Thursday, February 09, 2006

Constitutionalism Part I: The Progression of Constitutionalism

What is constitutionalism? The broad answer of that question is merely the limitation of government by law. Yet the main tenets of constitutionalism are very different in each of the sovereign countries which instituted a constitution in the different historic constitutional periods. The tenets of constitutionalism are essential for defining a national sense of unity and adopting principles which are to guide that country for a sustainable period of time. Constitutionalism is absolutely an ideology which has been modified and tweaked for centuries, and is even entering a new phase of a theoretical configuration amongst the global community.

The initial ideology of what a constitution consisted of was influenced heavily by European philosophers like Locke and Montesquieu. The founding fathers of America based the tents of constitutionalism in our Preamble: “to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, to insure domestic tranquility, to provide for a common defense, to promote the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” These tenets were a reaction to the breaking away of a British monarchy and the establishment of an independent state. The ideology of constitutionalism in this era was nothing more than granting liberties and protecting property rights. It had a very limited sense of government intervention.

Through time however, as mankind progresses and develops more knowledge, the tenets of constitutionalism vastly changed by the mid 20th century. The beginning of the second stage came with the defeat of Japan and Germany in WWII. The Japanese constitution was ratified within days by an imposed General MacArthur. The basic tenets of their constitution were trust within the government and the formation of a liberal parliamentary democracy. An excerpt from the Japanese constitution shows the trust in authority, “government is a sacred trust of the people, the authority for which is derived from the people, the powers of which are exercised by the representatives of the people, and the benefits of which are enjoyed by the people.” The ideology of government being beneficial was leaking even into our country at this time as well, with the passage of legislation which granted a vast amount of money to welfare and government job programs (New Deal). The ideology of constitution was no longer a distrust in government and protection of property rights. It was now blossoming into something beyond that, which political rights and universal suffrage played a big part in.

After the fall of communism, constitutions were bringing the government into many everyday aspects of their lives, because of the ‘status quo’ and how many citizens enjoyed free health care and education under communist rule. The constitution-making process involved a lot more details then did previous transitions of constitutionalism before that. The ideology had once again shifted. No longer did the political rights and univeral suffrage suffice, now governments, like Romania’s and Hungary’s, were to be controlling much of the economy. It was a constitution with a foundation upon socialist principles.

The transformation of constitutionalism in a historical context is quite stunning. As man pushed further into progress and development, the initial ideology of constitutions became somewhat obsolete, although it is worth noting that the root of constitutionalism still lies within that initial stage. As the ideology develops, we can infer that the tenets of constitutionalism will only seek to become modified in the future. This tranformation may soon be implemented within the global construct, endangering every transitional ideology before it.

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