Constitutional Beginnings

A significant strand within constitutional thought treats constitutions as foundational events, marking the point at which a new state and/or constitutional order comes into existence. For Schmitt, a constitution is valid because it derives from the will of a constitution-making power or authority; the word 'will' denotes an actually existing power as the origin of a command. In this paper, I challenge the dominance of this revolutionary account of constitutional creation. I argue that the existence of states and constitutional orders depends on acceptance. Specifically, they depend on an acceptance that a particular group has the right to create a state and/or constitutional order with a specific geographic extension. I explore these ideas with reference to Ireland, Canada and Taiwan. In light of this, I suggest that we are better to view constitutions as diachronic mechanisms that facilitate self-government rather than as foundational events.