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The Western constitutional tradition

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Dates: Wednesday evening April 10, April 24, May 8, May 22 and June 12.

The exercise of power by states should always have a valid basis in the law (rule of law). At the same time it should be limited by the same law (limited government). These are perhaps the most important building blocks of constitutional government. Legitimizing and limiting power by law is called constitutionalism.

Nonetheless, between both aspects of constitutionalism a tremendous internal tension exists: the law seems vulnerable in the face of power, but lawless power seems unsustainable. In addition, constitutionalism continually threatens to be undercut by all sorts of external factors, such as corruption, interest groups, the welfare state, and especially also democracy itself.

Constitutionalism is a classic Western ideal that has been given new expressions in the modern era. In this course we will look for the meaning, development, and relevance of constitutionalism with the help of several important texts.

Module 1
Constitutionalism: an overview

Reading: Wil Waluchow (2001), ‘Constitutionalism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Module 2
Classical constitutionalism

Reading material: Aristotle, Politica (book III-IV)

Module 3
Parliamentary democratic constitutionalism
Reading material: J.S. Mill, Considerations on Representative Government (Chapter I-VII)


Module 4

to worldwide constitutionalism?
Reading material: Immanuel Kant (1795), Zum Ewigen Frieden: Ein Philosophischer Entwurf.
In English: Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Essay

Module 5
Constitutionalism versus democracy
Reading: Alexis de Tocqueville (1835), De la Démocratie en Amérique, part I, chapters 13-16 (on majoritarian tyranny) and part II, book 4, chapter 6 (on soft despotism).
In English: Democracy in America

Module 1
Constitutionalism: an overview

Reading: Wil Waluchow (2001), ‘Constitutionalism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Module 2
Classical constitutionalism

Reading material: Aristotle, Politica (book III-IV)

Module 3
Parliamentary democratic constitutionalism
Reading: J.S. Mill, Considerations on Representative Government (Chapter I-VII)

Module 4
to worldwide constitutionalism?

Reading material: Immanuel Kant (1795), Zum Ewigen Frieden: Ein Philosophischer Entwurf.
In English: Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Essay

Module 5
Constitutionalism versus democracy
Reading: Alexis de Tocqueville (1835), De la Démocratie en Amérique, part I, chapters 13-16 (on majoritarian tyranny) and part II, book 4, chapter 6 (on soft despotism).
In English: Democracy in America

Registration Form

    Courses are taught in Dutch or English, depending on interest.
    Students unable to pay the full course fee may apply for a scholarship of at most 30% made available by AILAS. University lecturers and secondary school teachers preparing pupils for university unable to pay the full course fee may apply for a scholarship of at most 20% made available by AILAS.

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Stichting Amstel Institute for the Liberal Arts & Sciences

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