Simple Liberty  



Introduction to the Study of The Law of the Constitution

by A.V. Dicey

1st edition 1885, 8th edition 1908, reprinted 1982, Liberty Fund, Inc.

Written by Darrell Anderson.

The British author A.V. Dicey’s book often is cited as a subject matter authority on constitutionalism. That statement might be true, but only within the perspective of statism. Readers will find that despite all the notoriety of this book, Dicey is nothing more than a statist.

If you doubt that conclusion then consider that Dicey offered three primary principle elements of constitutionalism:

  1. The sovereignty of parliament.
  2. The rule of law.
  3. The customs, practices, maxims and precepts of constitutions.

After introductory texts, Dicey begins his thesis with the following:

The sovereignty of Parliament is (from a legal point of view) the dominant characteristic of our political institutions. My aim in this chapter is, in the first place, to explain the nature of Parliamentary sovereignty and to show that its existence is a legal fact, fully recognized by the law of England; in the next place, to prove that none of the alleged legal limitations on the sovereignty of Parliament have any existence; and lastly, to state and meet certain speculative difficulties which hinder the ready admission of the doctrine that Parliament is, under the British constitution, an absolutely sovereign legislature.

One might think the text is downhill from there. However, Dicey’s thoughts about the rule of law are worth reading and contemplating.

His thoughts about the conventions of constitutionalism are a mixed bag of plausible ideas and statism. However, in one instance of that section, Dicey discusses what he believes are “obvious” limitations on the concept of self-defense. Although the topic itself deserves discussion, his example is open to debate. He offers that a nine year old schoolboy, having his ears pulled by a “hulking bully of eighteen” does not justify the schoolboy stabbing and killing the bully.

Why not?

Perhaps if more people fully exercised their right to self-defense the world would witness fewer bullies in this world. With fewer bullies more people would be able to quietly and peaceably pursue their happiness and dreams. Anybody who has witnessed a “bully” dog pick a fight with another dog, and then had its keester kicked, noticed that the “bully” dog thereafter thought twice about its bully habits.

And many childhood bullies grow up to be politicians and jack-booted thugs hiding behind badges operating under the illusion and color of law.


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