each branch would want to expand its powers, it was necessary that each have the ability to fend off power grabs from other branches. The three branches—legislative, executive, and judicial— compete with each other through certain powers that allow them to “check” the others and “balance” the government. Examples of this include the legislative branch's power to override Presidential Vetoes and the judicial branch's power to declare laws created by the legislative branch unconstitutional. James Madison writes in Federalist No. 51 “But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department, the necessary constitutional means, and personal motives, to resist encroachments of the others.”[8] Without the capacity of each branch to check the others, power would concentrate with a small minority and could potentially allow the minority to infringe upon the rights of the people. This would be antithetical to the purpose of the Constitution, hence a system of checks and balances was set in place.

See also


  1. ^ "limited government". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved June 27, 2016.
  2. ^ Cima, Lawrence R.; Cotter, Patrick S. (1985). "The Coherence of the Concept of Limited Government". Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 4 (2): 266. doi:10.2307/3324630. JSTOR 3324630.
  3. ^ a b Barth, Alan. "The Roots of Limited Government". The Future of Freedom Foundation.
  4. ^ Jay, John; Madison, James; Hamilton, Alexander. The Federalist Papers.
  5. ^ United States Government Printing Office. "Unenumerated Rights – Ninth Amendment" (PDF).
  6. ^ United States Government Printing Office. "Tenth Amendment – Reserved Powers – Contents" (PDF).
  7. ^ a b c Guelzo, Allen C. (2012). Lincoln Speeches. New York, NY: Penguin Books. p. 48.
  8. ^ Madison, James. Federalist No. 51. p. 268.

External links

Americans for Limited Government

Americans for Limited Government (ALG) is a conservative 501(c)(4) non-profit organization "dedicated to restoring the constitutional, limited powers of government at the federal, state, and local level... by fighting to reduce the size and scope of government, protecting individuals rights, promoting federalism, and rolling back the tyranny of the administrative state." ALG is focused on "fiscal responsibility, regulatory reform, transparency and shedding light on overlooked issues that impact people's lives."

Bill Wilson (activist)

Bill Wilson (born 1953) is a limited government activist. He is a board member and former president of Americans for Limited Government; a Virginia-based non-profit group promoting small government. During his career, he has been active with various groups advocating for right-to-work laws, term limits and school choice.

Competitive Enterprise Institute

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) is a non-profit libertarian think tank founded by political writer Fred L. Smith Jr. on March 9, 1984, in Washington, D.C., to advance principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty.

According to the 2017 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report (Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania), CEI is number 59 (of 60) in the "Top Think Tanks in the United States".

Ed Crane (political activist)

Edward Harrison Crane (born August 15, 1944) is an American libertarian and co-founder of the Cato Institute. He served as its president until October 1, 2012.In the 1970s, he was one of the most active leaders within the Libertarian Party. He directed the Party as its National Chair from 1974 to 1977, worked on John Hospers's Presidential bid and managed Ed Clark's 1978 campaign for Governor of California. In 1980, Crane served as Communications Director to the Libertarian Party Presidential ticket of Clark and Vice Presidential candidate David Koch. In 2012, Ed Crane stepped down from Cato's board.

Crane has been a member of the board of various political organizations, including Americans for Limited Government, a group that assists grassroots efforts throughout the country, and the Center for Competitive Politics. Crane is also a member of the Mont Pelerin Society.

Green libertarianism

Green libertarianism, also known as eco-libertarianism, is a hybrid political philosophy that has developed in the United States. Based upon a mixture of political third party values, such as the environmental and economic platform from the Green Party and the civil liberties platform of the Libertarian Party, the green libertarian philosophy attempts to consolidate progressive or agrarian values with libertarianism. While green libertarians have tended to associate with the Green Party, the movement has grown to encompass economic liberals who advocate free markets and commonly identify with contemporary American libertarianism.

Historic liberalism in New Zealand

This article gives an overview of historic liberalism in New Zealand. It is limited to liberal parties with substantial support, mainly proved by having had a representation in parliament.

In New Zealand, the term "liberalism" has been used by a large variety of groups and organisations, but usually refers to a support for individual liberties and limited government. The term is generally used only with a reference to a particular policy area, e.g. "market liberalism" or "social liberalism". In its extreme form it can be known as "libertarianism", although this term is used less in New Zealand than in some other countries. Some historians claim that liberalism was a dominant force in New Zealand until around 1936, citing the strong position of the Liberal Party. However, there is (and always was) debate as to whether the Liberal Party was actually liberal—according to some observers, it would be better described as "socialist", although this was a common accusation made against early 20th century liberals, around the world.

Today, there is no party which is universally recognised as "the party of liberalism", although there are parties which attempt to claim this title—ACT New Zealand, for example, has labelled itself as "the Liberal Party". However, both major parties in New Zealand, the Labour Party and the National Party, have incorporated aspects of liberalism into their current agenda, with the former embracing social liberalism and the latter economic liberalism.

