Talk:Checks and balances

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Three branch system[edit]

Three branch system? Also, left out from this ive branch confirms or denies presidential appointees, and can override a presidential veto

Are they left out for a reason? Kingturtle 04:38 Apr 17, 2003 (UTC)


This article sits dangerously close to non-neutrality in that several statements imply checks and balances are natural and necessary for democracy, with no discussion whatsoever of the opposing view. Also, the statement about typical checks and balances in "most" three-branch systems seems to be a statement about the American three-branch system. If this is not the case, that is, if most three-branch systems really do use checks and balances similar to those listed, then a list of those countries is essential, to convince skeptics such as myself that this is not simply an egocentric statement about the way a democracy should be run. Notable exceptions and variations should be listed.

It would be helpful to list the checks and balances for a three party system in a table, in which each branch's checks on each other branch in separate squares. -- Anonymous

It's not a three party system, it's a 3 branches system. It's a way of looking at how a nation is governed. Differences between governments are usefully explained based on how they differ from the ideal 3 branches system. This means that -per definition- what you are asking for is a complete essay on all the governments of the world. Quite a lot of work! Fortunately, you're in luck, it exists already. See: CIA World Factbook in which (among many other things) such an analysis is presented for each nation of the world. Kim Bruning 18:04, 7 May 2004 (UTC)
I think the problem is exactly in the assumption that the 3 branches system is 'the ideal'.


For some reason due to some slight oversight I'm sure, the article missed that:

  • The Executive branch executes
  • The Legislative branch legislates
  • The Judicial branch does justice

It also missed the bit where having all 3 powers in one hand is Not A Good Idea in practice. That's why they're divided or separated, for which we can thank God and Montesquiue.

I did some editing to start fixing that. I also NPOVed a bit based on what I remember about constitutions of other countries.

Maybe this article should be merged with separation of powers. They're starting to look very similar.

Kim Bruning 22:10, 7 May 2004 (UTC)

"checks and balances" does not apply to the three branches of government. It is mentioned only once in the Federalist (#9), and never in the Constitution, as referring to bicameralism, not the three branches. Indeed, the Framers spent some significant time showing that the two houses of Congress should be balanced with respect to each other, but the principle of coequality between the branches is not featured in any early writings. It was taken for granted by Madison that the legislative branch was preeminent, as he wrote in Federalist #51: "But it is not possible to give to each [branch] an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates."

Checks and balances, in reference to the three branches, is a myth. There are some checks, there is a separation of powers, but there is no balance. A cursory glance at the Constitution tells you the Congress can basically do whatever it wishes, including modify the Constitution if it sees fit to.

Religion, Press, Mess[edit]

Modern theocracy and checks and balances are antithetical, you can have the one *or* the other, but not both (is the position held by proponents of each of these styles of government respectively).

This is why I've just dropped mention of religion, it saves a lot of long winded text that comes to the same conclusion.

As to press, there were a number of things that seemed odd. I've edited slightly to make it more accurate, but I'm not truly comfortable mentioning press here.

Kim Bruning 17:30, 14 May 2004 (UTC)

I'm sorry, but what you've just claimed is absurd. There is no separation of Church and State in England (but there is in Wales). That doesn't mean that England's a theocracy. Rather it means that the Church is part of the monarch's imperium. In practice, the main effect is that Church of England bishops are appointed by the Prime Minister. 23:11, 1 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Moved here. This is a summary of how the United States government works. Most governments don't work this way at all.

In most nations with a three-branch government, the process of checks and balances works in a manner similar to this:

  • The executive branch executes the laws and policies of the country. It constructs buildings, gives orders to the police and military, collects taxes, and basically sees that the laws of the land are enforced. In many countries the executive, either a prime minister or a president, can also appoint judges and cabinet members, and can pardon citizens. While against the principles of strict separation, in some countries the executive might also approve the bills of the legislature into law, and in some nations also retains the right of veto or suspension.
  • The main task of the legislative branch is to write the laws of the country (legislation). In democracies, commonly the legislative branch is the branch that is voted into power. Often it also has the authority to impeach members of the executive or judicial branch from office or force elections. It also confirms or denies executive and judicial appointees and can override vetoes. In many countries, members of the executive (including the cabinet) are also selected directly from the legislature.
  • The judiciary's primary function is to check if the laws passed by the legislative branch are actually being obeyed properly, which hopefully leads to justice. The judiciary can also throw out laws it deems illegal or unconstitutional (in some countries, this latter function is reserved for the highest courts only). In some countries, the judiciary is consulted before a law is passed, to prevent laws from being thrown out in the first place. Members of the judiciary are often (in principle) appointed for fixed periods or even for life, to prevent bias.

In this way the different powers of government are isolated from each other so that no branch has total power over all the functions of government. An attack on or abuse of power by individuals of a single branch will not lead to tyranny or the fall of the entire government.

Roadrunner 16:45, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Reverted it back. See talk entry for 7 may, 18:04 (UTC) for discussion. If you disagree, please discuss before removing again. Thanks! Kim Bruning 19:04, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)
I disagree. The description of how the governments work is just just plain wrong for most countries outside of the United States. Parliamentary systems do not recognize any sort of executive/legislative check and balance. There is already a good article on separation of powers in the United States and the discussion should reference that article.
The most important thing about check and balances is that it is largely only implemented in the United States. Most European countries do not recognize any sort of check and balance between the executive and legislative. Most non-American presidental systems do not give the judiciary as much of a role as the United States government. The concept of checks and balances is not used a government principle much outside of the United States.

Roadrunner 19:33, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)

I changed the article to make it clearer that checks and balances between three branches of government is mainly an American concept.

Roadrunner 19:54, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Actually it's a French concept (Read The Friendly Article :-) ). It's rather ironic that the USA happened to adopt it as the first country in the world. The USA Executive also broke it recently, by exploiting loopholes in the US constitution. The article is currently more accurate for Europe than for the USA. Kim Bruning 20:08, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Please don't make a blanket revert. I edited the article to include some of your points, but the original article is highly unsatisfactory as it takes a specifically American principle of government and universalizes it.

It is simply a fact that most democratic countries simply do not have a constitutional principle of checks and balances between three branches of government. That needs to be made clear.

I'm not sure what else there is to discuss.

Roadrunner 20:16, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Rewrote to incorporate discussion

Roadrunner 20:26, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Please wait until we're actually done discussing before editing again? I'm out of reverts. Your edits are very POV. Kim Bruning 20:38, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Lost previous post here due to edit conflict :-(

Checks and balances were invented in France by Charles_de_Secondat,_Baron_de_Montesquieu in 1748. Checks and balances are universal, and the CIA world fact file lists application (or lack of it) and variations on checks and balances for each country in the world. I'll be on on #wikipedia 

in a moment, If you care to discuss there.

Kim Bruning 20:44, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)

As to my problems with the article....

a) Checks and balance *do not* underlie most democratic governments, and are *NOT* a universal principle of democratic government. You can divide up the powers of government into legislative, executive, and judicial, but the relationship between the branches of government are not describable outside of the United States in terms of checks and balances except in some isolated cases such as Mexico or the Philippines

Actually it is, for instance it's a requirement for EU membership. Separation of powers is pointless without checks and balances.

b) Trying to fit how most democratic governments work into a single schema of checks and balance is non-sensical because of a).

Well, see my reply to a then :-) Hmm, and the CIA disagrees with you, since they publish a document which does just that, in detail, for every country in the world.

I don't think that we are going to get anywhere if you and I discuss this. I'll mark the article as needing attention, and we'll see what the consensus is.

Roadrunner 20:53, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Kim Bruning 21:11, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)
I don't wish to be inflammatory, but I remember being told of the division of powers into the executive, legislative and judicial branches in school (as Montesquieu's idea) as being one of the design features of the French system. Of course, there exist differences in that respect between France and the United States, but still there exist similarities. David.Monniaux 13:52, 14 Dec 2004 (UTC)

I posted it on Wikipedia:Peer Review, and I'll leave the article alone for a while. No hard feelings, but I don't think that we are going to be able to resolve this dispute by ourselves, and we'll need some outsiders to input their thoughts on the topic.

