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Is Constitutionalism compatible with Socialism?

Demonstration in the Center of Zürich by Arie Wubben, licensed under Unsplash license

A very peculiar trait among modern day left-leaning thinkers is to somehow reconcile the idea of socialism (read complete state control) to that of constitutionalism (read limits on state power). In this relentless pursuit to claim legitimacy, the left has coined a rather paradoxical term: Socialist Constitutionalism.

This represents a failed attempt to redefine terms. However, it remains important to decode the idea of constitutionalism and compare it to the thought processes behind socialism. This is necessary to fully appreciate the significant discrepancies that exist within the attempt to fuse these two radically opposite ideas.

The state, in and of itself, is absolute. This is precisely why constitutionalism as a process evolved to protect the fundamental rights of individuals, primarily from state coercion. Furthermore, this was because the state enjoys a monopoly over force, making it a lethal instrument if not contained within certain definite limits.

The general principles of “socialist constitutionalism” run contrary to those of constitutionalism in the following fundamental ways :

  1. Socialism rejects the doctrine of separation of power. Instead, it argues for the unity of power.
  2. Socialism accepts the concept of citizen’s rights but constitutionalism argues for universal human rights.
  3. Socialism requires the will of the state as essential in creating individual freedom. However, constitutionalism holds individual freedom as its core concept without the need for state approval.
  4. When it comes to economic planning, due to the impossibility of rational economic planning in socialism, planners require unlimited discretion. Whereas in constitutionalism, administrators are bound by general rules, equally applicable to all, without discretion or arbitrariness.
  5. Socialist planning unnecessarily discriminates to impose substantive equality. Constitutionalism requires equal treatment before the law.
  6. Socialism requires state control over the means of production, whereas constitutionalism argues that property rights are fundamental.
  7. Socialism requires an agreement over particular plans and the centralization of decision-making. Constitutionalism is based on decentralized decision-making, through democracy, separation of powers, federalism etc.
  8. Socialism implies rule by one ideology whereas constitutionalism defends value pluralism in politics.

Such were the horrors of socialism in Eastern Europe that countries such as the Czech Republic, which suffered under this system for decades, ensured that its post-socialist constitution explicitly highlights the importance of human dignity and freedom. The Preamble of the Constitution of the Czech Republic of December 16, 1992 reads as such:

  • “We, the citizens of the Czech Republic […], determined to build, protect and develop the Czech Republic in the spirit of the inalienable values of human dignity and freedom […] as a member of the family of European and world democracies…” 

The Polish, in their post-socialist constitution, went one step further, stating that the drafting of the Polish Constitution was a process of ‘recovering their homeland’. It says: 

  • “Having regard for the existence and future of our Homeland, which recovered, in 1989, the possibility of a sovereign and democratic determination of its fate…”

Thus, such was the experience with Socialism that these countries in their newly drafted constitutions had to explicitly highlight those principles which were eliminated during their socialist eras.

The next time someone says the word ‘Socialist Constitutionalism’, do not let them go unchallenged. Bastiat certainly would have had something to say!

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.


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