Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing; human beings are not competent to exercise it; God alone can be omnipotent, because his wisdom and his justice are always equal to his power. There is no power upon earth so worthy of honor for itself, that I would consent to admit its uncontrolled and all predominant authority. Therefore when I see that the authority to pass any law whatsoever is conferred upon an aristocracy, democracy, monarchy or republic, I recognize the seed of tyranny, and I travel onward to live in a land of more hopeful institutions.

—Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America, Vol. II, 1840.

A constitution subordinates democratic law-making itself to a higher law, restricting its reach to within the bounds of established principles. Thus, when ten cannibals agree, by a nine-tenths majority, to eat one of their number, we should not praise them for ‘embracing democracy.’ We should hold our praise until their democracy has been complemented by some fixed rules which protect fundamental rights.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove