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St. Thomas Aquinas and the Idea of Limited Government

Martin Rhonheimer


To understand Thomas Aquinas’s contribution to the idea of limited government we must first ask what exactly limited government is and which are its historical and philosophical presuppositions. It seems clear that Thomas Aquinas did not hold such a doctrine. He was not a constitutionalist in the modern sense. It is, however, crucial to understand that liberal constitutionalism, insofar as it emphasizes individual freedom, basic civil rights, and limited government, was not opposed to the medieval understanding of government. It did, however, contradict modern absolutism. In the Middle Ages, government not bound to any law was known as tyranny and clearly rejected as both immoral and politically pernicious. But it was the abuse of power for the sake of personal interest and, thus, a perverted form of government.

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