Author Interview: The Principles of Constitutionalism

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The Principles of Constitutionalism

Nick Barber

Professor Nick Barber tells us about his recently published book, The Principles of Constitutionalism (Oxford University Press, 2018). 

Tell us a little bit about the book

The Principles of Constitutionalism picks up from where my previous book, The Constitutional State, stopped. That book examined the nature of the state, the rules that constitute it, and the ways in which the state can act and intend. The Principles of Constitutionalism examines the principles that should structure the state, principles that shape institutions and constitutional relationships in ways that facilitate the state’s flourishing. The overarching argument is that constitutionalism should be understood as a set of principles that create effective institutions – and not as a collection of constraints on the state. It examines six principles of constitutionalism: sovereignty, separation of powers, rule of law, civil society, democracy, and subsidiarity.  By treating these principles as a set, by recognising their interconnections and common focus, some of the uncertainties surrounding these principles are resolved.

What inspired you to take up this project? 

Understanding the content of these principles is important.  They address the nature and point of the state, how constitutions should be structured, and, in consequence, speak to those whose decisions shape the state.  The principles of constitutionalism are relevant to the decisions of legislators, constitutional drafters and, of course, to judges.   

Whose work was influential on you throughout the course of the project?

The names of most of those whose work has influenced me will be well-known to all readers of this blog. Beyond these authors, I have also drawn on disciplines that might be thought to be to one side of constitutional theory.  I use tools from political theory, social psychology, and institutional theory to give content to the principles.  In particular, the concept of invisible hand systems is used at various points in the book.  Invisible hand systems are a response to the limits on altruism and rationality that we all experience; constitutional institutions should be shaped to accommodate these limitations.

What challenges did you face in writing the book? 

The book is unavoidably ambitious.  Each of the chapters could have been a book in itself.  A key challenge was to make the discussion of the principles sufficiently extensive to provide a satisfying account of their nature whilst keeping the length of the book under control: too short, and the book will be read but not valued, too long, and the book will be valued but not read.  In the end, I found this challenge easier to surmount than I expected. The interconnections between the principles allowed me to cross-refer between chapters: treating them as parts of a whole helped sharpen the discussion.  

What do you hope to see as the book’s contribution to academic discourse and to constitutional or public law more broadly?

I hope it will encourage people to think of the principles of constitutionalism as a set, and, moreover, as a set with a common focus: the state.  In addition, the book speaks to those who shape constitutions – judges, legislators, and citizens – and provides arguments that can be used in debates over the development of the constitution.

What’s next?

The Principles of Constitutionalism is the second part of a trilogy. The first book, The Constitutional State, examined the nature and point of the state.  The third will examine the relationship of the individual and the state.  It will look at the nature of citizenship, the role of civil, social, and human rights, and the point of public law.  Before that, though, I hope to write a monograph on the United Kingdom constitution, whilst that country is still in one piece. 


Oxford University Press has kindly offered a discount on the book to readers of this blog.  When purchasing The Principles of Constitutionalism online from the Oxford University Press website, please quote ALAUTHC4 at the checkout for a 30% discount.* 

*Terms and conditions: Limit 10 copies per transaction. Offer valid until 1st September 2019. This offer is only available to individual (non-trade) customers when ordering direct from the Oxford University Press website.  This offer is exclusive and cannot be redeemed in conjunction with any other promotional discounts.