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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Constitutions   Tue 25 Feb 2014, 11:44

Which are the longest sustained constitutions that have not been radically changed, as nordmann sort of puts it, by the next bum on the big seat? And who has had a crack at making one that worked for a while, anyway?
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Sun 02 Mar 2014, 14:29

I've just been searching for some information about something completely different but as is the way of the web I came upon this:

According to wiki, "The oldest written document still governing a sovereign nation today is that of San Marino. The Leges Statutae Republicae Sancti Marini was written in Latin and consists of six books. The first book, with 62 articles, establishes councils, courts, various executive officers and the powers assigned to them. The remaining books cover criminal and civil law, judicial procedures and remedies. Written in 1600, the document was based upon the Statuti Comunali (Town Statute) of 1300, itself influenced by the Codex Justinianus [the codification of Roman law ordered by Justinian I early in the 6th century AD], and it remains in force today."

San Marino also claims to be the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Sun 02 Mar 2014, 17:50

was and remains so very small - perhaps too much constitution is not a good thing. Interesting. MM.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Sun 02 Mar 2014, 18:54

Small but a great survivor given the turmoil that surrounded it for its first 1,300 years. The adoption of a constitution for a tiny inaccessible community is almost an irrelevance regarding either its survival or its propensity to growth however. 

I would still cite the US constitution as the leader in terms of content, ambition and effectiveness in the conventional sense of how the concept of a written constitution is generally understood today. Very few countries who have attempted to emulate it have produced anything so provenly effective with regard to rights and governance, normally because some traditional bias has been allowed some expression in their contents. The USA, starting from scratch and based on no known working model, made a very good stab at avoiding this pitfall and is still reaping the benefits of this foresight, even if it is often very much despite the efforts of many so-called "patriots" who would dearly have it otherwise.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Mon 03 Mar 2014, 10:23

I thank MM for drawing my attention to San Marino. Have just spent an absorbing half hour in Wiki about that country. It's constitution being surely the only one still based on the Roman Consul system, for one thing, is interesting. That they are not in the EU but use the euro is another point of interest. I would say that its survival has much to do with its constitution because it has maintained an integrity that has been repected. It is very wealthy with no national debt and little unemployment......mmm.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Mon 03 Mar 2014, 10:35

@Priscilla wrote:
I would say that its survival has much to do with its constitution because it has maintained an integrity that has been repected.

No it hasn't. It benefited enormously from the fact that a senior diplomat became a personal buddy of Napoleon. That bought it a few years grace. Later it also benefited from tight diplomatic relations with the Vatican when the latter's autonomy was being thrashed out in the newly unified Italy. San Marino's autonomy was extended by association. During World War II its integrity was compromised persistently, both by allied forces which bombed it despite its neutrality and by German forces who overran it and occupied it later (occasioning even more bombing by the allies). Respect for San Marino or its constitution played no part in any of these developments - especially the later ones.

All of these events affected the small state's potential integrity to an extreme that no constitutional consideration could have any bearing on whatsoever. At the moment its integrity is secured through a bilateral treaty with Italy. If at some point in the future Italy becomes a divided state (as is the agenda of several northern based parties) then this treaty becomes null and void and San Marino could well find itself on the border between the two resulting political entities. Depending on circumstances (none of which involve whatever constitution the statelet might have adopted) the integrity of San Marino will again become a political issue that requires to be resolved through negotiation. Its constitution will not protect it then either.

I think you are exaggerating the role of a constitution - it is primarily and almost exclusively concerned with the formulation of law within the state along with designing the machinery of state used to implement and uphold such law. No constitution can (nor indeed foolishly thought by its designers could) safeguard a state against external aggression or overwhelming influence from without.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Mon 03 Mar 2014, 11:27

@nordmann wrote:
The USA, starting from scratch and based on no known working model, made a very good stab at avoiding this pitfall and is still reaping the benefits of this foresight, even if it is often very much despite the efforts of many so-called "patriots" who would dearly have it otherwise.

Sorry to be annoyingly pedantic but the Constitution of the United States of America was based on the existing constitutions of the 13 individual colonies, and  especially, in terms of its organization into a structure of chapters and sections, on the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This was the last of the individual colony constitutions to be written, but uniquely still remains in force today as the constitution of the modern State of Massachusetts. The Massachusetts constitution was written by a special committee under the direction of John Adams and was, unsually for the time, ratified by popular vote before becoming effective in 1780 .... nine years before the Consitution of the USA.


