Anticolonial Constitutionalism: The Case of Hồ Chi Minh

Japanese Journal of Political Science, Forthcoming

Posted: 12 Jun 2018

See all articles by Son Ngoc Bui

Son Ngoc Bui

Faculty of Law, University of Oxford

Date Written: May 25, 2018


How is modern constitutionalism related to anticolonialism? This Article takes into account this question with a special reference to the case of Hồ Chi Minh. It argues that modern constitutionalism offers a powerful ideational and discursive weapon for the colonized people to struggle against colonialism. To understand this, the Article introduces the concept of ‘anticolonial constitutionalism’, defined as a form of political discourse in which anticolonialists employ the language and ideas of modern constitutionalism to combat the predatory colonial government and to express the aspirations to a constitutional government. Anticolonial constitutionalism emerges under three conditions, namely exploitatory and arbitrary colonialism, anticolonialism, and constitutional enlightenment. The case of Hồ Chí Minh illustrates this phenomenon well. When Vietnam was under French colonialism as a part of French Indochina during the first half of the twentieth century, Vietnamese anticolonialism was vehement, and different anticolonialists employed the language and ideas of constitutionalism to oppose the colonial government. One of them was Hồ Chí Minh, considered by many Vietnamese as the father and icon of the nation. A tremendously influential anticolonialist, he was enlightened with constitutionalist knowledge and employed key ideas of modern constitutionalism, namely a written constitution, the rule of law, popular sovereignty, and fundamental rights to struggle against French colonialism and to express such aspirations to a constitutional government in Vietnam. This study has implications for the trajectory of constitutionalism in contemporary Vietnam given the continuing influence of Hồ Chí Minh's constitutionalist discourse in the country nowadays. More generally, this study has implications for the relationship between constitutionalism and anticolonialism.

Suggested Citation

Bui, Son Ngoc, Anticolonial Constitutionalism: The Case of Hồ Chi Minh (May 25, 2018). Japanese Journal of Political Science, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Son Ngoc Bui (Contact Author)

Faculty of Law, University of Oxford ( email )

United Kingdom

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