[MUSIC] Constitutions: An Introduction. Hi. Welcome back. So far in this course we've covered some of the basic concepts of political philosophy, focusing in particular on the question of why we might want a state. We then moved to consider some more tangible concrete questions about what states and political communities should look like. Beginning with the question of political community and how the boundaries of our political community should be set. And in the last segment, we considered the institutional details of the systems by which we should create law, thinking about using representatives and choosing them by either elections or lotteries. So in this unit, we're going to turn to questions regarding constitutions. In particular, we'll think about what a constitution is. Why we, members of some political community, might want a constitution. Whether there's a moral obligation to have one, or moral reasons to have a constitution. What a constitution should include, and how constitutions should be used, protected and interpreted. So these are all questions we'll think about over the next several segments. So in our discussion, we'll take something of a broad perspective, focusing not just on one particular constitution. But on the philosophical dimensions of constitutions in general. So if you're interested there are a number of excellent Coursera courses on specific constitutions such as the United States Constitution. But we're not going to mostly focus just in on one constitution. So let's start by asking a very basic question. What is a constitution? Well, in some cases it's a written document. In the United State's case for example it's a four page long document, five pages if you count the Bill of Rights, and it's a document that's currently located and on display in the national archives building in Washington D.C., behind protective glass framed with titanium. So it's a four or five page document. The United States Constitution is just a bit more than 4,000 words long in total. Compare that to the recently passed health care legislation in the United States, the Affordable Care Act, which, with its implementing regulations, is easily over 4 million words long. So the Constitution, just 4,000 words. So in some cases it's a written document, and not even a particularly long or detailed written document. In other cases, such as the much more recent more modern and more detailed South African Constitution, it can be up to ten or 15 times as long. So the South African Constitution goes into a lot more detail. So in some cases a constitution's a written document. But in some cases, such as in the case of Israel, New Zealand and the United Kingdom there is, arguably, an unwritten or uncodified constitution. Sometimes these are supplemented by formal acts that are enacted by a parliament or legislature. In other cases, these uncodified constitutions are sort of supplemented by what are called basic laws. But, there's a significant amount of variation here, certainly. So, you get some clear cases of written constitutions, and then some that really look to be unwritten in a certain sense. So, at bottom, a constitution's not and certainly not just a written document. Instead I think it's better to understand a constitution as a set of rules, or norms, or principles, or values, that play a particular kind of role. They have a particular kind of function. So, in particular these rules, which can be written or unwritten, typically serve three distinct kind of roles. So the first role is to create or authorize governmental power to found a particular government, to create a particular government. So that's the first role, there's kind of a founding role. Second role for constitutions is to structure that governmental power. Third role is to limit the governmental power and authority. So, we can somewhat simplistically, think of constitutions as setting out the rules of the political game for a political community and a particular political system. So, they often define what legal and political institutions will exist, what their powers will be, and along with that, what the limits of those powers will be. In many cases they also set out some general principles that are to animate or direct the political institutions. So it's for this reason that people often think of constitutionalism as concerning limited government. The Constitution authorizes the government's existence, while at the same time its structures then limits the government. So it reigns in the government, it limits what the government can do. So this is sometimes contrasted with a picture of someone like Hobbes. Which you might recall from the earlier segments of the course, where Hobbes had the view that the sovereign would have unlimited power. From the Modern era most people reject this idea of a sovereignty, political sovereignty that resides in the state and that's unlimited. Instead, people think in terms of popular sovereignty. The idea that the power comes from the people and which, in some important sense, remains with the people even after we create the state. Even after we create a government. And that governments and states are just the particular persons and institutions through which popular sovereignty is going to be exercised. The particular channels by which that power is made evident in the world. So there'll need to be limits to ensure that power remains in an important sense with the people. And that's what the Constitution helps to do, create these limits. Okay, so let me briefly talk through these three general distinctive roles of constitutions. In this discussion, for the most part, I'm going to focus on written constitutions. I'll have those in mind, since they're the most common and since unwritten constitutions introduce a whole host of complexity, and often are connected to particular history, and traditions, and circumstances of the countries of which they're a part, they might take us too far from the general philosophical discussion about constitutions. So, some of what I say will make more sense if we're thinking about explicitly written constitutions, and the discussion requires some modification if we're instead talking about these unwritten constitutions, as well. But, some of the things will be similar. Okay, so one important purpose of constitutions is to create or found a government. This can be particularly important in context in which we want to start or create a new political community. So we want to come together and agree to the new system, the new rules, and to have something tangible to