Mark Tushnet Discusses Authoritarian Constitutionalism at Opening Session of Fall 2013 Colloquium

On 4 September 2013, Professor Mark Tushnet presented his draft paper, Authoritarian Constitutionalism, at the Constitutional Transitions & Global and Comparative Law Colloquium. Tushnet is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

Tushnet’s paper draws on and generalizes from Singapore’s constitutional experience to suggest that a plural understanding of constitutionalism is preferable to a simple binary concept in which liberal constitutionalism stands in opposition to authoritarianism. The Singaporean example suggests a third possibility: “authoritarian constitutionalism.” The article criticizes standard accounts in which authoritarian leaders and rulers in dominant-party states adhere to constitutional norms for purely self-interested reasons, arguing that the leaders’ domination of the constitutional system makes it impossible for them to assure subjects that they will continue to adhere to constitutional norms. Authoritarian constitutionalism, in contrast, involves a normative commitment to some degree of civil liberties and civil rights on the part of the regime’s leaders. The paper closes with some speculations about the conditions under which authoritarian constitutionalism might be both viable and appropriate.

During a lively colloquium session with over 40 people in attendance, Tushnet further elaborated upon his concept of authoritarian constitutionalism, arguing that constitutionalism is better thought of as a spectrum, with authoritarianism at one end and liberal constitutionalism at the other. Between the two poles are many “middle points” of constitutionalism. Tushnet uses Singapore as an example of such a point, citing its reasonably free and fair elections and the fact that the government takes some steps to protect liberal freedoms.

More information about future sessions of the Constitutional Transitions & Global and Comparative Law Colloquium is available here.

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