Resisting Democratic Backsliding: An Essay on Weimar, Self-Enforcing Constitutions, and the Frankfurt School
Global Constitutionalism, vol. 7, no. 1, 54-74 (2018).
Posted: 26 Sep 2018
Date Written: August 25, 2018
What, if anything, can constitutions do to resist democratic backsliding? The collapse of the Weimar Republic has led scholars of comparative politics to conclude that constitutional forms and institutions can do little to resist the breakdown of democracy and the rise of autocracy. This paper offers a constitutionalist response. The outlines of this answer can be found in the decades-old policy documents produced by a set of German émigré scholars during and in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War: Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse, and Otto Kirchheimer. The secret reports root constitutional stability in the creation of a framework for bounded partisan pluralist contestation among political parties that track the principal social and economic cleavages, and that is rooted within, and does not seek to overthrow, the underlying political economy. Second, the secret reports suggest a counter-narrative of the German Basic Law as creating a framework for political contestation that reinforces constitutional stability instead of undermining it.
Keywords: Weimar, Frankfurt School, Legal Theory, Constitutional Theory, Constitutional Design
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