Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

Babies, Tires, and Armed Gods Woven Together: The Missing Link in Post-mortem Analysis

João Vitor Cardoso, Universidad de Chile**

[Editor’s Note: This is one of our ICONnect columns. For more on our 2023 columnists, see here.]

“Democratic decay” has become a hot topic. Leading scholars in the field engaged critically with the nature of the threats facing constitutional democracies today, including climate change, religious fundamentalism, globalization, and populism. There is a rich debate about the constitutional signification of the various political events that have, for many, generated a feeling of distrust in Western liberal democracies. Yet, such threats are composed of broader processes leading to the entrapment of constitutional modernity. Where, then, is the danger?

When Bruno Latour stated that we’ve never in fact been modern —because we overestimated our ability to maintain the double separation between the natural and the social world—, he stirred up a hornets’ nest. In his view, for us to be modern, this separation has the same “constitutional character” as the division that distinguishes the judiciary from the executive branch, as they serve as guarantees that counterweight one another. However, those former two “chambers” have recently begun to be intertwined. Endangered species, the ozone hole, climate change, rising sea levels, and desertification, all this is starting to enter into politics. We will have to regulate the proliferation of such hybrid creatures onwards by means of what some have called “bioconstitutionalism.” Whatever the case may be, whether the struggle for these themes will remain political is primordial for the future of constitutional democracy.

Complicating further this puzzling landscape, we live in a period marked by a setback with regard to the process of secularization represented by those who have dubbed themselves “postliberals,” seeking the reinterpretation of “Christian values” to bring God’s transcendence into play within the constitutional domain. For instance, Professor Vermeule’s defense of a Catholic Constitution stems from the thesis that the US Framers and ratifiers were but agents of Providence —an approach that would blow up the common constitutional theory vision of contract and consent as the foundations of constitutionalism. Call it “theoconstitutionalism.” By unveiling its “ancient background religiosity,” Vermeule’s school aims to convince us that certain Christians, and they alone, understand the constitutional implications of faith. These “real believers” are part of a transnational sect of radicalized groups united by a powerful interconnected communication circuit, which spreads cognitive dissonance throughout the world.

The emergence of such odd times calls for returning to Hobbes’s ideas. Thanks to Hobbes, we began to understand that one of the great dangers for civil peace comes from the belief in immaterial bodies such as phantoms or souls, to which people appeal against the legitimacy of civil power. The role of the Sovereign created by contract was to end civil war. Hobbes wanted to reach this goal by wiping the slate clean of all appeals to entities higher than civil authority, while at the same time closing off any access to divine transcendence. This is why the major portion of Leviathan is devoted to an exegesis of the Bible: a purely symbolic interpretation of the Holy Writ is as essential to civil peace as the distribution of scientific and political power. Put starkly, modern constitutionalism is impotent without a precise delimitation of the religious, political, and scientific spheres. No one is truly modern who does not agree to keep God from interfering with the laws of Nature as well as with the laws of the Republic.  

That is why we should try to take seriously some events that most frequently seem only to merit a disdainful shrugging of shoulders. In the last midterm elections, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Kandiss Taylor claimed that the US Constitution states that traitors must be put to death by firing squad. As she delivered her speech, Taylor stood in front of a van emblazoned with the words “Jesus Guns Babies.” In Brazil, the adherence of evangelical representatives to arms rhetoric has grown considerably. Bolsonarism boosted the taste for weapons among Brazilians. Angry with the result of the last Presidential election, Bolsonaro supporters prostrated themselves in prayer outside military barracks, in the hope of sparking an intervention from the armed forces. Further, as truckers blocked highways, some election-deniers have come to worship tires. Just as Taylor’s slogan provoked a good bit of mockery, this whole thing seemed ludicrous. In American Constitutionalism as Civil Religion, Duncan Kennedy stated, “we might very loosely analogize constitutionalism to the Sun Dance of the Sioux, which is both a ritual and the site of a discourse as well.” Yet we can no longer conceptualize constitutionalism as if we could separate out the “true” rituals from those —knotting together spirituality and politics—that would only be superstition or would refer only to psychological or sociological causes.

These episodes cannot get an answer independently of the creation of other manners of thinking the difference between our discipline and its environment. And I take this requirement seriously because, in other instances, I am very interested in calling into question “big concepts” —which serve to explain, whereas these are what should be explained—, for example, the manner in which Latour attacks the notion of “Society.” Much of constitutional studies’ concern with “context” is rooted in deterministic thinking: it can give the impression that there is only one big situation-machine, constituted once and for all, which would over-determine everything. The very notion of a constitution depends for its normative effectiveness on the idea of an integrated society, whereas the world falls apart “out there.” These events confront constitutional thought with what makes it stand back, scandalized. Indeed, those bewildering displays of devotion render constitutionalists uncomfortable. Such discomfort stems from the undecidability that these episodes confront us with. We cannot ignore this danger, from which the specialists of post mortem analysis are not yet drawing their lessons.

Suggested citation: João Vitor Cardoso, Babies, Tires, and Armed Gods Woven Together: The Missing Link in Post-mortem Analysis, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, Mar. 8, 2023, at:

**Thanks to Conrado Hübner Mendes and David Landau for helpful suggestions which I have incorporated into this column.


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