The key constitutional texts of 1958, 1946, and 1789 are given in the first section below. It is useful to group them together, because the current constitutional law is not confined to a single document. It is often called a bloc de constitutionnalité and has four sources. First, there is of course the 1958 Constitution itself; secondly, this confirms in its Preamble the French commitment to the Rights of Man and principles of national sovereignty enshrined in the 1789 Declaration; thirdly, it refers to these rights as supplemented by the Preamble to the 1946 Constitution. This latter source expressly extends equal rights to women and recognizes the right to strike, to join a trade union, and so on. But the 1946 Preamble also invokes, not merely the 1789 Declaration, but also 'les principes fondamentaux reconnus par les lois de la République'.
Thus the fourth source of basic constitutional norms is to be found not in a text as such, but in certain fundamental principles which can be seen to underlie a law 'of the Republic'. This seems to preclude a search for such principles in the statutes of the First ( 1804-48) and Second ( 1852-70) Empires. Fortunately the Code civil had all been promulgated by 25 March 1804 -- just seven weeks before Napoleon was elevated from First Consul to Emperor -- and so modern doctrine is able to see the Code as a true Republican law ( F. Luchaire, 'Les fondements constitutionnels du droit civil', 1982 Rev. Tf. Dr. Civ. 245, 251).
The 1958 Constitution operates within the context of these other sources of constitutional law. Furthermore, it contains its own internal classification of norms. It may be helpful, therefore, to attempt an introductory outline of the hierarchy of legal norms in the modern French system. Their differences in ranking may be justified by both formal and material criteria. The first answers questions as to who made and who can unmake, or amend, the norm; the second deals with the question of what the normis about.
First come the basic constitutional norms described above: the 1958 Constitution was adopted (and can be amended) by referen-