Not So Novus an Ordo

Political Theory 37 (2):191-217 (2009)
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Social contract theory imagines political societies as resting on a fundamental agreement, adopted at a discrete moment in hypothetical time, that binds individual persons together into a polity and sets fundamental rules regarding that polity's structure and powers. Written constitutions, adopted at real moments in historical time, dictating governmental structures, bounding governmental powers, and entrenching individual rights, look temptingly like social contracts reified. Yet something essential is lost in this slippage between social contract theory and the practice of constitutionalism. Contractarian blinders lead us to look for greater individualism, social unity, and coherence of principles than should be expected. Real constitutional orders appropriate, incorporate, and channel the histories and divisions of the societies they govern. Treating them as social contracts flattens and distorts them, making those engagements with the past or with social plurality appear anomalous and encouraging their minimization. Accordingly this article redirects attention to non-contractarian strands within constitutionalism's intellectual inheritance and lived practice



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Jacob Levy
Tel Aviv University

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Contra politanism.Jacob T. Levy - 2020 - European Journal of Political Theory 19 (2):162-183.
Contra politanism.Jacob T. Levy - 2017 - European Journal of Political Theory 19 (2):162-183.
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