Professor Sujit Choudhry was asked to provide his opinion on whether a constitution could be sufficiently designed to safeguard against populist forces taking over a country’s government. He answer was complex and multi-faceted because he started to define the ultimate aim of a constitution and the actual threat that populist mobs might pose to its staying power. While he has great admiration for the ability of a constitution to guide society towards respect for human rights and governmental structures, there are some political events that simply cannot be accounted for if they manage to garner sufficient support from the population. It is laudable for a constitution to aim to protect the governing structures of society and protect citizens from violations of their basic rights by their elected officials or fellow citizens. Thinking that a constitution can do much more than this could jeopardize its ability to withstand the political test of time.
What makes populist rebellions different from those of autocratic takeovers is that populist rebellions typically have the support of the people and are not seeking to rule with an iron fist. Populism is rooted in a desire to reject the confines of a governing structure just because it is grounded in years of tradition. Populist rebels would prefer a government to be able to react more flexibly to the whims of the people in any given situation. This appears to be the antithesis of how constitutional rule is widely regarded. Populists may not attempt to reject a constitution altogether, but they are not likely to respect any traditional political party system.
According to Professor Sujit Choudhry, it would be a grave mistake to try to spell out all of the workings of a political party system in a constitution because this is begging to be challenged by populist detractors. It is much more useful to design a constitution that outlines the major governing structures of a company and erects barriers against the intrusion of the government on its citizens’ fundamental rights. One of the reasons why some constitutional scholars may be all too eager to suggest ways to make constitutions more resilient to the turmoil accompanying populism is that populist revolutions seem to be happening in large numbers all over the world. It is easy to get caught up in the headlines, but a more nuanced view of current affairs is that populist rebellions are attracting more media coverage whether or not they have significantly more supporters for their movement.
Professor Sujit Choudhry’s Background in the Study of Comparative Constitutional Law
Professor Sujit Choudhry has served governments and political organizations around the world for decades as a constitutional advisor. He specializes in analyzing how a constitution can be designed and ratified to reduce violence and fighting when countries are attempting to transition to a new governing structure. This requires a deep understanding of international politics because each country has its own set of cultural, social, political and economic realities that determine what constitutional rule might take shape.
While some scholars might find the breadth of the knowledge that Professor Sujit Choudhry must keep on top of daunting, he says that this is the best part of his profession. He is excited about the many events and political changes happening around the world at the same time and enjoys spending time staying updated on current events. He believes that the next milestone in the field of comparative constitutional studies will be sharing constitutional documents across borders through an international scholarly database that is constantly updated.