Comparing Constitutions

Comparing Constitutions

Comparing Constitutions

Comparing Constitutions

Synopsis

A political scientist and a comparative lawyer have joined forces to produce a revised and expanded version of the late S. E. Finer's classic Five Constitutions. Their book gives the present texts of four important constitutions, the American, German, French, and Russian. It adds the basicpolitical structure of the European Union, and provides a full account of the British constitution in the terms revealed by examination of the other texts. A general chapter on comparing constitutions is complemented by careful analytical and alphabetical indexes.

Excerpt

All the classical commentators on constitutions have drawn attention to the wide differences between them. Indeed, among modern states roughly comparable in economic position and political attitudes, the private law is likely to be essentially similar (in substance if not appearance), while the public law will be very different.

There are of course obvious reasons for many of the major varieties. Some have to provide for a federal or confederal structure; others are unitary; and some (like the British) include quite different legal systems within the one state. Some have to handle serious internal ethnic, linguistic, and religious differences, while others are written for a homogeneous population. Some are largely restricted to a set of justifiable rules of law, while others contain manifesto-like proclamations and show a tendency to the picturesque by, for instance, the adoption of a national animal (always attractive, but rarely edible). A few are contained in no given text or texts. Some are never meant to be taken seriously.

These distinctions are both evident and indispensable, but it will be seen that the motivations which underlie them fall into distinct categories. That a federal document should contain material absent from a unitary one reflects a mechanical consideration, whereas whether the constitution should include manifesto-like pronouncements or a Bill of Rights reflects value preferences. And as soon as we begin to ask what has influenced these preferences we stumble on an additional reason for the wide variety among constitutions. It is a very easy and obvious reason, but that does not make it any the less significant. It is, quite simply, that the constitution-makers in different countries, or for that matter at different moments in the history of any one country, have quite different preoccupations. The reason they are drafting a new instrument of government at all can only be that they are reacting . . .

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