Constitutions and Political Theory

Article excerpt

Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1996. pp.294. ISBN 0-7190-4648-3(pbk) 14.99

Jan-Erik Lane introduces this text as an attempt to fill the gap in constitutional literature for a single clear and concise text on constitutional theory, which would act as a suitable core text for an undergraduate course. To say that he achieves this would be an understatement. This is an excellent text, with a clarity, narrative order and coherence which exemplifies the craft of political thought and theory. He explains the history, political and legal structural frameworks and central ideas and issues behind constitutional politics fluently and clearly-always precise, focused and specific in drawing out the central distinctions in discussing what constitutions are, how they have developed, how they interact with state and judiciary and why they are important. The text is widely-sourced, the conceptual discussion ordered and the grasp of the range of historical and contemporary evidence impressive. At some points the craft in this text prompts the response that this is an aesthetically beautifully written narrative.

As the basis for an undergraduate course it is an essential text. It encourages the reader by engaging them with a confident and knowledgeable but not intimidating or exclusive prose. It surveys political thinking and theorising about constitutionalism in a way which is both accessible but still thought provoking and insightful. It has made easy the work of any lecturer who wishes to support a semester course with a single text which will minimise their efforts but still retain intellectual rigour and academic quality.

The only weaknesses that the text betrays are those of omission, rather than commission. He has produced a text which has a quite traditional `political science' approach to political theory, with an empiricist feel and a strong linkage between political ideas and the development of historical political forms. Where it does leave a gap is in three areas which might engage more critical discussion. …


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