A New Statesman Book of the Year
A critical analysis of the transformation of constitutionalism from an increasingly irrelevant theory of limited government into the most influential philosophy of governance in the world today.
Constitutionalism is universally commended because it has never been precisely defined. Martin Loughlin argues that it is not some vague amalgam of liberal aspirations but a specific and deeply contentious governing philosophy. An Enlightenment idea that in the nineteenth century became America’s unique contribution to the philosophy of government, constitutionalism was by the mid-twentieth century widely regarded as an anachronism. Advocating separated powers and limited government, it was singularly unsuited to the political challenges of the times. But constitutionalism has since undergone a remarkable transformation, giving the Constitution an unprecedented role in society. Once treated as a practical instrument to regulate government, the Constitution has been raised to the status of civil religion, a symbolic representation of collective unity.
Against Constitutionalism explains why this has happened and its far-reaching consequences. Spearheaded by a “rights revolution” that subjects governmental action to comprehensive review through abstract principles, judges acquire greatly enhanced power as oracles of the regime’s “invisible constitution.” Constitutionalism is refashioned as a theory maintaining that governmental authority rests not on collective will but on adherence to abstract standards of “public reason.” And across the world the variable practices of constitutional government have been reshaped by its precepts.
Constitutionalism, Loughlin argues, now propagates the widespread belief that social progress is advanced not through politics, electoral majorities, and legislative action, but through innovative judicial interpretation. The rise of constitutionalism, commonly conflated with constitutional democracy, actually contributes to its degradation.
Loughlin has written a short, dense book of considerable intellectual and political importance. Against Constitutionalism is an essential argument, forcefully made, and bristling with both learning and thinking.
Against Constitutionalism does a wonderful job detailing the change in the nature of constitutional government that has taken place over the past hundred years and why those changes matter. This is a book that every serious student of constitutional government needs to read and think about.
In this forceful critique of constitutionalism, Loughlin supplies us not only with an account of the emergence of a new ideology but also with a compelling analysis of its pathologies. It will surely engage the minds of jurists and legal scholars, but it should also be closely read by democratic theorists, who will find in these pages answers to questions they have been pondering for some time.
Constitutionalism and democracy, two notions that we are used to perceiving as a pair, are here opposed to each other. Loughlin’s thesis—that constitutionalism must cede if democracy shall thrive—is provocative enough to make this brilliantly written book one with which scholars will have to contend.
A tightly-presented but far-ranging survey of both legal theory and practical example, Against Constitutionalism is a thoughtful and thought-provoking introduction to and analysis of the subject-matter.
The United States is in the grip of an ideology. Constitutionalism, a distinctive philosophy of governance, has quietly come to dominate and be taken for granted. So argues Against Constitutionalism, Loughlin’s ambitious account of how constitutionalism emerged, developed, and spread. The book’s central insight is that constitutionalism is not an empty vessel into which other commitments can be poured, but rather that it has its own values, logic, and normative commitments.
Provocative…Loughlin is highly critical of the juridification of politics and identifies the EU as one of the main culprits in this process…Loughlin’s key aim is thus to defend constitutional democracy against constitutionalism—a task that can only be pursued at local and national level against the hubris of ‘the cosmopolitan project.
An important book that will occupy a prominent place in the contemporary discussion of constitutional theory. It is, perhaps, Loughlin’s most important book, one in which the author revisits and recreates theoretical concerns that he has been working on for decades…Both for its singular virtues and for the intensity of the controversies it is bound to arouse, Against Constitutionalism represents a remarkable work.
[This book] brilliantly targets the principal legal dogma of the past 40 years: that well-ordered societies need elite protection from democracy, not least for the sake of rights. It isn’t, Loughlin contends, just that the juristocratic turn has elicited popular backlash while harmonising with economic liberalism. It has increasingly undone self-government.
Against Constitutionalism is a brilliant book—an erudite study not only of the historical evolution of the concept of constitutionalism but also of the contested meanings of associated concepts, including sovereignty, constituent power, and the state…A must-read book for anyone who is interested in the fate of constitutional democracy.
- 240 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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