Does your polity have a problem? Throw a constitution at it!

On NPR today, I heard that the current rulers in Egypt hope to have a "sound constitution" worked out in the next month or two.

This is an example of the naïve faith in constitutions that I critiqued in Oakeshott on Rome and America. A written constitution can be nice icing on the cake for a polity in which there is already general agreement on how things should proceed. The American Constitution mostly has worked because the American people already mostly wanted the sort of government which it sought to codify in law. But in Egypt the situation is clearly far different: The citizens seem roughly equally divided between those who want an Islamic state and those who want a secular, liberal democracy. The notion that this problem can be solved by the latter group writing up a constitution that essentially says, "We've won: now pipe down and conform" is rather silly.

Unfortunately, the fact that an idea is silly does not mean it will not lead to a lot of suffering.


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