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SARTORI (1962) Constitutionalism a Preliminary Discussion

SARTORI (1962) Constitutionalism a Preliminary Discussion

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CONSTITUTIONALISM:A PRELIMINARYDISCUSSION*
GIOVANNISARTORIUniversity ofFlorence
Inthe19thcenturywhat was meantbytheterm "constitution"was reasonably definiteand clear. Paradoxicallyenough, if the wordretained some ambiguity,this was becauseof theBritish constitution;that is, becausethe mothercountry ofmodern constitutionalismappearedto have an obscure constitution,or even-ac-cording tosomeofthe standardsthat seemedvery importantelsewhere-no constitutionatall.IYet thevery term "constitution"has ac-quired itsmodern meaning in English,inthecourse ofthe evolutionof the English legalterminology. TheLatin termconstitutiomeanttheveryopposite of whatisnow understoodby "constitution."Aconstitutio wasanenact-ment; later,after the 2d century,the pluralformconstitutionescame tomean a collectionof laws enacted by the Sovereign;and subse-quentlythe Church, too, adoptedthe termforcanonicallaw.Theterms constitutioand consti-tutioneswerenotfrequentlyused, however, bytheEnglishmedievalglossators (whilefre-quently used,as asynonymforlexandedictum,bythe Italianones).Thisexplains why,inthecourse oftime,theword constitution becamea "vacant term"-i.e.,a term availableforanew employment-inEnglish (thisdoes notnecessarilymean in England), andnot in thoselanguageswhichhadretained the Romanlegalterminology.Forterminologicalreasons also, then,wehave to referto an English meaningofthe wordconstitution,1 althoughthe UnitedKingdomhasa difficult andsuigenerisconstitution, derivingfrom a tortuous sedimentationof commonlaw,acts andconventionalusage, partlylegalandpartly extra-legal,anddespitethe factthat,whenone readsthe Britishconstitutional
*Apaperpresentedatthe FreudenstadtRoundTablemeetingof theInternationalPolit-ical ScienceAssociation,September1962.
1
DespiteJellinek's contraryopinion.Accord-ing toJellinek,"constitution"derivesfromtheLatinphraserem publicamconstituere.Cf.Allge-meineStaatslehre(Berlin,1914,3d ed.), vol.III,ch. iv.However,no historical continuityappearstoexist betweenconstituereand"constitution"(seeinfranotes21,25),and thisderivationisboundto giveusa misleadingstart.
lawyers,oneisoftenreminded of what wassaidin a reviewofStirling'sbook, The SecretofHegel:"never has a secretbeen better kept."For one thing,English constitutionallawyersappearto take a particularpleasure in pointingout toforeign jurists andpoliticalthinkers(beginning withMontesquieu) that theirunder-standingof the English systemis quitewrong.To besure, thishas beenand still isvery oftenthe case.ButoneremainswithafeelingthattheBritish find a special gratificationincon-foundingalienscholars:there is an elementofpolemiccoquetryintheemphasisthey layonthe principleofthe supremacyofParliament(exhibitedasbeing unlimited, arbitrary,omnip-otent,supra and contralegern,etc.);inthe some-whatprovocative and boldstatementthat,accordingto the Americanand French mean-ing ofthe term, the UnitedKingdom does not
havea constitution,2in
the pointthat theBritish system isbased not on the"division"buton the "fusion"of powers;3or in the wayin which Sir IvorJennings puts forwardthat,"Since Great Britainhas no written constitu-tion,thereis nospecial protectionfor'funda-mentalrights'."4 And onecould quoteat length.Allthese statementsare,tobesure,true. Buttheyare "literally true,"andoneis broughttowonder why the emphasisis laidonthe lettersomuch morethanonthespiritofthelaw ofthe constitution.Afterall,constitutionalismhas aprescriptivepurpose;whereas Englishscholarsappearmore inclined to addressthem-selvesto anMPby saying"youcould"ratherthan"youcannot."Letus take, for instance,the principleof thesupremacyof Parliament. Woulditbe farfromthemarktosaythatif theprincipleis relatedtothehistoricalcircumstances ofits establish-ment,it hardlycarries withit the dangerousimplicationsthatBritishscholarssomewhatproudlyexpound?5 Parliament,in the Englishterminology,meanstheKing,the Lordsand
2
Cf.,e.g., K. C. Wheare,ModernConstitutions(London,OxfordUniversityPress,1960), p.21.
3
Cf.,e.g.,W.Bagehot,The EnglishConstitu-tion,ch.ii.
4
TheLaw andthe Constitution,5thed. (London,UniversityofLondonPress,1959), p.40.
5
Bagehotisno exceptionwhen heasserts that"anewHouse ofCommonscan despotically..resolve" [myitalics]. Op,cit.,ch".vii.
853
 
