ExtraOrdinary Adaptation: Popular Constitution-Making in Post-Cold War South America

Populist leaders define the people as one part of the population that is unbound by law to create new authoritarian constitutions. I examine all instances of popular constitution-making in post-Cold War South America to argue that through the “extraordinary adaptation” of old institutions the “people” may include everyone. Rather than opening a legal void, in extraordinary adaptation, the revolutionaries win democratic elections and then repurpose the old institutions by bending and re-interpreting their rules. The repurposing is principled: the revolutionary exhausts all other legal channels, openly acknowledges the violation to seeks popular vindication, and concedes enough to the opposition so that it may begrudgingly acquiesce to the new constitution. I show how populists in Venezuela and Ecuador established authoritarian constitutions through lawless and exclusive constitution-making while Colombia and Bolivia managed to avoid the same fate by through extraordinary adaptation.