Independent Party of Delaware

The Independent Party of Delaware (IPoD) is a political party in the State of Delaware, United States. As of March 2016, it is the third largest political party in Delaware with 5,696 registered voters. The party supports laissez-faire capitalism, limited government, and supports a clean and healthy environment. It was officially formed on August 29, 2000 to provide Delaware voters with an independent alternative to the Republican and Democratic parties. IPoD works to support independent candidates for public office by providing them with ballot access, distributing information to voters, and encouraging participation in candidate debates.

Intercollegiate Studies Institute

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) is a nonprofit educational organization that promotes conservative thought on college campuses. It lists the following six as its core beliefs: limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the rule of law, free-market economics, and traditional Judeo-Christian values.ISI was founded in 1953 by Frank Chodorov with William F. Buckley Jr. as its first president. The organization sponsors lectures and debates on college campuses, publishes books and journals, provides funding and editorial assistance to a network of conservative and libertarian college newspapers, and finances graduate fellowships.

Jeffersonian democracy

Jeffersonian democracy, named after its advocate Thomas Jefferson, was one of two dominant political outlooks and movements in the United States from the 1790s to the 1820s. The term was commonly used to refer to the Democratic-Republican Party (formally named the "Republican Party"), which Jefferson founded in opposition to the Federalist Party of Alexander Hamilton. The Jeffersonians were deeply committed to American republicanism, which meant opposition to what they considered to be artificial aristocracy, opposition to corruption, and insistence on virtue, with a priority for the "yeoman farmer", "planters", and the "plain folk".They were antagonistic to the aristocratic elitism of merchants, bankers, and manufacturers, distrusted factory workers, and were on the watch for supporters of the dreaded British system of government. Jeffersonian democracy persisted as an element of the Democratic Party into the early 20th century, as exemplified by the rise of Jacksonian democracy and the three presidential candidacies of William Jennings Bryan. Its themes continue to echo in the 21st century, particularly among the Libertarian and Republican parties.At the beginning of the Jeffersonian era, only two states (Vermont and Kentucky) had established universal white male suffrage by abolishing property requirements. By the end of the period, more than half of the states had followed suit, including virtually all of the states in the Old Northwest. States then also moved on to allowing popular votes for presidential elections, canvassing voters in a more modern style. Jefferson's party, known today as the Democratic-Republican Party, was then in full control of the apparatus of government—from the state legislature and city hall to the White House.

Liberalism in Europe

A general overview and comprehensive discussion of this topic may be found in the article Liberalism.In general, liberalism in Europe is a political movement that supports a broad tradition of individual liberties and constitutionally-limited and democratically accountable government. This usually encompasses the belief that government should act to alleviate poverty and other social problems, but not through radical changes to the structure of society. Supporters of classical liberalism are mainly found in centrist movements and parties; however, supporters of other versions of liberalism are found in political parties across the left and right spectrum.

European liberals in the centre-right generally favor limited government intervention in economy. Most of them adhere to economic liberalism, conservative liberalism or liberal conservativism.

European liberals in the centre-left are represented in the major social democrat parties, for example the third way-ers, and they are in favour of liberal socialism or social liberalism. They are divided on the degree of government intervention in economy.

List of territorial entities where Afrikaans and Dutch are official languages

The following is a list of the territorial entities where Afrikaans and Dutch are official languages. It includes countries, which have Afrikaans and/or Dutch as (one of) their nationwide official language(s), as well as dependent territories with Afrikaans and/or Dutch as a co-official language.

Worldwide, Afrikaans and Dutch as native or second language are spoken by approximately 46 million people. There is a high degree of mutual intelligibility between the two languages, particularly in written form. As an estimated 90 to 95% of Afrikaans vocabulary is ultimately of Dutch origin, there are few lexical differences between the two languages; however, Afrikaans has a considerably more regular morphology, grammar, and spelling.

Menzies Research Centre

The Menzies Research Centre Ltd is an Australian public policy think tank. It was founded in 1994 and is named for Sir Robert Menzies, the founder of the Liberal Party of Australia and Australia's longest-serving Prime Minister. In disclosure returns lodged with the Australian Electoral Commission, the Centre indicated that it is an associated entity of the Liberal Party.The Centre "works to promote the principles of individual liberty, free speech, competitive enterprise, limited government and democracy". The Centre publishes books and monographs, and organises conferences and seminars throughout the year.The Centre is supported financially by corporate and private sponsors and (along with other partisan think tanks) the federal Department of Finance and Regulation. The receipts of the Centre in 2014-15 was $538,690. The Department of Finance provided $229,105 to the organisation in 2013. Since February 2016 the Department of Finance made further grants of $245,279. The purpose of the grants was to conduct roundtables and seminars on social and political policy issues; to develop its website to disseminate information and production of articles and publications; to conduct research and other projects approved by the Board within the objects set out in the Constitution of the Centre; and to cover the general expenses incurred in conducting its activities.The Centre makes donations to the Liberal Party. It donated $230,639 to the party in 2001-02. It was $39,603 in 2013-14.

