Tension and Legality: Towards a Theory of the Executive Branch

Margit Cohn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This article challenges hierarchical and binary thinking in constitutional theory, and offers an alternative basis that draws on multidimensionality. The recognition that constitutionalism is a collection of ingrained tensions between competing forces and conceptual bases is applied in a study of the executive branch, a field that is especially lacking in general theory. The existing research of the executive is almost entirely concerned with specific legal systems and is typically normative; descriptively, references to puzzles and ambiguity offer an inadequate, a-Theoretical basis for the understanding of the nature of the executive. Rejecting three alternative models, two of them hierarchical, the third, binary, I reach the internal tension model, which acknowledges the internal irresolvable tension between the executive's subservience to law and its dominance beyond law, which underlies executive action. The article addresses the ways law can, and does, maintain this internal tension, and ends with some comments on future research directions.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)321-350
Number of pages30
JournalCanadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2016 Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence.


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