The Separation of People and State

5 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2012

Date Written: March 13, 2012


The subject of American exceptionalism, about which much has been written, is extremely complex. There is no simple way to describe all the ways in which America differs from the other nations of the world.

The United States Constitution is a central part of the creed that defines, creates, and preserves American exceptionalism. The American vision of constitutionalism includes at least four distinctive elements:

  • the belief in adherence to a founding document: a written Constitution;
  • the belief in constitutionally limited government;
  • the legal enforcement of these limits by an independent judiciary, and the invocation of these limits by the Congress, the Executive, state governments, and the People themselves; and
  • the anti‐democratic nature of the Constitution’s republican form of government.
Each of these elements has come under challenge by American constitutional law professors, at least some of whom prefer the European model of constitutionalism to the American one. To the extent that these elements are eroded, America becomes less exceptional, which is a welcomed development among some of those same legal academics.

The separation of People and State is preserved by the Constitution because no one can claim to speak for the People: neither the President (unlike various dictatorships) nor the Congress (unlike the parliamentary systems that dominate throughout the rest of the world). This separation, like the separation of Church and State, provides the space for the rest of the American ideology of classical liberalism to survive. In contrast, the rest of the world’s democratic regimes, whether or not they have written constitutions, are far more susceptible to capture by interests and also by the ideological fashions of the day. In the author's view, the separation of People and State has served America well.

Keywords: Constitutional law, American exceptionalism, Separation of Powers

JEL Classification: K00, K1, K3

Suggested Citation

Barnett, Randy E., The Separation of People and State (March 13, 2012). Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 32, pp. 451-454, 2009; Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 12-038. Available at SSRN:

Randy E. Barnett (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
202-662-9936 (Phone)


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