Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



constituent power, constitutional means to democracy, constitutionalism and democracy, democratic revolution, transformation of state


We take the view that, as understood from a thoroughly democratic standpoint, revolutions need not be “uncontainable and disorderly occurrences that resist confinement”. Instead, we insist that it is better and feasible to think of certain revolutions as being part and parcel of a vigorous democratic culture and sensibility. Indeed, we contend that a democratic revolution can not only occur “when challengers self-consciously adopt non-constitutional means to transform the state with the consent of their fellow citizens”, but also when challengers self-consciously adopt and use constitutional means to transform the state. For us, there is no sharp or enduring distinction between some revolutions and constitutional changes: a robust democracy will incorporate constitutional means by which to facilitate periodic revolutions. In this sense, we follow through on Albert’s claim that “there can be no higher authorizing force than citizens themselves” and take even more seriously than he does “the promise of revolution as the most noble civic ambition”. To paraphrase de Tocqueville, there is no need in a true democracy to invent the end of revolution as it becomes a continuing and integral part of democratic arrangements themselves. The paper is divided into three parts. The first part is devoted to explaining how democratic revolutions can be profitably understood as exercises of constituent power unmediated by any particular way of proceeding, reference will be made to contemporary developments in global politics. The second part contends that the democratic legitimacy of a revolution does not depend only on whether it was supported by citizens or on whether the regime it creates governs in the name of the citizenry, but also on whether it attempts re-produce its democratic impulse through a ‘weak’ constitutional order that contains participatory procedures for its own transformation. Finally, in the third part, we defend the radical proposal that an unconditional commitment to democracy implies that revolutionary-initiated constitutions should leave the door open for future exercises of constituent power or, what is the same thing, for future democratic revolutions. Throughout, we develop and stand by an account of democracy as both a theory and practice that re-orders the traditional relationship between constitutionalism and democracy.