The Endurance of National Constitutions

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Constitutions are supposed to provide an enduring structure for politics. Yet only half live more than nineteen years. Why is it that some constitutions endure while others do not? In The Endurance of National Constitutions, Zachary Elkins, Tom Ginsburg, and James Melton examine the causes of constitutional endurance from an institutional perspective. Supported by an original set of cross-national historical data, theirs is the first comprehensive study of constitutional mortality. They show that whereas constitutions are imperiled by social and political crises, certain aspects of a constitution’s design can lower the risk of death substantially. Thus, to the extent that endurance is desirable – a question that the authors also subject to scrutiny – the decisions of founders take on added importance.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This book had the same effect on me as reading Goran Therborn’s 1977 New Left Review paper on the history and origins of Democracy. I found it hard to put down and impossible to stop thinking about. It is an agenda setting work which will hugely influence comparative politics.”
—James Robinson, Professor of Government, Harvard University and faculty associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs

“Elkins and Ginsburg provide the first comprehensive analysis of what makes constitutions survive, adapt, or collapse. Their data collection, on every national charter going back to the 18th Century, is staggering in its own right. But the authors also bring to the table an array of diagnostic strategies that shed light on what accounts for constitutional mortality. Their results force us to reexamine what we thought we knew about the design of institutions and the factors that contribute to, or undermine, their stability.”
—John Carey, Professor of Government, Dartmouth College

“Though ostensibly reporting on only one aspect of a dauntingly ambitious project in comparative constitutionalism, Ginsburg and Elkins manage to offer insights about the most basic ideas of "constitutions" and "constitutionalism" on almost every page. They write limpid and accessible prose but also display methodological sophistication. No student of constitutionalism, however defined, can afford to neglect this book (and to look forward to the other volumes that will emanate from their project).”
—Sanford Levinson, Professor of Law and Government, School of Law and Department of Government, University of Texas, Austin

"[The authors] pose important questions of broad interest, and their findings, for all their tentativeness, are striking and will be of interest to the many communities of scholars (and the army of international experts and consultants) interested in constitution drafting. Readers who find data analysis deadening will be kept alert by a lively writing style."
Perspectives on Politics, Nathan J. Brown, George Washington University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521731324
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 10/12/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 270
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Zachary Elkins is Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. Professor Elkins writes on issues of democracy, institutional reform, and research methodology. Much of his current research is focused on the origins and consequences of constitutional design. He also co-directs the project, which is intended to provide constitutional drafters with usable insights from academic research on constitutional design. He received a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and a B.A. from Yale University.

Tom Ginsburg is Professor at the University of Chicago Law School. His books include Rule by Law: The Politics of Courts in Authoritarian Regimes (2008) and Judicial Review in New Democracies (2003), which won the American Political Science Association's C. Herman Pritchett Award for best book on law and courts. Professor Ginsburg has previously worked for The Asia Foundation, consulted on law and democratic governance programs, and served as a legal advisor at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague.

James Melton is a graduate student in political science at the University of Illinois. His research focuses broadly on comparative democratization, and he is currently working on projects related to constitutional design, voter turnout, and measuring democracy.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction; 2. How long should constitutions endure?; 3. Conceptualizing constitutions; 4. A positive theory of constitutional endurance; 5. Empirical implications of the theory: identifying risks to constitutional life; 6. An epidemiological analysis of constitutional mortality; 7. Contrasts in constitutional endurance; 8. Contexts of chronic failure; 9. Conclusion.

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