A rotation therefore, in power and magistracy, is essentially necessary to a free government. It is indeed the thing itself; and constitutes, animates, and informs it, as much as the soul constitutes the man. It is a thing sacred and inviolable, wherever liberty is thought sacred.

—John Trenchard. Cato’s Letters No. 61, How free Governments are to be framed so as to last, and how they differ from such as are arbitrary, Saturday, January, 13, 1721.

Term limits tend to make politicians into men of principle rather than men of expediency. This is partly because men hold power for a period too brief to be corrupted, but also because a different type of person will come forward for the job. Instead of a political elite, leaders will be called up from all walks of life. You will be hard pressed to find a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, an architect, a teacher, a businessman, a farmer or a fisherman who has not, at some stage, done his civic duty and held elected office. As Friedrich Hayek explained: “A type of person is wanted wholly different from those whose main interest is to secure their re-election by getting special benefits for their supporters. One would have to entrust this not to men who have made party politics their life’s concern and whose thinking is shaped by their preoccupation with their prospects of re-election, but to persons who have gained respect and authority in the ordinary business of life.” (Law, Legislation and Liberty, Vol. III, 1979.)

Term limits would extinguish both the grandeur and the stigma of political office, attracting more reputable people to the job. We already see this with juries; whoever heard of an ambitious schemer making it his life’s mission to be a juryman? Likewise, whoever heard of juries being roundly condemned and denigrated in the public eye for their systemic corruption? No one—because juries exist for too short a time to attract the ambitious and unscrupulous or, by their bad reputation, to repel good people from joining them.

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