by Elias Blum
In 2016 I took a bit of an intellectual break from the study of constitutions. I mean, it was still my profession, but I deliberately chose, for one year, not to make it my hobby and my obsession as well. For the first time since 2007, I did not have either a PhD thesis or a book project on the go. Instead, I spent my spare time cultivating other hobbies and interests instead, like building my model railway. If I did any reading outside of work, it was mostly leisure reading that was, at most, only tangentially related to my subject. And of course, I spent much of 2016 dealing with the baby, and much of my mental space has been occupied by baby-related things.
But 2016 is over, and if we learnt anything from it, it is that the principles and foundations of democratic constitutionalism are under some stress, even in what we thought were established and staple democracies. While I sympathise to a great extent with those populists who are angry at the failure of smug, corrupt, selfish, out-of-touch elites, I’m worried about the dangers of authoritarian demagoguery. Real constitutional democracy – not crass populism, its cheap counterfeit – is needed now more than ever.
I have also become convinced that in order to save and strengthen constitutional democracy, we need to go deeper than we have in the last 30 years. We are not living in the 1990s anymore, where we can assume that there is a harmonious and uncomplicated relationship between economic liberalism and democracy; indeed, the two are now in great tension, and that tension is exacerbated by social, cultural and technological changes – not to mention climatic and demographic changes – that are putting great stress on democratic systems. The restoration and renewal of constitutional democracy may require far more than just institutional tinkering: it may require us to consider how to reinforce the moral, ethical, cultural and material foundations on which we seek to build a democratic state.
So my resolution in 2017 is to undertake my next book project. This will be my fourth book about constitutional matters, but my first not to have a Scottish focus. Instead, it deals with constitutions more generally, examining through a series of historical case studies why we have them, what they do, why they matter, and how they interact with political, legal and socio-economic realities.