consent to or to agree to. Whether directly if we're making the decision directly, or through our representatives. So a constitution can be something that gets hammered out together over a period of time, and then can serve to structure and anchor our future discussions and disagreements. So creation or foundation of a political community is one purpose for our constitution. You can think of it as sort of trying to make a little more precise, a little more detailed, the initial agreement, if we're thinking of this in social contract terms. So a second main role for constitutions is to define the organization and structure of the political system, to sort of set out the blueprint, the details, at least in broad outlines, of the legal and political system. So these systems can be very complicated. A document such as a constitution can help provide a basic structure, identifying the relationship between different parts of the political and legal system. And sort of defining what each part is going to be responsible for. So, for example, the four-page long United States Constitution, which I encourage you all to look at. Sets out the broad parameters of the United States' Federal government. So article one of that constitution creates and vests the legislative power in a congress of the United States, which will consist of a senate and house of representatives. So then the rest of article one specifies how those institutions will be populated, how people will get into those offices. Who, who's eligible, and then, what those institutions can do. But it's only a bit more than a page long, and it was written more than 200 years ago. When you think of all the Congress does now, it's really hard to square, you know, this one page document, 200 years old, with what it's doing now. So, I want to, so just for fun, sort of highlight what it actually says. So in particular, section eight of article one lists a bunch of things that Congress can do. So, the Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises. To pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States. To borrow money on the credit of the United States. To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes. To establish an Uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States. To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures. To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States. To establish post offices and post roads. To promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries. To constitute tribunals inferior to the supreme court. To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas. And offenses against the law of nations. To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and rules concerning captures on land and water. To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years. To provide and maintain a navy. To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces. To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions. And then there's a few more things about militias and the founding of the U.S. capitol. And then, the end. To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers. So that's a pretty long list of the certain kind of what Congress can do. But it's not that long a list. And so in the modern world, when there are many other things that we might want Congress to do, a lot has been squeezed into just one of those provisions. What's called the Commerce Clause. You might have missed it if you weren't paying attention. It's the part that says, Congress shall have power to regulate commerce among the several States. It turns out almost everything can amount to regulating commerce in some relatively indirect way, since in the modern world almost every decision Congress might make has some economic effects on commerce. And almost all commerce is going to be connected to interstate commerce these days. So, there have been a lot of fights about this recently, but a lot of what Congress has done over the last 100 years is really squeezed under this commerce clause power. But the whole idea behind providing this relatively long list in Article One of the Constitution, is to enumerate the powers that Congress has. And by so doing to effectively limit the powers that Congress has. We'll come back to that limiting function in a minute. So Article two, so Article one that's about Congress. Article two sets out the executive power. Vesting it in a President of the United States of America. And then specifying that the President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy. That the President will have power by and with the advice and consent of the senate, to make treaties. To nominate ambassadors and to nominate Supreme Court Justices. And to do a few other things. So the President has set out an article two. Then, article three, says that the judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme court, and in such inferior courts, bellow the supreme court, as the congress may form time to time ordain and establish. And then, section two of article three, sets out the jurisdiction of the supreme court, the kind of cases that the supreme court will hear. Then skipping Article IV to Article V, that sets out the means by which the Constitution can be amended. Alright, and that's basically it. So this gives you some sense of the way in which the structure of a political system can be set out by a constitution. As I mentioned one of the reasons for setting out this structure is just so that we know how things are going to get done. How things will happen, who has authority over what, and so on. But another important reason for setting out this structure is that provides, or might provide, a set of limits for the government. So this is made very explicit in the United States context by the 10th Amendment. Which is part of the original bill of rights. Which states, the power is not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. So, it's saying, if it is not in the constitution, the constitution doesn't say, the congress can do it, then, they don't have the power to do it. So we've discussed the role that constitutions can have in terms of serving as a founding document and as serving as a structural blueprint. So we're mostly going to leave those functions aside. In the next several segments, we're going to talk in more detail about the role of the constitution as a means of limiting government. So in particular, we'll discuss several different reasons that we might want to limit the government. We'll sort of talk through how a constitution might help us do that.