The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter 19

Methods and Intruments of Government

§6. It may be expedient that some part of the regulation that I have summarily described should be withdrawn from the control of the ordinary legislature, and settled on a comparatively permanent footing by constitutional rules more stable than ordinary laws, being only capable of modification by a more elaborate and tardy process than ordinary legislation. Still, the reasons just given would seem to justify the allotment to the ordinary legislature of so much power of control over the executive organ as to place the latter normally in a relation of subordination to the former. And indeed this relation of subordination is implied in the term ``executive'': which properly denotes an organ whose function it is to carry out the orders of some other organ. In fact this implication has caused some writers to object to the term as applied to the high officials in modern States---kings or presidents and their ministers---who are the heads of what I have called the ``executive'' departments of government. It is urged that the popular designation of these officials as ``the government'' is really more correct: since within wide limits they form---and ought to form---resolutions and issue orders, general as well as particular, on their own responsibility. I think it is true that, for the effective performance of governmental functions, monarchs or ministers must have normally some power of making general rules to which not only their subordinates but other citizens also, under certain circumstances, have to conform. But this does not render the term Executive inappropriate to describe the normal duties of these officials, so far at least as the internal functions of government are concerned: since, in internal affairs, the general character of normal governmental interference is capable of being defined by law, and must be expected to be so defined in an advanced modern community in which legislation is active: so that the special ordinances and regulations which the heads of the (so-called) executive departments issue are properly conceived as carrying out the general design of the legislature. It is true, again, that under exceptional circumstances, it may be the duty of the so-called executive to take measures, not capable of being defined beforehand, for preserving order or protecting the interest of the community from serious detriment, and that such measures may inevitably conflict with established legal rules. But I conceive that it should be the aim of statesmen to keep such justifiable illegality within the narrowest possible limits: and it seems reasonable in our constitutional terminology to take account of the normal relations of the different organs of government rather than the abnormal.

The case is, I admit, different as regards foreign affairs. In the first place, it is, generally speaking, an important part of the business of the organ of government that deals in the name of a State with other States and their members, to conform to the established rules of international duty which do not rest on the authority of any one State's legislature, and therefore ought not to be regarded as normally modifiable by any such legislature;---although the latter may sometimes have to give all authoritative definition or interpretation of certain international rules for the guidance of members of its own State. And further, within the limits prescribed by international law and morality, it seems clear that the legislature could not conveniently determine the conduct of war or negotiations by general rules in anything like the same degree as the internal functions of government; owing to the extent to which wise management of foreign relations must vary with varying combinations of circumstances incapable of being foreseen. The legislature must either in the decision of these matters leave a very wide discretion to king or minister, or else itself take part in the decisions, and so go beyond the sphere of legislation.

I admit, therefore, that the term ``executive'' is not quite appropriate to denote the power and function exercised by the organ of government that deals, in the name of the community, with foreign states. Still, as we have seen, this power and function cannot well be separated from the internal executive power and function, as regards the highest direction, the ultimate control of both: since for either the whole organised physical force of the community may be needed in the last resort. I propose, therefore, to take the term ``executive'', as implying that the organ of government so denoted acts to a great extent under rules laid down by the legislative organ, and with a general duty of carrying out the intentions of that body.

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