Roadrunner 21:03, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)

That's fine! :-) No hard feelings here either. I'm currently on irc (see above) in case you feel like discussing there as well (there's some folks talking about the article at the moment) . Have a nice day. :-) Kim Bruning 21:11, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Checks and balances as old as Greece[edit]

I recall reading about the Greek historian Polybius. He identified 3 basic forms of constitution: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy; and their counterparts which they seemed to inevitably degrade into: tyranny, oligarchy, mob-rule. He called this process of "anacyclosis" (άνακύκλωσις). Hereditary succession causes the degradation in each form, and causes a rebirth into the next form. Monarchies eventually become tyrannic, which are then ousted or defeated, typcially replaced by aristocracies. But their descendants also take their position for granted, descending into oligarchy, which is then overthrown by popular revolt. The democratic revolution over time degrades into mob-rule, until a single charismatic leader unifies the mob, thus rebirthing a new monarchy, and the cycle is restarted.

Commenting on Rome, Polybius asserted that the Romans had largely managed to avoid the anacyclosis (at the time, at least) because their government instituted aspects of each simple form of constitution.

Other Greek philosophers had noted the benefits of separated government. see Sparta.

More importantly, and to the point re: American influence, Jefferson, Monroe, Madison, etc. knew of, read, referenced, and were influenced by Polybius' writings.

Now, does this belong in Checks & Balances, or in Separation of Powers, or a bit of both? Regardless, the concept is not new, and is not Amero-centric.

Scott B 15:43, 21 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Peer review[edit]

...was requested for this article, so here goes...

"Checks and balances" is so semantically similar and inter-related to "separation of powers" that there might as well just be one article that explains them both. I took a look at Separation of powers, and decided to expand that article a bit more. I recommend making this article a redirect to that one, and integrating the vocabulary and concepts of "checks and balances" with that article, if I haven't done so enough already. Any additional material sitting over here should also obviously be merged in.

I like the approach that the Separation of powers article took with regard to the US system vs. the rest of the world. The three-branch federal system that the US uses is a very clean, clearly-defined case which makes explaining the core concept pretty easy. Maybe there are other systems in use around the world which are equally clear; I know that there are many which are considerably messier or which have weaker separation.

It would be useful to discuss a variety of systems on the spectrum from strong separation of powers (like the US federal government) to weak or no separation (like a military dictatorship). This need not be an essay on the government of every single country in the world; there should be a relatively small number of general classes, like American-style three-branch systems (Liberia? The new Iraq?), British-style parliamentary systems (Commonwealth countries?), dicatorships, and no doubt a few other interesting classes (what about China, or the multi-dimensional power-sharing in the current Iranian system?). The CIA World Factbook does not seem to be the best resource for this kind of research. It would certainly be possible to go and start reading through random encyclopedia articles on various countries' governments. That would be rather time consuming, but certainly educational.

It would be more efficient and probably more enlightening to seek out existing scholarship on this issue. At first I thought the application of this concept to non-US governments might be a novel inquiry, but then I thought that there's probably a reasonable amount of material on the subject in constitutional law textbooks and journals.

If research shows that "separation of powers" is a muddied concept in most world governments, then that's interesting! It would be neat to use this article as a springboard to examine what that changes about how a government works or fails to work. Right now, Separation of powers is all like "separation of powers is essential to democracy" and stuff, which could certainly be considered non-neutral in a US-centric kind of way, and factually questionable. Someone might want to remove or tone down that declaration pending the results of more research. (It could very well turn out to be true; it's certainly a reasonable working hypothesis to try to prove or disprove.)

