Series of political scandals lead to erosion of national constitutions

12 April 2012

Democratic constitutionalism suffers from globalisation. Current approaches to counter this problem have not worked. Gunther Teubner suggests a new approach: multiple constitutions. 

Over the past few years, a series of political scandals have raised the ‘new constitutional question’. Multinational corporations violated human rights; private intermediaries in the internet threatened freedom of opinion, and recently, with particular impact, the global capital markets unleashed catastrophic risks — all of these pose constitutional problems in the strict sense. What can be learned from how nation-states dealt with the social sphere where the political constitution had less reach in the past?

The constitutional problems lead to questions such as:

  • On what legitimating basis do transnational regimes regulate whole spheres of social activities, right down to the detail of daily life?
  • What are the limits of global capital markets in their impact on the real economy and other social sectors?
  • Can fundamental rights and human rights claim validity in the state-free spheres of the global economy, particularly as against transnational organisations?

These constitutional questions are no less important, although different, than those of the 18th and 19th century. It then led to the political constitutions of the nation-state. Since then the foundations have been eroded through European Union and transnational regimes on the one hand, and through the transferral of political power to private actors, on the other. While some see this as a problem that is hard to fix, and if at all by renationalisation and repoliticisation, others see possibilities in building a new constitution for world society.

During an international conference in Turin organised by Gunther Teubner (2010 HiiL Visiting Professior) and Anna Beckers, titled "Transnational Societal Constitutionalism" on 17-19 May, social scientists and lawyers will discuss a third approach based in sociological theories, so far unheard in the constitutional debate. The main message is that even in the past there were social 'sub-constitutions' that worked under the level of the national, political constitution. Globalisation only made the constitutional problems more acute. The goal of the conference is to investigate how the experiences of nation-states with this societal constitutionalism can be transformed to meet the conditions of globality.

The conference is open to the public and attendance is free of charge. For more information and registration, visit the official conference website:


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