CCR №2 (111) 2016
Peasants with Pitchforks, and Toilers with Twitter: Constitutional Revolutions and the Constituent Power

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This essay argues that invoking the concept of the “constituent power” clarifies some persistent puzzles about the constitutional and legal status of purportedly unconstitutional constitutional amendments. It argues that in some circumstances such amendments should be understood as exercises of the constituent power, effecting revolutionary transformations in a nation’s constitutional identity but–sometimes–through the forms of legality. The status of constitutions as law is indexed to time through discrete exercises of the constituent power. A provision that is unconstitutional at one period of time can be constitutional at another time period, if the originary constituent power has been exercised at some intermediate point. The originary constituent power is exercised in constitutional revolutions, which are not necessarily violent or illegal. In sum, this essay uses the theme of the unconstitutional constitutional amendment as the vehicle for providing some insights into what the constituent power “is”. The author summarizes his conclusions in showing that the constituent power can exercise itself through the forms of legality, but those forms cannot ultimately constrain the constituent power. The essay distinguishes between a purely conceptual version of the constituent power and a more sociological or real-world version, and argues that the former is superior to the latter.

About the author

Mark Tushnet – William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Citation: Tushnet M. Krest’yane s vilami i rabochie s tvitterom: konstitutsionnye revolutsii i konstituiruyushchaya vlast’ [Peasants with pitchforks, and toilers with Twitter: Constitutional revolutions and the constituent power]. Sravnitel’noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, 2016, no. 2, pp. 15–31 (In Russian).


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