What's Democracy Got to Do With It? A Critique of Liberal Constitutionalism

53 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2007 Last revised: 29 Oct 2014

See all articles by Allan Hutchinson

Allan Hutchinson

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School

Joel I. Colón-Ríos

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law

Date Written: September 25, 2007


This paper examines the extent to which Ronald Dworkin's liberal constitutionalism, as presented in his recent work "Is Democracy Possible Here? Principles for a New Political Debate," can provide the basis and impetus for the realization of democracy in contemporary societies. The paper is divided into three main sections. We begin by locating the broader institutional contexts within which debates about the importance and salience of democratic politics have taken place and introducing Dworkin's distinctive and defiant contribution to those debates. In the second and main section, we offer a substantial critique of Dworkin's proposals and demonstrate how his (and fellow constitutionalists') liberal project may be as much a part of the problem as the solution. That critique is divided into four parts; it includes a series of philosophical, political, constitutional, and historical arguments against the democratic credentials of Dworkin's project. The third section explores a different approach to how democracy can be more effectively and fully mobilized to meet present-day challenges; the emphasis here is on more affirmative and constructive proposals. By way of conclusion, we speculate on the directions that further efforts might take to fulfill the promise of democratic politics in contemporary societies. We maintain that, if democracy is to be realizable, then it needs to be of a more robust and less derivative kind than Dworkin's liberal project envisages. Rather than arguing that any remnants of constitutionalism should be abandoned, we propose to re-dress as we challenge the supposed balance between constitutionalism and democracy and, in its place, combine a strong democracy with a weak constitutionalism.

Keywords: democracy, liberal constitutionalism, Dworkin

JEL Classification: K39

Suggested Citation

Hutchinson, Allan and Colón-Ríos, Joel I., What's Democracy Got to Do With It? A Critique of Liberal Constitutionalism (September 25, 2007). CLPE Research Paper No. 29/2007; Victoria University of Wellington Legal Research Paper No. 22/2013. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1017305 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1017305

Allan Hutchinson (Contact Author)

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
(416) 736-5048 (Phone)

Joel I. Colón-Ríos

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

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