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Book Review: Martina Trettel on “The Cambridge Handbook of Deliberative Constitutionalism”


[Editor’s Note: In this installment of I•CONnect’s Book Review Series, Martina Trettel reviews The Cambridge Handbook of Deliberative Constitutionalism (Ron Levy et al., eds., Cambridge 2018)


–Martina Trettel, Senior Researcher, Institute for Comparative Federalism

The recently published Cambridge Handbook of Deliberative Constitutionalism (edited by Ron Levy, Hoi Kong, Graeme Orr, and Jeff King), with its twenty-six chapters, provides a comprehensive overview on one particular aspect of deliberative democracy, i.e. the one that comes across constitutionalism and constitution-making.

Despite being a quite new phenomena, “deliberative constitutionalism” has recently gained considerable attention from scholars around the world. Also given the quick proliferation of deliberative democratic practices employed for reforming constitutions, the topic has been studied from diverging disciplinary angles and through different methodological and terminological approaches. The book intends to convey all these contributions, offering a broad perspective on how deliberative democracy and constitutionalism interact, by means of what the editors describe as a work of “fusion and creation” (p. 1).

The book brilliantly achieves its purpose, melting the vast field of constitutionalism and the more recent studies on deliberative democracy, at the same time creating the general framework where to accommodate past and future analyses on “deliberative constitutionalism”.

Prominent scholars of the field are faced with pivotal questions such as: how an informed, considerate, persuasive and reflective debate can lead to more legitimate constitutional decision-making; where this kind deliberation happens and at what conditions; in which shapes and forms; and so on. Though all chapters make important contributions to the field, it is the book taken in its global approach that truly constitutes a milestone in the context of the studies on deliberative democracy.  

Especially for a continental European reader (such as I am) the book contains a great range of issues to reflect upon. In civil law countries, deliberative democracy in general, and deliberative constitutionalism in particular, are mainly intended as what the book conceptualizes as “deliberating about constitutions” (chapters 20-26), i.e. how “should constitutional reform be conducted via popular mechanisms?” (p. 11)[1]. In fact, studies on deliberative democracy in countries that belong to civil law legal tradition mainly set their focus (at least from a constitutional law perspective) on how deliberative principles of democracy are translated into practice (and into positive law) and how these are employed in Constitution- and law-making procedures. However, the book adopts a common-law oriented perspective and as such succeeds in not limiting itself to analyzing this peculiar aspect of deliberative constitution-making but offers a much broader approach both to constitutionalism and deliberation and particularly to their coordinated interaction.

To this extent, the first nine chapters of the book delve into how deliberation happens in different institutional and constitutional settings: for example, in the executives, in legislatures but also within the dialogic interaction of elected and non-elected power branches, such as judges. This is what the editors categorize as “deliberating under constitutions”.

The collective work goes a step further by trying to bridge the two above mentioned ways of looking at deliberative constitutionalism and offers a comprehensive view of “deliberating under and about constitutions” (chapters 10-19). Here the objective is to collect and present all those dimensions of deliberative constitutionalism that cannot be tied to only one of the two above mentioned categories. Moreover, the line of thinking that goes from “under” to “about” fully reflects how the studies on deliberative democracy have evolved: firstly, focusing on how deliberation is embedded in institutions and their procedures and only then applying theories of deliberative democracy to the inclusion of citizens in constitution-making procedures through participatory practices. The three-tiered structure of the collective work enlightens the patterns followed by deliberative constitutional practice and serves as an orientation compass for the scholars that want to investigate the topic looking at this specific perspective. Given the novelty of “deliberative constitutionalism” as a subject matter, the encyclopedic approach of the book was more than needed: first to order terms and concepts, second to define the perimeter of this multifaceted phenomenon and third to take stock of the theoretical and practical status quo of this research field. This will serve as a starting point for future studies and as a viewpoint from which to look at the future evolution of such a dynamic and ever-changing issue.

Suggested Citation: Martina Trettel, Review of “The Cambridge Handbook of Deliberative Constitutionalism” (Ron Levy et al., eds.), Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, Dec. 22, 2019, at: http://www.iconnectblog.com/2019/12/book-review:-martina-trettel-on-“the-cambridge-handbook-of-deliberative-constitutionalism”


[1] Mainly due to the different meaning of the term “deliberation” in languages that are no English. In Italian, for example, deliberare means to adopt a decision. This of course constitute a conceptual issue when it comes to the definition of the boundaries of “deliberative democracy”. On this: R. BIFULCO, Democrazia deliberativa, in Enciclopedia del diritto, Annali IV, 2011, pp. 271–294.

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Published on December 22, 2019
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One Response

  1. Kishor Dere

    Deliberative constitutionalism – its evolution and nuances – has been cogently analysed by Martina Trettel. It complements and supplements democracy which is founded on debate, discussion and deliberation. It is required more so in times of crisis and tension.

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