Thursday, March 08, 2018

Constitution Problems in Latin America

Niall Ferguson and Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez have a working paper on "disposable" constitutions in Latin America. I always make this case in my Latin American Politics class. Constitutions come and go frequently in the region and often get tied to individual leaders. That undermines long-term stability.

They conclude by arguing that Chile is better off amending the 1980 constitution rather than writing a new one, which Michelle Bachelet is pushing right now and which has been on the agenda for years. It has Pinochet roots. I wrote about this in my first book, with ultraconservative Jaime Guzmán on the commission as intellectual godfather. Put simply, the status quo argument is that despite warts, the country is stable. The change argument is that democracy has been held back because of it. In fact, that constitution was intentionally authoritarian, intended to limit democracy in many ways, so it's easy to make the case that it should reflect the democratic times. The critical issue is not necessarily a new constitution per se, but making sure a new one does not reflect an individual. You want a new one, built with consensus, that lasts. The 1980 constitution was not built on consensus.

But I digress. To be less disposable, constitutions should be de-personalized, set aside from the political projects of specific people. Make the process broad and consensual to the extent possible rather than personalized.


shah8 3:13 AM  

Reading a book about Prussian history.

That, and the general understanding of the history of the US constitution provides really good reasons to believe that it's important to update or replace constitutions with authoritarian/conservative carveouts.

The issue is that public opinion and governance tends to diverge under these circumstances, and the conservatives/authoritarians who benefits tend to become more radical/maximalist in the defense of their privileges as the body public gets more pissed at the roadblocks to effective governance. This leads to a gambling mentality aimed at forcing the rest of of the country to comply, using the constitutional roadblocks as leverage. And of course, things spiral out of countrol, as essentially it eventually must--it's a ratchet game, a game of chicken, jenga, and repeat until failure.

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