Night-watchman state

In libertarian political philosophy, a night-watchman state is a model of a state whose only functions are to provide its citizens with the military, the police and courts, thus protecting them from aggression, theft, breach of contract and fraud and enforcing property laws. The nineteenth-century UK has been described by historian Charles Townshend as standard-bearer of this form of government among Western countries.

Old Right (United States)

The Old Right was an informal designation used for a branch of American conservatism, which never became an organized movement but was most prominent circa 1910-1960. Most members were Republicans, although there was a conservative Democratic element based largely in the Southern United States. They were called the "Old Right" to distinguish them from their New Right successors who came to prominence in the 1950s and '60s. Among the latter were Barry Goldwater, who came to prominence in the 1960s and favored an interventionist foreign policy to battle international communism.

Above all, the Old Right were unified by opposition to what they saw as the danger of domestic dictatorship by President Franklin Roosevelt and The New Deal. Most were unified by their defense of natural inequalities, tradition, limited government, and anti-imperialism, as well as their skepticism of democracy and the growing power of Washington. The Old Right typically favored laissez-faire classical liberalism; some were business-oriented conservatives; others were ex-radical leftists who moved sharply to the right, such as the novelist John Dos Passos. Still others, such as the Democrat Southern Agrarians, were traditionalists who dreamed of restoring a pre-modern communal society. The Old Right's devotion to anti-imperialism was at odds with the interventionist goal of global democracy, the top-down transformation of local heritage, social and institutional engineering of the political left and some from the modern right-wing.

The Old Right per se has faded as an organized movement, but many similar ideas are found among paleoconservatives and paleolibertarians.

Oregon Republican Party

The Oregon Republican Party is the state affiliate of the United States Republican Party in Oregon, headquartered in Wilsonville. The party was established in the Oregon Territory in February 1857 as the "Free State Republican Party of Oregon" and held its first state convention after Oregon's admission to the union on April 1, 1859.

The Republican Party was the dominant political organization in the state of Oregon from the time of the American Civil War through the decade of the 1960s, before moving to a position of approximate parity with the rival Democratic Party of Oregon for the next four decades. During the 21st Century the Oregon Republican Party has generally assumed the role of minority party in state government, with majorities of Congressional delegations, elected statewide officials, and legislative majorities generally controlled by the Democrats.

The Oregon Republican Party's fiscal conservative platform calls for limited government, lower taxes, defense of individual rights. The social conservative platform opposes abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and same-sex marriage, which indicates a belief that human life begins from the moment of conception.

Pacific Research Institute

The Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (PRI) is a California-based free-market think tank which promotes "the principles of individual freedom and personal responsibility" through policies that emphasize a free economy, private initiative, and limited government. PRI was founded in 1979 by British philanthropist Antony Fisher.

Radio America (United States)

Radio America is an American radio network specializing in conservative-oriented talk programming. A division of the American Studies Center, the network describes its mission as "to produce and syndicate quality radio programs reflecting a commitment to traditional American values, limited government and the free market." The American Studies Center has funded special broadcast projects at Radio America, such as a documentary series on African American conservatives, and conservative programming like The Alan Keyes Show; What's the Story? With Fred Barnes; Common Sense Radio with Oliver North; Bob Barr's Laws of the Universe; Veterans Chronicles with Gene Pell; The G. Gordon Liddy Show; The Greg Knapp Experience; and Dateline Washington with Greg Corombos.

The network, as of spring 2015, currently broadcasts a mix of general interest programming (including Doug Stephan) and conservative talk (Dana Loesch and Chad Benson) during the week, and a variety of assorted talk shows on various topics (such as The Money Pit and The Pet Show with Warren Eckstein) on the weekends. The station redistributes Salem Radio Network newscasts at the top of each hour.

Radio America weekday programming airs on CRN Digital Talk Radio Networks, with its own dedicated channel, CRN5.

Republican Liberty Caucus

The Republican Liberty Caucus (RLC) is a political action organization dedicated to promoting the ideals of individual liberty, limited government and free market economics within the Republican Party in the United States. It is part of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. It also operates a political action committee, the RLC-USA PAC.The organization was founded in 1991 and has chapters in many states. In 2011, the organization hosted its National Convention in Arlington, Virginia. The 2013 convention was held in Austin, Texas and the 2015 National Convention was hosted in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Tea Party Patriots

Tea Party Patriots is a conservative American political organization that promotes fiscally responsible activism as part of the Tea Party movement. Its mission is "to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets." The group is a strong opponent of "excess" government spending and debt.In 2010, the group reportedly included over 2,200 local chapters, as well as an online community of 115,311 members (estimated at 63% male, 31% female, 6% unspecified).

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.