Constitutions and Constitutional Trends since World War II: An Examination of Significant Aspects of Postwar Public Law with Particular Reference to the New Constitutions of Western Europe

By Arnold J. Zurcher | Go to book overview

9

The British Commonwealth as an Example of a Multinational State System

By Adam B. Ulam HARVARD UNIVERSITY

T HE two World Wars have sounded the death knell of old- fashioned imperialism. World War I marked an effective limit to the expansion of the West and, though it was not so realized at the time, the beginning of a rather rapid process of dissolution of the multinational systems, which prior to 1914 had seemed almost permanent pictures of the political map of the world. If the hard test of practical politics rather than that of legal formulas and theories is to be applied to the situation as of today, can we still say that there exists in any meaningful terms a political entity called the Commonwealth of Nations or its French variant, the French Union? Can the new realities, the new social forces, be crowded into a constitutional formula, or is the very process of constitutional reformulation of the old imperial relationships an imposing façade concealing a crumbling structure? The answer can only be given after appraising some of the forces and facts impinging upon the old imperial structures, and determining whether or not they can be reduced to a constitutional mold in a world where there are very many constitutions but very few instances of what might be called true constitutionalism.

The two World Wars have acted as great catalysts of social and political change throughout the world. The aftermath of World War I brought nationalism into the focus of political phenomena, not only as a characteristic of Western culture and of some isolated cultures outside the Western world, but as the central tendency

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