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

1
Introduction

By Arnold J. Zurcher NEW YORK UNIVERSITY

IN the period between the two World Wars, written constitutions had apparently declined in popular esteem and lost much of their erstwhile significance as symbols of political unity or as instruments of political discipline. Faith in the efficacy of such instruments, which attained a high point in the nineteenth century, had by no means been entirely dissipated; nevertheless there were few who shared the belief of a Paine, a Condorcet, or some other late eighteenth-century intellectual that written constitutions might be used to codify a rational and progressive political order or to discourage the abuse of political power. Such a belief, if exhibited in contemporary juristic or philosophic writing, would probably have been diagnosed as a form of nostalgia for outmoded ideas or as rather pronounced naïveté. And if the interbellum generation was not quite ready to take up the extreme views of Edmund Burke and dismiss written constitutions as digests of anarchy or the outpourings of impractical and disgruntled revolutionaries, it included many jurists and politicians who were even more contemptuous than Burke and who displayed that contempt by dismissing the latest imitation of the art of the Abbé Sieyès as a document possessing little more significance than a political platform or a "public-relations handout" of the party or coalition in power.

Reasons for this decline of faith in constitutions are not far to seek. Much of the explanation resides in the impact of the various international and domestic crises that afflicted the past generation, especially the two world conflagrations and the social and economic convulsions attributable in whole or part to the great depression

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