Between Text and Context: Turkey's Tradition of Authoritarian Constitutionalism
“Between Text and Context: Turkey’s tradition of authoritarian constitutionalism,” International Journal of Constitutional Law 11:3 (July 2013), pp. 702-726
Posted: 12 Jun 2013 Last revised: 9 Jan 2015
Date Written: June 10, 2013
Constitutionalism is often understood to mean more than mere adherence to the formal terms of a constitution. Beyond this, it is usually associated with structuring the exercise of public power in line with a core set of principled commitments and, in doing so, rendering it legitimate. That said, it is possible to imagine a political system that practices robust constitutional discipline without meeting basic expectations of democracy, fundamental rights, human dignity, justice, or equality. With the example of the 1982 Turkish Constitution in mind, this article develops a theory of “authoritarian constitutionalism” as a system in which the constitution, rather than constraining the exercise of public power, is coopted to sanction oppressive uses of it. This discussion is situated against the backdrop of the enduring problem of “parchment barriers” in constitutional theory: authoritarian constitutionalism is instructive for understanding the extent to which the writ of the constitution shapes the beliefs, actions, and aspirations of the actors who inhabit the regime. When constitutional rule is marshaled to consolidate state power, it is strikingly effective at thwarting attempts at democratic reform. This suggests that constitutions do, in fact, “matter,” though not uniformly as a force for political liberalization.
Keywords: Constitutionalism, Turkey, democratic transitions
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