.... but I understand what you meant.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Mon 03 Mar 2014, 11:40

I was thinking of its inner integrity not external consideration for it - aggressors are surely never impressed by someone else's constitution if they have a mind to attack. It's self regard is another matter. Does a state's constitution somehow correlate with a religion in your angst - or am I misreading that too? I am no temps, so that is possible - as you well know. Sorry I do no have the sort of mind that you ought have to debate such subjects - would that I had..... me being David without the sling or stones of knowledge and logic. Still,  I shall chirp away as ever. At a guess, Sam Marino is rather pleased with its constitution - I like the way that when a Regent leaves position - after 6 months - there is a set time during which to bring cases against him - not sure if woman get to that post....I doubt it. As a micro culture it is quite fascinating. With such a small population many of their people have opportunity to be a Regent - doing what tho, I am uncertain.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Mon 03 Mar 2014, 11:42

Crossed posts - I am still wittering on about San Marino
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Mon 03 Mar 2014, 11:44

This is correct, MM. The designers of the US constitution had nothing to go on by way of precedent except largely John Adams' own previous effort from seven years before within Massachussetts. For a national constitution this is about as close to "scratch" as one can get. It is worth pointing out also, while one is in pedantic humour, that the validity of Adams' constitution had not been attested through challenge or even much by way of legislation in the meantime due to certain other activities (war) and the imposition of martial law by British appointed authorities in many of the areas it covered. It remained a model, but not one that could be said to be a working model as yet.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Mon 03 Mar 2014, 11:50

Hi P. The constitution basically recognises a system of government which San Marino thrashed out long ago when a dispute between the merchant class and the local aristocracy led to a crisis. It can claim pedigree right back to Roman times (it claims an unbroken history of existence equally as long) but the portion of its contents dealing with the "captaincy" and their terms of office etc are very much a more recent addition. Since the deal struck then suited everyone in the long run it is this that has contributed largely to San Marino's internal stability. But note that twice in the 20th century the same constitution allowed the state's takeover by a fascist party - the citizens were not protected from this excess by the constitution's terms as the machinery of state was just as usable by dictators as by democratically elected captains in the short term. This means in effect that the constitution is actually so vague as to be a poor safeguard for just about anything except so-called "integrity", which in many people's eyes might not be a good constitution for others to emulate at all. I know I wouldn't feel too safe under such a poor constitution.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Mon 03 Mar 2014, 12:26

Do keep going P don't let the Boss put you down! .... But continuing on from San Marino I was thinking of the Principat d'Andorra, which is another small, landlocked country, that uses the Euro but is outside the EU. Its modern constitution was only written in 1993 , but I believe there are elements of its law which go back to the medieval Catalan constitutions which were codified in the thirteenth century by the Cortes Generales de Cataluña - the Catalan Parliament. This was when Andorra was a territory within the Kingdom of Majorca whose state was centred around Barcelona and Perpignan. The modern Andorran constitution states that the official language is Catalan ... as would be that of the modern state of Catalonia should it ever gain independence from Spain but until Catalonia becomes independent Andorra remains the only sovereign Catalan state, and being a land-locked mountain state its people are culturally distinct from those Catalans living down towards the coast.

Politically Andorra is also interesting as it is a a parliamentary co-principality with the Head of State of France, and the Bishop of Urgell (in Catalonia, Spain), as co-princes. Thus Mr Hollande, as the President of France and in his capacity as Prince of Andorra, is an elected reigning monarch, although elected solely by the people of France and not by a popular vote of the Andorran people themselves. The current bishop is Sr Joan Enric Vives i Sicília, and nobody votes for his election ... I think he gets appointed by the Archbishop of Barcelona.


Last edited by Meles meles on Mon 03 Mar 2014, 13:17; edited 4 times in total (Reason for editing : spellin un grammer un typoses!)
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Mon 03 Mar 2014, 12:46

Another small country that uses the Euro though is not in the EU - Kosovo - has had no less than eight different constitutions either adopted or imposed upon it since 1988. This is a country whose integrity if anything is largely in spite of a constitution rather than in any way down to having one.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Mon 03 Mar 2014, 12:55

And yet another small country that uses the Euro but is not in the EU .... is the Vatican.

