Project Description

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.

TEACHER

Dr. Patrick Overeem
Dr. Patrick Overeemlecturer VU University Amsterdam

The aim of the course is for students to acquire fundamental insights from the Western constitutional tradition, to comprehend them in their connections to each other, to argue them and critically approach them, and to use them for contemplating current political and social questions.

This course is of particular interest for students of law, social sciences, history, and journalism, for the academically educated in the (semi) public sector, and for others who wish to understand why the contemporary ideal of the ‘democratic rule of law’ is so controversial and difficult to maintain.

The course consists of five modules:

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

The meetings consist of the thorough and close reading of important parts of the assigned text, discussion of the structure of the argument and the logic of the text, and the development of an autonomous, independent judgment. Participants are encouraged to actively contribute to the discussion.

Optional: participants write a brief essay of 800 words (excluding bibliography) containing an independent argument for or against an aspect or view of constitutionalism. The choice of topic is free, but it should match the themes and literature of the course.

Participants registered as students at a university may ask the board of examiners of their institutions for credit for this course.

Practical information:

  • Amsterdam
  • 19.00 – 21.00
  • 550,- incl. VAT

  • 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.

  • Coffee, tea, study material

Due to the maximum group size of 15 people there is ample opportunity for questions and interaction. The groups are combined in terms of age, study and work experiences. On request, specific compositions are possible at sufficient notification.

AILAS is currently investigating the possibility of a short summer course of several days on this subject. Information about this (data, etc.) we will publish as soon as possible on this page.

Improved independent thought and autonomous judgment

All students and those academically educated benefit from skills that help them to think and act more independently in their studies, work, or their hobbies, and arrive at their own judgment. Our courses contribute to this by:

  • Knowledge of the ‘great works’
  • Practice of independent reasoning and phrasing
  • Insight into the links between the works and between the works and their historical context

Our courses are hence a valuable addition to your CV

Registration Form

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

    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.

Keep informed for future start dates

Dare to think

More information

More information about our other courses can be found elsewhere on this website. If you would like to talk to us about our curriculum or our method of working, please feel free to contact us.

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