Cornell Law Review Volume 100 Issue 2

Authoritarian Constitutionalism

Using Singapore as an extended case study, this Article examines the idea of authoritarian constitutionalism, which it identifies as a system of government that combines reasonably free and fair elections with a moderate degree of repressive control of expression and limits on personal freedom. After describing other versions of non-liberal constitutionalism, including “mere” rule-of-law constitutionalism, the Article offers an extended analysis and critique of accounts of constitutionalism and courts in authoritarian countries. Such accounts are largely strategic and instrumental, and, I argue, cannot fully explain the role of constitutions even in those countries. Rather, I argue, where constitutionalism exists in authoritarian systems, it does so because the rules have a modest normative commitment to constitutionalism. The Article concludes by describing the characteristics of authoritarian constitutionalism and offering a modest defense of its normative appeal in nations with specific social and political problems, such as a high degree of persistent ethnic conflict.
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