Chris Thornhill: Constitutional Law and Cultures of Violence. [Abstract]

This article engages critically with sociological interpretations of constitutional law, which tend to view constitutions as an internal aspect of state sovereignty that serves the rational integration of citizens and promotes the civilization of national political cultures, separate from inter-state conflicts. Variants on this view run through much of modern sociology, including, in distinct form, the work of Norbert Elias. In contrast to such outlooks, the article argues that constitutions form complex links between the internal and the external domains of state action, and they are typically created by external military pressures, usually resulting from imperialism. It expands on this claim by first assessing how, in different examples, constitutions have been used to consolidate the means of military violence in settings defined by imperialism, typically establishing rights for citizens as instruments to mobilize outwardly directed military force. On this basis, this article continues by assessing how constitutions have also engendered forms of violence within national societies. Overall, it is claimed that constitutions often instilled a tendency towards the uncontrollable production of violence in the states that they framed. Through their foundation in the administration of military force, constitutionally designed states have typically internalized deep conflicts (ethnic and socio-economic) between groups of citizens, which their military emphasis has intensified. At different junctures, then, states have struggled to mollify such violence, and they usually relied on more violence – internal and external – to accomplish this. The article concludes with some reflections on the ways in which constitutions eventually managed to pacify national societies, stressing the role of international law in this process.

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