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Beyond Constitutionalism: The Search for a European Political Imagination

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Two recent books, Joseph Weiler's The Constitution of Europe and Larry Siedentop's Democracy in Europe, seek to address one of the defining issues in contemporary European legal studies; the search for a European public philosophy. Both site their critiques within a particular jurisprudential tradition, the modernist; one that is bound up with anxieties about legitimacy and constitutionalism. This review article suggests that the ‘new’ Europe has been too easily distracted by the lures of constitutionalism, and more particularly by the temptations of Treaties. Public philosophies are not found in Treaty articles. Rather, a public philosophy is a state of mind, a product of the political imagination. And it is the absence of such an imagination which lies at the root of contemporary concerns regarding constitutionalism and legitimacy; the concerns which underpin Weiler's and Siedentop's books. A discussion of these books, in the first two parts of this article, is followed by a discussion of Godfried Wilhelm Leibniz's ‘universal’ jurisprudence. It is suggested that such a jurisprudence is better able to furnish a public philosophy for the ‘new’ Europe; just as, indeed, it was for the ‘old’ Europe. Moreover, such a jurisprudence is far more than a mere theory of laws and constitutions. Leibniz's jurisprudence requires that we think, not merely ‘beyond’ sovereignty, or even beyond democracy, but beyond constitutionalism.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2001

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