So to sum up, I recommend 1.) merging "Checks and balances" into "Separation of powers", 2.) Keeping the general format of that article - "Three-Branch Case Study: USA" then later discussion of more complex systems, interesting examples and clusters throughout the world, and those that contrast with the American system by exibiting weak separation of powers, and 3.) expanding the "rest of the world" section so that it's at least as long as the section about the US. (3) will probably require the involvement of someone who's bothered enough by the imbalance to do some research, someone who's interested in learning about the governments of other countries, or a constitutional law expert. On the other hand, the US system is probably the classic example of this concept, so maybe it's OK to ramble on about it. Whatever, you can decide for yourself. -- Beland 04:40, 23 Jul 2004 (UTC)

I have reason to think that separation of powers is one of the essential ingredients of democracy, to the extent that countries without it definately aren't democratic. Countries with strong separation (like France and Germany), or weak separation can be democratic, while a country like Saudi Arabia with a practically unchecked executive branch is not and likely cannot be democratic in its current form. (Any democratic reforms could simply be reversed by the executive.) A country like Iran has some checks and balances, but the Guardian Council (judicial branch) is somewhat too strong, holding the rest of the system in a stranglehold.
I understand that you've also written Separation of powers all the way to a USA POV, since you thought a clear POV would at least be worth something. I'm somewhat unhappy about that, since I think it's quite possible to keep both articles NPOV. (and I've been trying to do so for several months now too :-P ) Kim Bruning 07:34, 23 Jul 2004 (UTC)

While I certainly agree that separation of powers makes democratic governments better behaved and more stable, it's hard to say with any absolute certainty that under no circumstances can an democratic executive-only or legislature-only government exist or survive. (Unless you construe the definition of "democracy" itself to include "separation of powers", but I'm merely talking about "democracy" as a form of government that uses occasional free and fair elections to select its leaders.)

Well, if there isn't a separation of powers, then free and fair elections and all the other things that go with it will go away very quickly, so in practice you can't have the one without the other. Kim Bruning

With regard to "USA POV"...well, if you're going to use the US federal government as a case study *at all*, I think it's better to do so transparently. That is to say, I think it's a bad idea to pretend that the principles of separation as designed into the US system are somehow universal, which is what seems to have generated some controversy with regard to *this* article.

*blink* I was actually basing my description on a typical EU state, and as far as I'm aware the principle is practically universal (hey, even the USA applies it ;-) ). Most nations seem to think it's a Really Good Idea. Please correct me if I'm wrong! Kim Bruning
Well, someone is claiming on Talk:Separation of powers that the UK is based on Parliamentary Supremacy, which is almost the opposite of the three-branch separation. -- Beland 07:17, 16 Aug 2004 (UTC)
Hmph! The UK is an exception to almost every rule known to man. Even so, lots of things in the UK go by tradition, which seems to keep things running fairly ok. I wouldn't want to try to emulate the UK system anywhere else though, would you? Kim Bruning 08:25, 16 Aug 2004 (UTC)
Having briefly investigated the UK legal system, I find it to be a horrible mess and don't think even the UK should keep it. But they are rather attached to it, and they do seem to be getting by quite well with it. In any case, it is a rather good counter example to show that: "if there isn't a separation of powers, then free and fair elections and all the other things that go with it will go away very quickly, so in practice you can't have the one without the other" is not a universally applicable theory. While constructing a three-branch government is a good strategy I would endorse, if this is true about the UK, then that's clearly not the only way. So, the language in the article should reflect that. -- Beland 01:45, 17 Aug 2004 (UTC)
Well, the UK has a set of proto-checks and balances (see for instance Magna Carta), and tradition covers 'missing bits', so while they don't have formal checks and balances in the style of countries with more recent systems of government, they do have a muddle of bits and pieces that somehow end up having a similar result. The UK do think they have a pretty decent system of government, and it was in fact well suited to administrating the largest empire the world has seen to date (before such things went out of fashion), so I wouldn't dare call it bad ;) Kim Bruning 07:45, 17 Aug 2004 (UTC)
In the British Parliamentary system the judicial branch is quite powerful, reinforced by the common law and jurisprudence which is in fact a check and balance (In the Canadian variant, the judicial body is strenghtened by the bill of rights which is enclosed in the constitution, and is a very strong check and balance against legislative exageration). But even then, the prime minister have incredible power, because he controls both legislative and executive bodies, which would be unthinkable in the US. -DBP

It also makes for difficult reading if you try to both explain what "separation of powers" *is* and explain the various permuations of it all at the same time.

