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Access_open Constitutionalism and the Incompleteness of Democracy: An Iterative Relationship

Tijdschrift Netherlands Journal of Legal Philosophy, Aflevering 3 2010
Trefwoorden constitutionalism, globalization, democracy, modernity, postnational
Auteurs Neil Walker
SamenvattingAuteursinformatie

    The complexity of the relationship between democracy and modern constitutionalism is revealed by treating democracy as an incomplete ideal. This refers both to the empirical incompleteness of democracy as unable to supply its own terms of application – the internal dimension – and to the normative incompleteness of democracy as guide to good government – the external dimension. Constitutionalism is a necessary response to democratic incompleteness – seeking to realize (the internal dimension) and to supplement and qualify democracy (the external dimension). How democratic incompleteness manifests itself, and how constitutionalism responds to incompleteness evolves and alters, revealing the relationship between constitutionalism and democracy as iterative. The paper concentrates on the iteration emerging from the current globalizing wave. The fact that states are no longer the exclusive sites of democratic authority compounds democratic incompleteness and complicates how constitutionalism responds. Nevertheless, the key role of constitutionalism in addressing the double incompleteness of democracy persists under globalization. This continuity reflects how the deep moral order of political modernity, in particular the emphasis on individualism, equality, collective agency and progress, remains constant while its institutional architecture, including the forms of its commitment to democracy, evolves. Constitutionalism, itself both a basic orientation and a set of design principles for that architecture, remains a necessary support for and supplement to democracy. Yet post-national constitutionalism, even more than its state-centred predecessor, remains contingent upon non-democratic considerations, so reinforcing constitutionalism’s normative and sociological vulnerability. This conclusion challenges two opposing understandings of the constitutionalism of the global age – that which indicts global constitutionalism because of its weakened democratic credentials and that which assumes that these weakened democratic credentials pose no problem for post-national constitutionalism, which may instead thrive through a heightened emphasis on non-democratic values.


Neil Walker
Neil Walker is Regius Professor of Public Law and the Law of Nature and Nations at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
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Access_open Constitutionalism and the Incompleteness of Democracy

A Reply to Four Critics

Tijdschrift Netherlands Journal of Legal Philosophy, Aflevering 3 2010
Trefwoorden constitutionalism, globalization, democracy, modernity, postnational
Auteurs Neil Walker
SamenvattingAuteursinformatie

    This reply to critics reinforces and further develops a number of conclusions of the original paper. First, it answers the charge that it is biased in its discussion of the relative standing of constitutionalism and democracy today, tending to take the authority of the former for granted and concentrating its critical attention unduly on the incompleteness of democracy, by arguing that contemporary constitutionalism is deeply dependent upon democracy. Secondly, it reiterates and extends the claim of the original paper that the idea and practice of democracy is unable to supply its own resources in the development of just forms of political organization. Thirdly, it defends its key understanding of the overall relationship between democracy and constitutionalism as a ‘double relationship’, involving both mutual support and mutual tension. A fourth and last point is concerned to demonstrate how the deeper philosophical concerns raised by the author about the shifting relationship between democracy and constitutionalism and the conceptual reframing they prompt are important not just as an explanatory and evaluative window on an evolving configuration of political relations but also as an expression of that evolution, and to indicate how this new conceptual frame might condition how we approach the question of a democracy-sensitive institutional architecture for the global age.


Neil Walker
Neil Walker is Regius Professor of Public Law and the Law of Nature and Nations at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
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