854
THEAMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCEREVIEW
theCommonsacting togetherasthe supremegoverning body of the realm. Thus, if theprinciple of the supremacy of Parliament istranslated into continental terminology, itamountstowhatisotherwise called the"sovereignty of the State." Historically speak-in,, moreover, the principle of the supremacy ofParliament is the counterpart of the principleofthe supremacy of the Crown, and what itreally meant when it was affirmed was that theKing had no power outside of Parliament, thathis prerogatives could only be exercised accord-ing to the formula of the King in Parliament.Ifthis be so, would it be very wrong to con-clude, despite the contrary opinionof Britishscholars,thatparliamentary sovereigntyinEngland actually contradicts the idea of a"higher law" no more than any flexible con-stitutiondoes,and that theconventionsof theconstitutionhardlyallow aparliamentarymajority to pass any law whatever?6 (Thepoint beingthe"any." Letus rememberthatthedifferencebetweenaccepted politicalbe-haviorand wicked Machiavellian politicsisrendered by the difference between thesen-tence,"The endjustifiesthemeans,"and"Theendjustifies any mean.")ProbablyIshall be told thatIam wrong.However, asIwas trying recently to sort outthejuridicalfeatures ofpresent-daydictatorialsystems,itoccurred tomethatsomeEnglishconstitutional textbookswouldbe ofgreathelp."Nohigherlawand limitless legislative power," "fusion of powers,""nospecial protec-tionforfundamentalrights," etc.alltheseprinciples applied very nicely to dictatorships.Whatismore,thevery definition giveninWhere'stextbook,"The Britishconstitutionis thecollectionoflegal rules and nonlegalruleswhichgovernthegovernmentin
Britain,"7
appearedtobe-but for theterms,"British"and"Britain"-themostfitted to describedictatorialconstitutions.(For"rules"appliestoanykind ofrule-includingthe ruleofrulership-andthespecification "non-legalrules"just givesthe finaltouchofperfectionto theconceptofunchecked, uncontrolledandabsolute exercise ofpower.)Ihavenot madetheexperimenttheotherway around,thatis,usingtheapologetic writingsondictatorialconstitutionsinorder toget highlightson thevirtues of theEnglishone: butmy guessis
6
This is to deny thatthere is a substantialdifference between theBritish and the Continen-tal principle of parliamentarysovereignty.Iftheterm of reference is theAmerican Congressthen,of course, thereisa gooddeal of difference.
7
Op.cit.,p.2.
that,again changingbut one word (the geo-graphicreferent), theEnglish constitutionwouldcome out in brighter colorsfollowingthisprocedurethan it appears,e.g., to thereaderof Jennings'The Law and theConstitu-
tion.
8
So, Imay well bewrong. But somethingmust be wrongtoointhe wayin whichmanyEnglish scholarsunderstatetheirconstitution,seem tomake aparticularpoint ofnot beinghelpful, andleave thealien readerwith thefeelingthattheBritish constitutionreallyamounts tothefactthat,inthefinalanalysis,the British peopleare cleverand fine peoplewhoknow how togoabout inpolitics. I ampersonallyconvincedof this. But allowme torepeatthatthis conclusion isnot very helpful.Ihave drawn attentionto the Britishhabit(and perhapscoquetry)of understatement,forunless thiselement is takeninto account, oneis likely tomiss some importantpoints. Tobegin with,this point: that, despitethe English"mystery,"inthe 19thcentury,all overEuropeaswell asin theUnited States, ageneralagreementprevailedasto thebasicmeaningofthe term "constitution."In1830,andespe-cially duringthe 1848revolutions,it wasveryclearonbothsides of the Channel what thepeoplewereaskingfor whentheyclaimedaconstitution.9 If,inEngland,"constitution"meantthe systemof British liberties,mutatismutandisthe Europeanswanted exactly thesame thing:asystemofprotectedfreedomforthe individual,which-accordingto theAmeri-canusageoftheEnglishvocabulary theycalleda"constitutionalsystem."Havingtostartfromnaught,peopleonthe Continent(aswasfirst achievedbytheAmericans)wanted a written document,acharter,whichwould firmlyestablishthe overall supremelawoftheland.The Britishtoo,however,
8
A comparisonbetweenJennings'classictextandVishinsky'sThe Lawof theSoviet State(NewYork,1951),wouldbe to thepoint.AccordingtoVishinsky,Stalin'sConstitutiondraws"everbroadermassesofthepeopleinto the governmentof theState,"constantlystrengthens"thebondsbetweenthe apparatusofauthorityandthepeople";and Sovietconstitutionsingeneral"confirmgenuinelydemocratic rightsandfree-doms,""establishandemphasizematerial guar-antees,"etc. (pp. 88-89).9In 1860,theformula for theItalianplebiscitessaid only:"Doyouwantto enter theconstitu-tionalmonarchyofKingVictorEmanuelII?"Evidently,themereadjective"constitutional"wasassumedto beunderstoodasimplyingall thedifference.
 