Does that have a constitution or is it governed just by a set of laws and historic precedents? I strongly suspect it's the latter.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Mon 03 Mar 2014, 13:01

It had nothing even like a constitution until JPII passed the "Fundamental Law" in 2000. This is less a law and more a series of articles from which all other laws must stem, so it is regarded now as a constitutional document. One would like to think that JP had it enabled to keep his house in order and ensure the rights of his citizens but it is rather more to do with the fact that the UN was threatening not to regard the place as a genuine country if it did not conform at least partly to international law regarding what constitutes legal government.

The irony of course is that the "fundamental law" was not itself legally arrived at. It was "promulgated" (made known) by the pope but the nature of its origins are secret.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Mon 03 Mar 2014, 15:43

MM - PUT DOWN? Who me? Well possibly yes, for a bit, but like memory foam I rise again. No, I actually did respond to  n's post about integrity within a little state. However, I lost it in sending; this is not a perfect site. (Ask ID about perfection.)

And I am unlikely to adopt any form of miff or huff as a worthy style - not even a quivering upper lip in the face of forces beyond me - nah, I carry on pecking away at witter-level ankles.

Back to little ol' San Marino - about which I knew bxxger all before breakfast and not much more now.

Resolute extremists do not bother about going a constitutional route and can come to power if a state is not wary. To do this, sadly, a state often resorts to unconstitutional methods. Extremists are usually supported and funded by unseen hands and use awful tactics of fear to get control. I do not know what happened in SM's 2 takeovers by fascists but I doubt any form of constitution would have halted either. San Marino  lay claim to having the first democratically elected communist rule though.

That's a wiki fact - Bible of the E-Onliners like me now, so up for question.


Constitutions are tricky things about which I know a tiny  bit having led groups in two organisations in rewriting them. Dealing with woolly statements to effect clarity and become loophole free was challenging - and fascinating. I have a creative sort of mind enough to enjoy  preparing for future change in circumstances yet that would sustain and remain true to aims. Several years on those circumstances did change but I am pleased that the constituations we devolped still hold true - and I have been thanked for it and am still consulted though far away and twenty years om. 

UK's constitution is spead about in many laws ands statutes  - but not written in one document in that sort of muddling through manner that we take secret delight in; I wonder what our aims are?


Last edited by Priscilla on Mon 03 Mar 2014, 15:47; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Sloppy typing as ever)
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Tue 04 Mar 2014, 10:52

MM - PUT DOWN? Who me?

P, to accommodate the notion that the UK has a constitution one has to fiddle with the meaning somewhat, or at least dilute it outwards to take in rather vague factuality. The standard dictionary definition normally mentions "established precedents" - however without any set framework within which both "precedent" and "established" can be technically described to an extent that survives legal scrutiny the phrase just hangs out there inviting misinterpretation. A good example in the UK is the idea that it is constitutional to reverse legislation when the law lords deduce from precedent that the original is no longer applicable. In cases where the original itself was a law lords decision using the same process then it isn't too hard to see where this use of the word "constitutional" is miles apart from almost all other countries'. In a land with a written constitution, as you are aware if you have been involved in the process of formulating constitutional articles, this reversal of legislation by a select group within the establishment is subject to such tremendous legal rigour that it is often impossible for them to do so without a requirement that the overriding principle enshrined in the constitution be amended or removed first. By definition this places a completely different emphasis on both the function of such a group and the definition of law itself. The removal of a constitutional article can invalidate many laws passed on its basis and any amendment therefore must take existing law into account often way beyond the issue which has arisen and is being referred to precedent. This works as a safeguard with regard to citizens' rights, especially when as in the US at the moment, the supreme court has been busy for several years approving legislation (mostly security related but also in other fields) that apparently challenge the constitution. This has led to quite a few outstanding constitutional lawsuits (over 1500 in the works at the moment), any one of which should it pass undo much of the dodgy law enacted during the Bush regime and which the Obama regime has been unable really to utilise while the proceedings have been ongoing. Not a great example in terms of time taken to re-establish rights but a good example nevertheless of how even the strongest land and seemingly imperturbable legislation within it must still defer to its people before the deal is finally done.

