Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=2360725
 


 



'We the Peoples': The Global Origins of Constitutional Preambles


Tom Ginsburg


University of Chicago Law School

Nick Foti


University of Washington - Department of Statistics

Daniel Rockmore


Dartmouth College - Department of Mathematics; Dartmouth College - Department of Computer Science

November 27, 2013

George Washington International Law Review, Forthcoming
University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 664
U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 447

Abstract:     
We like to think that constitutions are expressions of distinctly national values, speaking for “We the People.” This is especially true of constitutional preambles, which often recount distinct events from national history and speak to national values. This article challenges this popular view by demonstrating the global influences on constitutional preambles. It does so using a new set of tools in linguistic and textual analysis, applied to a database of most constitutional preambles written since 1789. Arguing that legal language can be analogized to memes or genetic material, we analyze “horizontal” transfer of language across countries and “vertical” transfers within a single country over time. We also examine the circumstances in which countries introduce new terms into preambles, showing that countries innovate when neighbors innovate, and that innovations come in global waves. We show that innovation in language is something like punctuated equilibrium within an ecosystem. For long periods of stasis, countries borrow from one another and restrict their language to a set of common terms and phrases. Then, at particular junctures (likely associated with global conflicts), the equilibrium becomes disrupted and a period of innovation ensues. This eventually generates the “new normal” in terms of the set of language that constitutional drafters use. The article provides an example of how text analysis can help us understand the ways in which legal texts are interrelated across space and time.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 40

working papers series


Download This Paper

Date posted: November 29, 2013 ; Last revised: April 3, 2014

Suggested Citation

Ginsburg, Tom and Foti, Nick and Rockmore, Daniel, 'We the Peoples': The Global Origins of Constitutional Preambles (November 27, 2013). George Washington International Law Review, Forthcoming; University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 664; U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 447. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2360725 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2360725

Contact Information

Tom Ginsburg (Contact Author)
University of Chicago Law School ( email )
1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
Nick Foti
University of Washington - Department of Statistics ( email )
Seattle, WA
United States
Daniel Rockmore
Dartmouth College - Department of Mathematics ( email )
United States
Dartmouth College - Department of Computer Science ( email )
United States
Feedback to SSRN


Paper statistics
Abstract Views: 827
Downloads: 183
Download Rank: 95,140

© 2014 Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  FAQ   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy   Copyright   Contact Us
This page was processed by apollo3 in 0.672 seconds