The Danger of Unlimited Power

Since the end of World War II, U.S. presidents of both parties have collected more power into the office of the presidency. Military interventions into other countries have moved forward without Congressional authorization and executive orders have been issued with only the flimsiest relation to laws passed by Congress.

Many observers suggest Congress must reassert its power as one of the three branches of government. Utah Senator Mike Lee wants Congress to write more specific laws to prevent federal agencies from issuing regulations that ignore the will of Congress. When the French nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in the 1830’s, he warned about the dangers of unlimited power:

Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing. Human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion. God alone can be omnipotent, because his wisdom and his justice are always equal to his power. There is no power on earth so worthy of honor in itself or clothed with rights so sacred that I would admit its uncontrolled and all-predominant authority. When I see that the right and means of absolute command are conferred on any power whatever, be it called a people, a king, an aristocracy or a democracy, a monarchy or a republic, I say there is the germ of tyranny, and I seek to live elsewhere, under other laws.

The Catholic Church recognizes the importance of checks and balances in any democracy:

The Magisterium recognizes the validity of the principle concerning the division of powers in a State: it is preferable that each power be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds. This is the principle of the rule of law, in which the law is sovereign, and not the arbitrary will of individuals. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, par. 408)