Introduction: Constitutionalism

22 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2015 Last revised: 2 Jul 2018

See all articles by Nicholas W. Barber

Nicholas W. Barber

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law

Date Written: February 16, 2015


Constitutionalism is a term that is often found in the title of books and articles, but is rarely considered in their texts. By and large, it is assumed that we know what constitutionalism entails, and that there is no need to examine it further. Constitutionalism is treated as a synonym for the legal enforcement of constitutional rules, or – perhaps – a subset of those rules; it is regarded as a desirable, maybe even a necessary, feature of a constitutional order. Attention swiftly turns to the practical difficulties involved in ensuring the effectiveness of these legal constraints. This paper challenges this simple understanding of constitutionalism, arguing those who see constitutionalism entirely in terms of constraints on state power miss an important aspect of the doctrine. Constitutionalism also requires the creation of an effective and competent set of state institutions; it has a positive dimension.

Keywords: Constitutionalism; Constitutional Theory; Constitutional Principles

Suggested Citation

Barber, Nicholas W., Introduction: Constitutionalism (February 16, 2015). Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 7/2015, Available at SSRN: or

Nicholas W. Barber (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

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