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Title: Words of liberty : the origins and evolution of constitutional ideas
Author: Versteeg, Mila
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2011
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It has become almost universal practice for countries to adopt written constitutions that include a bill of rights. Yet we know little about the origins and evolution of the practice of constitution-writing on a global scale. Are bills of rights defining statements of the nation’s character and identity? Or are they more standardized documents that are similar across countries, and vary only at the margins? Are substantive constitutional features rooted in the society for which they are written, or are they borrowed from elsewhere? What are the origins of the world’s “words of liberty”? This thesis presents the first-ever systematic substantive exploration of the world’s written constitutions. It introduces a new database, based on the coding of the constitutions of 188 countries, for the period 1946-2006. With this data, it explores the historical trajectory of the world’s written constitutions and offers explanations for their substantive content. This thesis's most important finding is that constitutions are inherently “transnational” documents. As it turns out, substantive constitutional choices are remarkably unrelated to local needs and values. Constitutions do not express identity or national character. Instead, the most important predictor of whether any particular country adopts any particular constitutional provision is whether other countries previously did the same thing. Constitutions do not tell stories of the nation’s history, but rather tell stories of transnational interactions and international politics. As a result, constitutions have become at least partly standardized documents that vary along a small number of underlying dimensions. But this thesis also shows that not all constitutions are the same, and that there exists no evidence of a global constitutional convergence. Instead, the world’s constitutions divide in a limited number of constitutional families. This thesis is not currently available in ORA.
Supervisor: Galligan, Denis Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Constitutional history ; Constitutional law--Philosophy