In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Constitutionalism

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Web Resources
  • Constitutionalism
  • The Enlightenment and Modern Constitutionalism
  • Constitutionalism and Constitutionalization
  • Emergent and Postcolonial Constitutionalism
  • Constitutionalism Theory and Substantive Content
  • Constitutionalism’s Rationales and Interpretation

Political Science Constitutionalism
Aoife O’Donoghue, Colin Murray
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0181


Constitutionalism prescribes the modes and institutions of governance. Both modes and institutions are legitimated through their operation under the auspices of legal and political structures (constitutional arrangements). The majority of constitutions, regardless of the level of governance to which they apply, are codified into single documents, although some remain uncodified. Constitutionalism lays down precepts such as the rule of law, democracy, human rights, and the separation of powers, which operate within a constitutional order to mediate the interaction between law and power in subnational, national, supranational, and global governance systems. Even if constitutionalism is not explicitly identified in all governance debates it is of relevance when any of these concepts are at issue. Constitutionalism is not a theory of governance but a range of divergent approaches for assessing what constitutes “good” governance. From this common foundation, approaches to constitutionalism diverge dramatically on the attributes, underlying principles, and aims of constitutional governance. As a concept contested at its most fundamental level, constitutionalism concerns the legitimation of governance orders, but it also interlinks with theories of individual/associational autonomy, democracy, transparency, accountability, human rights, the rule of law, and redistributive and corrective justice, with each providing a basis for the critique of existing or emerging (e.g., European Union or global) constitutional orders. The wide range of approaches to its normative content means that constitutionalism can be both criticized for being subject to unjustified extensions in its scope and dismissed as no more than a repackaging of established principles that do not depend upon an overarching concept of constitutionalism. The extension of constitutionalism from its modern foundations in discourse surrounding the liberal democratic state to supranational governance arrangements has made the concept a touchstone issue in debates on public governance, but it has also introduced new fissures into its analysis.


Many jurisdictions have their own constitutional law and political reviews that offer insights into their particular constitutional structures and forms of constitutionalism. The journals listed here offer a broader perspective on constitutionalism, including consideration of domestic issues and also embracing its regional, supranational, global, and international aspects. They also take an interdisciplinary approach to the content of constitutionalism. While the European Constitutional Law Review focuses on the European Union, this context provides an important point of discourse on emergent forms of constitutionalism. The International Journal of Constitutional Law provides an outlet for legal analysis of constitutionalism, including theoretical contributions at the cutting edge of debate. Global Constitutionalism is the most interdisciplinary of these journals and focuses on empirical, conceptual, and normative research.

  • European Constitutional Law Review. 2005–.

    Known as EUConst, the European Constitutional Law Review focuses on the European Union as a constitutional governance order and the history and development of that order. As such, it is an important resource for understanding manifestations of constitutionalism in the world’s most developed regional governance order. Particularly valuable for its content on the relationship between the European Union order and those of member states and the relationship between the European Union and other regional orders such as the Council of Europe.

  • Global Constitutionalism: Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law. 2012–.

    Known as GlobCon, Global Constitutionalism: Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law focuses on empirical, conceptual, and normative research on constitutionalism on a global scale. It also takes a specifically interdisciplinary approach by not regarding constitutionalism as a solely legal doctrine but rather applying legal and political practice to issues around legitimacy and legality.

  • International Journal of Constitutional Law. 2003–.

    Known as I-CON, the International Journal of Constitutional Law has an international and comparative focus on constitutional law. Its content examines global trends within constitutional law that may carry constitutional implications, below, beyond, and at state level. It is an interdisciplinary journal albeit its focus tends to be law based.

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