Introduction to volume ‘The Powers That Be. Rethinking the Separation of Powers’ now available online



‘The idea of the separation of powers has been subjected to criticism and competition ever since it first came to be during the upheaval of the English Civil War. In recent years the case has once again been stated that the idea of the separation of powers has lost its significance in a globalised world, with a power constellation in which the distinctions between different types of “powers” have blurred and even so-called constituted power holders have become more and more diffuse. Yet even its fiercest opponents cannot deny that the idea of the separation of powers as a theory of government has, in the words of M.J.C. Vile, “in modern times, been the most significant, both intellectually and in terms of its influence upon institutional structures”.

The idea of the separation of powers reached its zenith in the United States and France in the late 19th century. In the two centuries that separate us from this zenith, the doctrine has suffered almost endless criticism, but endured nonetheless. The tenacity of the idea of the separation of powers is partly due to the fact that it is still widely held to be a procedural and institutional prerequisite for providing the state and its laws with legitimacy. It was, and is, considered by many a guarantor of liberty, in the absence of which power cannot be legitimately exercised.

However, both democratic legitimacy and the separation of powers as concepts have very much evolved alongside the state and over the last decades the state has been giving up ground to other power holders. This brings up the question of whether the combination of these concepts is still viable outside a traditional state context, and if so, in what form? This is the central question the current volume seeks to answer.’

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