Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Constitutional Longevity

I read the following yesterday in "The Beginning of the Constitutional Era: A Bicentennial Comparative Analysis of the First Modern Constitutions:"

"The longevity of a constitution is usually a function of many variables each of which incorporates various elements.  First, the successful adoption of a constitution requires the development of a mature constitutional consciousness by the politically active part of the nation.  The readiness to fight for the constitution, to protect it, and to observe its provisions demands positive social sentiments and opinions about its usefulness.

"Second, successful constitutional engineering requires knowledge and experience.  These requirements were particularly important at the commencement of the constitutional era.  The success of the first constitutions resided mainly in the mature intellectual background of their drafters and particularly in their ability to draw on the experience of other nations.  It required communication between those nations that were testing the foremost constitutional structures.

"Third, constitutions are usually adopted at a crucial moment in a nation's history.  They are expected to change or reform existing institutions or to sanctify recent transformations.  They can operate as political or philosophical declarations or as legally binding norms.  But whatever their function, their value depends on the degree to which they can satisfy the social demand for reform.  The durability of a constitution always depends on the social expectations linked to its adoption.  Every constitution is a sort of social and political compromise; it hardly has a chance for survival if its provisions do not meet the expectations of the most influential social groups and political factions in the country.  Constitutions are acts of social agreement and are only as stable and durable as the consensus gained by them.

"Fourth, the longevity of the constitution is also dependent on the geopolitical circumstances under which it was adopted.  The success of a constitution does not depend solely on its acceptance by the citizenry.  Constitutional reform may provoke unfavorable reactions from neighboring countries.  Its survival could be due to a unique set of external and internal problems: economic, social, and military resources which can be set in motion to protect national sovereignty; the readiness of the nation to defend its constitution; the strength of opponents of the constitution; and many other factors.  Moreover, every constitution is conceived as a coherent whole.  To operate successfully, the constitution must maintain the integrity of its structure and offer a clear and consistent sequence of principles."

For starters, I'd like to see some historical data to back up this theory.  I can think of anecdotal evidence, but would like to know 1) what are the longest-lived constitutions, and 2) how they stack up to these variables.  Is this a political science tack to cite a theory without establishing its premise?  Seems rather illusory, but perhaps I am missing something?

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