CONSTITUTIONALISM
855
had,fromtime totime, reliedon particularlysolemnwritten documents:theMagnaCharta,the ConfirmationActs, the1610-1628Petitionof Rights,the HabeasCorpusAct of 1679,theBillof Rights, theAct of Settlement,etc.Thecircumstancethat theseBritish"supremelaws"are notcollectedinasingle documentdoesnotreally meanthatEngland has anunwritten con-stitution.I would rather say thatthe Englishdo nothave a codified constitution,i.e.,thatBritainhasaconstitutionwhichis written onlyin part (or,evenbetter,unwrittento a muchgreaterextent than"written" constitutionsare),inapiecemealfashion,and scatteredinavarietyof sources.However thatmay be, and ifit pleases theBritishto emphasizethe fact thatthey haveaconstitutionwhichis notwritten,thisquestionisof secondary importance.Imean that thewritten, completedocument isonly a means.What really mattersis the end,the telos.Andthepurpose,the telos,ofEnglish,AmericanandEuropean constitutionalismwas,from the out-set,identical. Ifthe Englishvocabularyhadnotto this dayrefused toimport theword(another paradox!),thiscommonpurposecouldbeexpressedandsynthesizedby justoneword:theFrench(andItalian)term
garantisme.10
Inother terms,all over the Westernareapeoplerequested,or cherished, "theconstitution,"becausethis term meant tothemafundamentallaw,or a fundamentalset ofprinciples,and acorrelativeinstitutional arrangement,whichwouldrestrictarbitrary powerand ensure a"limited government."And duringthewholeofthe19thcenturyanduntilWorldWarI,"constitutions" remained,in the UnitedStates,inEngland,andinEurope,differentmeans(technicallyspeaking)whichhadneverthelessthesame commonpurposeinview. Thatis,foralmost150years"constitution" has been-on thewhole-anunambiguousterm.IIInthe 20thcentury,inthefew decadesfol-lowingthefirstWorldWar,this situationofover-all basicagreementhas come to an endrapidlyandradically.So rapidlyand so rad-10Of course thequery,"Whatdothe guaran-tees include?"(e.g.,acertaintechniqueof alloca-tionofpower,a bill ofrights,therule oflaw,judicialreview,etc.)receivesdifferent,complexandchanginganswers.Thisis allthe morereasonforadoptingageneralterm,remindingusbothofthegoal,andparticularlyofthefactthatunless
wethinkthatsomebodyneedsprotectionagainst
somebodyelse,thereisnopointinbeingconcernedwith constitutionalism.
icallythatonemustwonderwhy.Themainreason(or, wemight say,thespecificagentofchange)hasbeen,Ibelieve,the following:thatlegalterminology-tothe extent thatitaffectswhatRousseauwouldhave calleddroitpoli-tique, politicalright---sharesthe same destinyaspoliticalterminologyingeneral:thatis,ittendstobeabusedand corrupted.Andthis is allthemore thecaseina timeinwhich politicianshavebecomeevermore consciousof the "powerofwords."Inourminds,constitutionis a"goodword."It hasfavorableemotive properties,likefree-dom, justiceordemocracy.Therefore, thewordisretained,oradopted,even whentheassocia-tionbetween theutterance "constitution"andthe behavioralresponsethatit elicits(e.g.,"Theconstitutionmustbepraised,forit pro-tects my liberties")becomesentirelybaseless.Moreprecisely,thepoliticalexploitationandmanipulationoflanguagetakesadvantageofthe factthat theemotivepropertiesof a wordsurviveat timesfor asurprisinglylong time-despitethefact that whatthe worddenotes,i.e.,the"thing,"comes to beacompletelydifferentthings.1To be sure,theagentof changehasnot onlybeen insincerityand thepoliticaldebasementoflanguage.Fortechnicalreasonsoftheirown,juriststoohavebeengraduallycovering upthegarantistefeatureof "constitution."This tech-nicojuridicalexplanationcannotbe pushedtoofar,however.It isquitetrue that Continentalconstitutionallawyershave never been ateasewhen confrontedwith the problemofputtingforward the"strictly juridical"pointof view.Ontheotherhand,thefact remainsthat,moreor less untilthe1920's,theymanagedtocom-binetherequirementsof"purelaw"with thetelosofconstitutionalism.Ifonereads,forin-stance,theLemonsofarepresentativefigureofthepre-1848period,Pellegrino
Rossi,12
one
1'
The extentto which political terminologyissubject to thiskind ofabusecan be exemplifiedbythe veryterm"politics."Inthe MiddleAgestheexpressiondominium politicurnmeant(in con-trast todominiumregale)governmentderivingfrom, or givenconsentby,thepeople (i.e.,bythepolites,theinhabitant ofthepolis).That is tosay thatpoliticum,or police (in French),wascoined-havingreference to the Greekroot-asagoodword. Nowadaysthis originally pleasantworddenotes themostunpleasantreality ofpolitics:thosewhoare entitled to arrest us. Letushope that"constitution"maynot have asimilar destiny.
12
PellegrinoRossi(1787-1848)wasprofessoroflaw inBolognain1814,the framer of the

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