Best to pick a clear introductory example, pause for breath, and then move on to discuss various permutations and complications and counterexamples. The "clear example" need not be the US federal system, but that's the only one I know of, and it's also well-documented and I'm familiar enough with it to write about it. I also may have added too much about the US federal system to the Separation of powers article, given that "Separation of powers in the US system" already has its own article. I regret that I'm not familiar enough with international constitutional law to write about the separation of powers in other countries, but I'm glad you've taken up the effort to expand Separation of powers in that direction, Kim. Thanks! -- Beland 20:31, 28 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Agree mostly with this bit, though hmmm, I don't know of too much really drastic permutations, (and those that are there are in the CIA fact file, which we can refer to). Thank you for looking into this too Beland! Kim Bruning 12:13, 15 Aug 2004 (UTC)


Are you positive that Montesquieu coined the term "checks and balances," rather than the concept?

-- unsigned anon (please sign! Use ~~~~)

The concept I think. Best to check really :) Kim Bruning 22:42, 5 Sep 2004 (UTC)

In fact Montesquieu called it "la distribution des pouvoirs" , which in english would translate as "power distribution" and argued about the supremacy of the legislative over the other bodies. -DBP

Checks & balances vs Separation of powers[edit]

I would tend to agree with the concept that separation of powers does imply, if one wants the separation to be effective, the checks & balances concept.
So I would tend to agree on the fact that this artcile is a subset of the "separation of powers" article. There is one thing the article forgets, and it is budget!

What brings me to UK.

As someone noted, the UK system is rather unique. These guys do not even have a bloody constitution ! :-) There is indeed something that looks like a Parliament supremacy, but for a very good (or very bad) reason, and that is not unique to UK.
In UK, such as in Belgium or other remaining kingdoms, the executive power is supposed to be in the hands of the king and the government, the latter being appointed by the king.
The thing is that the king's power have vanished with the passing of time, and that kings now merely appoint a ministers' team that has been negociated between parties following the elections.
So we end up in general with a government that is just the result of a negociation within the parliamentary majority and that is appointed by the king.
At the end of the day, the king has not much to say, so we have an executive branche that is not any more a distinct body, but a mere emanation of the parliamentary majority.

Such a "blurring" of the limit between the executive and the legislative branches cannot (or is less likely to) happen in a presidential system where the president has clear powers he holds directly from an election.

I do not know what are the discussions in UK about this or whether there is any. In Belgium for instance, there is a lingering debate about changing the system in a more effective way, but this is a very complicated issue. The fact is that passing a law at the parliament is more and more just a formality, as the draft was in any case prepared by the government that is supported by the parliamentary majority.
Anyway, it can work, as some parts of the control can then be assumed by the judiciary branche for instance (such as a special court, in Belgium, that has the power to cancel a law that is contrary to the constitution).
But it also still works, like in the UK, because there is a strong democratic tradition and because of multipartism. At the end of the day, having only on power branche (judiciary branche) controlling the legislative-executive brache does not look sound.

Getting back to budget and to the UK, the "separation of power" or the "check & balances" article should credit them for the first actual check and balance mechanism, when the british parliament used its power to grant money to the king to receive more powers. Alex_lbh

man yall need to chill its just a branch if its not correct they can go to another site to fix thier problems. you guys dont need to fight about this and that for no reason some one not into yall fighting we need info not arguing

checks vs balances[edit]

checks and balences are just so each house can make sure not just one has too much power. its like how a bill becomes a law. someone comes up with an idea. sends it to the house. the house reqads it. if they approve it goes to the president. if the president agrees with it it becomes a law. if not it has to repeat the process. every house makes sure every other house has the same amount of power as the house they are in

Merger implemented[edit]

The long-awaited merger with Separation of powers has finally been implemenented; I hope everything has translated properly. -- Beland 02:06, 3 May 2005 (UTC)