Revolutionary Constitutionalism

44 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2015 Last revised: 8 Sep 2021

See all articles by Stephen Gardbaum

Stephen Gardbaum

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law


One important recent trend in constitution-making around the world has been revolutionary constitutionalism: using the constitution-making process to attempt to institutionalize and bring to a successful conclusion a political revolution. Although a good deal of attention has been paid to the specific revolutions involved, there has been far less on the general phenomenon of revolutionary constitutionalism as such. This article attempts to begin redressing this gap by offering some reflections on the general phenomenon and then employing them to inform an analysis of constitution-making in the revolutionary context.

The article makes three main claims. The first is that revolutionary constitutionalism is a useful and illuminating category for the discipline of comparative constitutional law. Empirically, it encompasses a range of situations that implicate constitutionalism in a particular way and raise special challenges. Analytically, it is a distinct concept from the neighboring term "constitutional revolution." Recognizing this permits us to distinguish, for example, the American Revolution from the New Deal constitutional revolution in qualitative terms, as different in kind and not merely degree. The second is that revolutionary constitutionalism contains within itself certain paradoxes and practical problems that have their source in the combination of initial radical transition and subsequent resistance to further radical change that constitutionalization brings. The final claim concerns the role and importance of constitution-making in the revolutionary context. Although relative to a broad array of socio-political variables, this role is generally less central to the ultimate outcomes of revolutionary constitutionalism than constitutional lawyers often think, it can respond to one distinctive challenge: the need to re-establish political authority lost by the old regime. As the comparison between recent experiences in Egypt and Tunisia suggests, constitution-making can make a key contribution here as one source of the legitimacy that the new regime must acquire.

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Keywords: revolutionary constitutionalism, constitutional revolution, constitutionalism, American Revolution, Arab Spring, constitution-making

Suggested Citation

Gardbaum, Stephen, Revolutionary Constitutionalism. 15(1) International Journal of Constitutional Law 173 (2017). , Available at SSRN:

Stephen Gardbaum (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

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