With concrete examples discuss the argument that it is quite feasible to have a written constitution without constitutionalism just as it is equally feasible to have constitutionalism without a...

With concrete examples discuss the argument that it is quite feasible to have a written constitution without constitutionalism just as it is equally feasible to have constitutionalism without a written constitution.

Asked on by loura

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One way to define constitutionalism is, as seen in this link, to say that it is the idea

that government can and should be legally limited in its powers, and that its authority or legitimacy depends on its observing these limitations.

If we use this definition of constitutionalism, we can clearly see that constitutionalism can exist without a written constitution and that a written constitution can exist without constitutionalism.  Britain is an example of the first while China is an example of the second.

In Britain, there is no formal, written constitution.  However, there is a strong tradition of limited government.  Britain is, arguably, as dedicated to personal liberties and constitutionalism as any other country in the world.  It does not need a written constitution in order for this to be true.

By contrast, the People’s Republic of China has a constitution.  The constitution has many provisions that are fairly liberal.  For example, people in China are officially guaranteed the right to freedom of religion and to freedom of speech, press, and demonstration.  However, China’s government clearly pays little or no attention to these freedoms.  China’s government feels free to censor the internet, to jail people for political dissent, and to be very intolerant of certain religious groups. 

In these ways, we can clearly see that a written constitution and constitutionalism do not necessarily go hand in hand.  Constitutionalism is brought about by building a political culture, not by creating a written document.

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