Five lessons from Iceland’s failed experiment

Five lessons from Iceland’s failed experiment in creating a crowdsourced constitution

Nous signalons cette analyse d'Hélène Landemore sur l'expérience Islandaise parue le 23 juillet 2014 sur le site Democratic Audit UK.

Une traduction française est mise en ligne le 25 novembre 2015 sur le site  Pouvoir au peuple : https://pouvoiraupeuple.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/cinq-lecons-de-lexperience-ratee-de-lislande/

    The Icelandic experience challenges the view that constitutional process must be exclusionary and secretive

By Hélène Landemore

In the wake of the financial crisis which nearly bankrupted Iceland, the country began a process to create a new constitution which could maintain the confidence of a public understandably disenchanted with their political elite. What followed was a ‘crowd-sourced’ project which ultimately fell at the final hurdle. However the experience did show that it is possible to create a kind of constitutional process which is not limited to elites, according to Hélène Landemore.

Who should write the constitution of a democratic country and, indeed, any country? The answer seems obvious: its people. Yet the constitutions of existing states, including democratic ones, have usually been written by small, rather unrepresentative subsets of individuals. Solon is supposed to have single-handedly laid out the foundations of democratic Athens. The U.S. constitution was penned by a few dozen white men. More recent examples of constitutional processes involve the usual elites: professional politicians and state bureaucrats. But even elected or otherwise democratically authorized constitutional drafters are at best metaphorically “We, The People.”

Not only are typical constitutional processes rather exclusionary and elitist, but they also tend to be characterized by an utter lack of transparency. The American Founding Fathers purposefully kept their deliberations hidden from the public in an attempt to protect themselves from popular passions.Even contemporary political theorists such as Jon Elster insist that the ideal constitution process is hour-glass shaped, with widely open consultative moments upstream and downstream of the drafting, but a tiny waist, corresponding to the exclusive and closed moment of actual writing by a select few.

Iceland’s recent experiment in re-drafting of its constitution has challenged the assumptions that a constitutional process needs to be exclusive and opaque. In 2013 the country came close to passing into law the world’s most inclusively and transparently written constitutional text. This experiment—sometimes dubbed the “crowdsourced constitution” — should prove inspirational for people around the globe intent on writing, or re-writing, their own social contract.

The Icelandic constitutional process included three original features…

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Hélène Landemore is an assistant professor of political science at Yale University.

This post originally appeared on Democratic Audit. For a longer discussion of this topic, see the author’s recent article in the Journal of Political Philosophy.

This post is based on “Inclusive Constitution-Making: The Icelandic Experiment” Journal of Political Philosophy. First published online 25 February 2014, DOI: 10.1111/jopp.12032 (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jopp.12032/abstract)