Limited government
Limited government is a government which anything more than minimal governmental intervention in personal liberties and the economy is generally disallowed by law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

, usually in a written constitution
A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is...

. It is written in the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

 in Article 1, Section 8. It is related to free market
Free market
A free market is a competitive market where prices are determined by supply and demand. However, the term is also commonly used for markets in which economic intervention and regulation by the state is limited to tax collection, and enforcement of private ownership and contracts...

Libertarianism, in the strictest sense, is the political philosophy that holds individual liberty as the basic moral principle of society. In the broadest sense, it is any political philosophy which approximates this view...

 and classical liberalism
Classical liberalism
Classical liberalism is the philosophy committed to the ideal of limited government, constitutionalism, rule of law, due process, and liberty of individuals including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and free markets....

 and some tendencies of liberalism
Liberalism in the United States
Liberalism in the United States is a broad political philosophy centered on the unalienable rights of the individual. The fundamental liberal ideals of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion for all belief systems, and the separation of church and state, right to due process...

 and conservatism in the United States. The theory of limited government contrasts, for example, with the idea that government should intervene to promote equality and opportunity through regulation of property and wealth redistribution.
This definition is generally assumed by those who identify "limited government" with "small government
Small government
A Small government is one which minimizes its own activities. It is a concept important to classical liberalism and libertarianism.-In Hong Kong:...

." The national government is only allowed some powers, not supreme power.

The meaning of "limited government" is most easily grasped in contrast to the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. Under that doctrine, the king, and by extension his entire government, held unlimited sovereignty over its subjects. The king could do what he wanted to do to whomever he wanted to it whenever he chose. Limited government exists where some effective limits restrict governmental power.

In Western civilization, the Magna Carta
Magna Carta
Magna Carta is an English charter, originally issued in the year 1215 and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions, which included the most direct challenges to the monarch's authority to date. The charter first passed into law in 1225...

 stands as the early exemplar of a document limiting the reach of the king's sovereignty. While its limits protected only a small portion of the English population, it did state that the king's barons possessed rights which they could assert against the king. The English Bill of Rights associated with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 established limits of royal sovereignty. The United States Constitution of 1787 created a government limited by the terms of the written document itself, by the election by the people of the legislators and the executive, and by the checks and balances through which the three branches of government limited each others' power.

Limited government can take many forms. As a conception it has no bearing on whether a government is "large" or "small."
It has little to say about how a government should be organized or what policies it should pursue. For example, European social democratic states like England or France, which sustain programs of government supported medicine and other social welfare programs, have limited governments.

In the United States of America

In 1789, James Madison presented to the First United States Congress a series of ten amendments
Constitutional amendment
A constitutional amendment is a formal change to the text of the written constitution of a nation or state.Most constitutions require that amendments cannot be enacted unless they have passed a special procedure that is more stringent than that required of ordinary legislation...

 to the United States Constitution which are today known as the Bill of Rights
United States Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. These limitations serve to protect the natural rights of liberty and property. They guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and...

. After enumerating specific rights retained by the people in the first eight amendments, the Ninth Amendment
Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, addresses rights of the people that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution.-Text:-Adoption:When the U.S...

 and the Tenth Amendment
Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, was ratified on December 15, 1791...

 summarily spelled out the principle of limited government. Together, these two last Amendments clarify the differences between the unenumerated (as well as enumerated) rights of the people versus the expressly codified delegated powers of the federal government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

. The Ninth Amendment codified that the rights of the people do not have to be expressly written in the Constitution (i.e., do not have to be enumerated) to still be retained by the people. In the reverse, though, the Tenth Amendment codified that any delegated powers of the federal government are only authorized to be performed so long as such delegated powers are expressly delegated to the federal government specifically by the U.S. Constitution. Government can only do things people allow it to do. Government is not all powerful.

The U.S. Constitution limits the power of the government in several ways. It prohibits the government from directly interfering with certain key areas: conscience, expression and association. Other actions are forbidden to the federal government and are reserved to state
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

 or local governments.

See also

  • Constitutionalism
    Constitutionalism has a variety of meanings. Most generally, it is "a complex of ideas, attitudes, and patterns of behavior elaborating the principle that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law"....

  • Constitutionally limited government
    Constitutionally limited government
    A constitutionally limited government is a system of government that is bound to certain principles of action by a state constitution. This system of government is dialectically opposed to pragmatism, on the basis that no state action can be made that conflicts with its constitution, regardless of...

  • Night watchman state
    Night watchman state
    A night watchman state, or a minimal state, has been variously defined by sources. In the strictest sense, it is a form of government in political philosophy where the state's only legitimate function is the protection of individuals from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud, and the...

  • Big government
    Big government
    Big government is a term generally used by political conservatives, laissez-faire advocates, or libertarians to describe a government or public sector which they consider to be excessively large, corrupt and inefficient, or inappropriately involved in certain areas of public policy or the private...

  • Welfare state
    Welfare state
    A welfare state is a "concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those...

  • Paternalism
    Paternalism refers to attitudes or states of affairs that exemplify a traditional relationship between father and child. Two conditions of paternalism are usually identified: interference with liberty and a beneficent intention towards those whose liberty is interfered with...

  • Social engineering (political science)
    Social engineering (political science)
    Social engineering is a discipline in political science that refers to efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale, whether by governments or private groups. In the political arena, the counterpart of social engineering is political engineering.For various reasons,...

  • Nanny state
    Nanny state
    A nanny state is the perception of a situation characterised by governmental policies of over-protectionism, economic interventionism, or heavy regulation of economic, social or other nature....

External links

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