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Introduction to the History, Theory and Politics of Constitutional Law


Module description

This module introduces you to a range of key historical developments concepts, contemporary debates and methodological approaches that concern the interface between constitutional law, politics and democracy in the past and presently. It will begin with a historicised account of the concepts of ‘state’, ‘rule of law’, ‘constitution’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘limited government’ and ‘separation of powers’ explaining that these owe as much, if not more, to medieval so-called ‘political theology’ than to ancient Greece and Rome. It will proceed by examining the secularisation of these concepts in the modern liberal (bourgeois) constitutional discourse of ‘social contract’ as well as contemporary theories that suggest that said secularisation is still limited. We will then proceed through a range of perspectives on longstanding and contemporary debates in the field, focusing increasingly on the actual and potential relevance of classic constitutionalism in the emerging globalised world-society. This is done using a critical, interdisciplinary perspective.

Indicative module content

    • Medieval origins, modern acculturations
    • Modern mythology? The ‘social contract’ and public reason
    • Representation, sovereignty, and rule of law in legal and in political constitutionalism
    • Constitutional legalism challenged
    • Political constitutionalism challenged
    • ‘Constitutional patriotism’: closing the constitutional circle?
    • ‘Archiving sovereignty’
    • Reflexive constitutionalism
    • Constitutionalism and systems theory for an inter-connected world

    Learning objectives

    By the end of this module, you will be able to:

    • understand the key ideas and principles of constitutionalism in their historical, geographical and socio-cultural context particularly by examining the relation of politics, law and religion since the European middle ages
    • critically examine the contemporary meaning and function of constitutional law in relation to politics, both within states and globally, drawing from a range of contemporary theories
    • engage in introspection and reflection especially on the interaction of authority and power, law and politics taking into consideration the theoretical rethinking of politics in our times
    • identify key critiques of constitutionalism
    • prepare to engage in interdisciplinary, cross-cultural analysis of forms and uses of public power in local contexts.