The Cultural Evolution of National Constitutions

26 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2016

See all articles by Daniel Rockmore

Daniel Rockmore

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

Chen Fang

Dartmouth College

Nick Foti

University of Washington - Department of Statistics

Tom Ginsburg

University of Chicago Law School

David Krakauer

Santa Fe Institute

Date Written: February 29, 2016

Abstract

We introduce a hybrid of approaches, inspired by biology and genetics, to analyze patterns of cultural inheritance and innovation through the study of the diffusion of ideas through a corpus of 591 national constitutions spanning 1789-2008. We extract information from a topic modeling of the complete corpus and construct cultural diffusion trees of topics (in the topic modeling sense) in order to characterize constitutions as cultural recombinants borrowing from ancestral constitutions back to the Last Universal Common Ancestor of Constitutions (LUCAC), the US Constitution of 1789. We discover constitutions cluster into distinct epochs within which legal concepts are frequently shared. We find constitutions vary systematically in their patterns of borrowing from ancestral texts -- from asexual copying through to polysexual borrowing. Most constitutions are very similar and have only a short term influence on descendant constitutions but a few are surprisingly innovative with very many offspring with a long lasting influence. These highly influential constitutions tend to be the oldest. We find that constitutions behave "biologically" in that their patterns of inheritance follow a characteristic negative-binomial distribution of "offspring" arising through a preferential-attachment process. These findings support a principled definition of memes in which the particulate inheritance of topics reproduces regularities in both constitutional statistics and dynamics.

Keywords: constitutions, topic modeling, cultural diffusion, distant reading

JEL Classification: N40

Suggested Citation

Rockmore, Daniel and Fang, Chen and Foti, Nick and Ginsburg, Tom and Krakauer, David, The Cultural Evolution of National Constitutions (February 29, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2739824 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2739824

Daniel Rockmore (Contact Author)

Dartmouth College - Department of Mathematics ( email )

United States

Dartmouth College - Department of Computer Science ( email )

United States

Chen Fang

Dartmouth College ( email )

Department of Sociology
Hanover, NH 03755
United States

Nick Foti

University of Washington - Department of Statistics ( email )

Seattle, WA
United States

Tom Ginsburg

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

David Krakauer

Santa Fe Institute

1399 Hyde Park Road
Santa Fe, NM 87501
United States

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