Other Discussions on Books


Our constitutions project will deal essentially with contemporary changes throughout the world. However, the case of Britain is special. The American constitution was based on ideas imported from England, even those sections which imitate the Roman model. That will be an essential part of our project. However, the process is now reversed. Britain has long boasted of its unwritten constitution, based on tradition. Now "Britain is poised for a period of prolonged constitutional upheaval." Those are the opening words of "Subjects or citizens?", a review of Joshua Rozenberg and Richard Cohen, TRIAL OF STRENGTH and Vernon Bogdanor, POWER AND THE PEOPLE ( The Economist, 7/19/97). The principle issue is devolution, which is similar to the fight for states' rights in the U.S. It will be interesting to see who much the British invoke the American model. British admiration for the American constitution goes back to the Liberals like Jeremy Bentham, whom de Tocqueville knew well, as I pointed out in my memo to Brian Lamb. We shall have to draw a constitutional tree, with the American constitution as the trunk. The branches go off in different directions. The Spanish constitution of 1812 was largely derived from the French constitution, and in turn it inspired Latin American constitutions. We are now faced with a curious situation. It was American constitutionalists who drafted the present German (and Japanese) constitutions. Many observers think the German constitution superior to the American one, which is blamed for permitting the blatant corruption of the American system. How much influence does the American constitution still have in the whole process?