The UK, on the other hand, extends no such deferment to its citizens by law, or crucially by anything approximating constitutional right. This may be a state of affairs that pleases the population, though I am sure it does not take much imagination to work out just how many civil liberties have been denied, delayed, suspended or even ignored in the absence of this basic facility to establish and protect them. Sometimes precedent is just not enough.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Tue 04 Mar 2014, 13:15

Ah yes. written in stone stuff. Such as the gun issue in the States and the right to self defence to put it loosely. installed inflexible statutes are as great a pain as law easily changed without a broad voters based. Installing safeguards with vision to future change yet retain integrity of purpose.
 is an interesting  exercise. 
Perhaps it does not take a lot of imagination  about re civil liberties that have suffered but I would like a few examples. Precedent is not the only path - new statutes are implemented. Perhaps I am wrong but I had thought that UK civil liberties are not as bad as implied. History is rife with them - yet, without the sort on institution you suggest progress has been made.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Tue 04 Mar 2014, 14:11

Well, gay rights activists in the UK are just one group who know all too well the problems presented by a reliance on precedent when attempting to establish basic rights common to all (except them for some reason). The problem is basically that when no previous legislation has recognised, even obliquely, blatant discrimination then there is actually no starting point legally from which to argue that one's rights are being withheld or abused. This is one type of thing where a written constitution enshrining those rights helps enormously. So yes, progress can be made but it is progress that can be so slow as itself to constitute an abuse of the victims who in the meantime are at the mercy of what is essentially a legislative system independent of the people, even when public opinion can be demonstrated to be on their side. Decriminalisation of homosexuality was for decades a matter that enjoyed demonstrable public support, a fact reflected in how such cases were handled in courts during the same period in a manner often flying in the face of then current law. Yet in the same time there were still many victims of the mere fact that those laws existed, often fatal victims at that. Had even their right to representation and access to legal review been facilitated (as in the US constitution) do you not think this atrocity committed against them by "the system" would not at least have been of shorter duration?

That is just one example. The point however is that as mere subjects, both of the state and to that state's law, that is the end of the citizen's relationship with the state when there is no written constitution. When it is written the responsibility for its content devolves to the citizen, and that creates a completely different (and healthier) dynamic than the UK "unwritten constitution" that guarantees absolutely nothing.

There are bad written constitutions - probably more bad ones than good ones. But they are not, as you imply, writ in stone. They are documents expressing the purported will of the people and invariably crumble to dust if they fail in that ambition. A successful constitution might be said to be one that has survived essentially unchanged from its conception, or has had addition by amendment but no or few revocations of existing articles by amendment. I still say the US constitution is way ahead of many that came later in that respect. As a citizen, and bearing in mind I am no great fan of either society as a paragon of justice anyway, I would prefer the protection that document provides me than the uncertainty of existence as a crown subject with no such guarantee in place.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Tue 04 Mar 2014, 15:12

The US constitution-so beautifully written in clear exact language is a valuable model - as far at it goes but change in circumstances could threaten it -mighty change I know but an imbalance in the natire of its population would test it hard. So far - as in UK society where homogenisies quite well with waves of fresh immigrants as has been its lot since Stone Henge rang them in,  minor adjustments can be made  to absorb a breadth of diversity but a ground swell that unbalances that, will.

I am unsure about how far the US Constitution covers the freedoms of sexulaity - as, say in comparison to UK's former intolerance via sundry law. This is not inteneded as a defence of the UK system but interest in the interesting problems of making Constitutions - that work.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions   Wed 05 Mar 2014, 14:30

The constitution in the US does not address human sexuality directly. However the ninth amendment, part of the Bill of Rights stating that non-enumerated rights within the constitution do not infer that any other publicly retained rights are invalid, was a crucial tool in several recent cases involving gay rights and their civic entitlements. This, along with the constitution's own declaration of what every citizen should be entitled to in a non-dicscriminatory state helped their arguments tremendously when challenging state and federal laws restricting their entitlements beyond those restrictions placed on non-gay members of society.

None of this has been available to UK gay rights activists at any time. This avenue of prosecuting a case to establish one's rights just does not exist in the UK, and is therefore a prime example of how an unwritten constitution just isn't worth the non-paper it's not written on.
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