Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-559fc8cf4f-q7jt5 Total loading time: 0.396 Render date: 2021-02-25T19:53:49.057Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": false, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true }

Constitutional pluralism: An oxymoron?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 February 2014

London School of Economics, Department of Law, Houghton Street, London WC2 2AE
E-mail address:


This article examines the origins of the concept of constitutional pluralism that has emerged in the last decade and it critically assesses the claims of its advocates. It argues that the claims made on behalf of the concept cannot be sustained and seeks to show that constitutional pluralism is an oxymoronic concept.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.


1 Elliott, WY, The Pragmatic Revolt in Politics: Syndicalism, Fascism and the Corporate State (Macmillan, New York, 1928) 149–50.

Google Scholar

2 HJ Laski, A Grammar of Politics (5th edn, Allen & Unwin, London, 1967 [1925]) ch 7 (Authority as Federal), esp. 272: ‘Postulating that ethical values are personal … it finds the principle of social systems in the idea of function. … It represents a want, the response to which means happiness. It does not argue that all functions can be reconciled into a synthesis which embraces them all. It admits that many are conflicting, sometimes through ignorance, sometimes through genuine and permanent incompatibility. It admits, also, the necessity of a scheme of co-ordination … It agrees that a coercive authority is necessary, but it is distrustful of a coercive authority.’

3 See Laski, HJ, Studies in the Problems of Sovereignty (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1917); Laski, HJ, Authority in the Modern State (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1919); Laski, HJ, The Foundations of Sovereignty and Other Essays (Harcourt Brace, New York, 1921).

4 See Laski, Grammar (n 2); also at 80–5, where Laski accepts the need of the state to perform an organizational and co-ordinative role with respect to social groups and to promote the common good.

5 See Martin, K, Harold Laski: A Biography (Cape, London, 1953) 68–9.

Google Scholar

6 Runciman, D, Pluralism and the Personality of the State (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997) 263.

CrossRefGoogle Scholar

7 See Dobner, P and Loughlin, M (eds), The Twilight of Constitutionalism? (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010).

CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8 For a reflexive analysis see Loughlin, M, Foundations of Public Law (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010) esp. chs 3 and 6.

CrossRefGoogle Scholar

9 Note e.g. Bodin’s marks of sovereignty: Bodin, J, The Six Bookes of a Commonweale (Knolles, R trans. 1606, McRae, KD (ed) Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1962), Bk I, ch 10. Cf Hobbes, T, Leviathan (Tuck, R (ed), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996), chs 18, 20 (one overarching mark, the authority to make law). Note also the ruling of the Bundesverfassungsgericht in the Lisbon treaty case, which makes a less than convincing foray into the esoteric field of Staatsaufgabenlehre: BVerfG, 2 BvE 2/08 vom 30.6.2009, sections 249–52.

10 R Carré de Malberg, Contribution à la Théorie générale de l’Etat (Dalloz, Paris, 2004 [1922]), vol 2, 24: ‘Il n’y a pas, dans l’Etat, trois pouvoirs, mais bien une puissance unique, qui est sa puissance de domination. Cette puissance se manifeste sous des formes multiples.’ (‘There are not three powers but truly one unique power, which is the power of domination. This power manifests itself under multiple forms.’)

11 N MacCormick, ‘The Maastricht Urteil: Sovereignty Now’ (1995) 1 European Law Journal 259, 265.

12 MacCormick, N, Questioning Sovereignty: Law, State and Nation in the European Commonwealth (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999) 102–4.

CrossRefGoogle Scholar

13 See e.g. Paoli, L, Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style (Oxford University Press, New York, 2003) 40.

Google Scholar

14 MacCormick, Questioning Sovereignty (n 12) 109.

15 Note here MacCormick’s acceptance of the point that a constitution is not essentially the formal text (above pt 4).

16 See Loughlin, M, ‘The Concept of Constituent Power’ (2013) 12 European Journal of Political Theory (forthcoming).

Google Scholar

17 MacCormick (n 12) 118.

18 Ibid 119.

19 Ibid 120.

20 Ibid 121.

21 Kelsen, Hans, Introduction to the Problems of Legal Theory (Reine Rechtslehre) (Paulson, BL and Paulson, SL trans., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1992) 61–2, 113–25.

Google Scholar

22 MacCormick (n 12) 117. See N Walker, ‘Reconciling MacCormick: Constitutional Pluralism and the Unity of Practical Reason’ (2011) 24 Ratio Juris 369–85; N Krisch, ‘Who is Afraid of Radical Pluralism? Legal Order and Political Stability in the Postnational Space’ (2011) 24 Ratio Juris 386–412.

23 Oakeshott, M, Lectures in the History of Political Thought (Imprint Academic, Exeter, 2006) 427.

Google Scholar

24 N Walker, ‘The Idea of Constitutional Pluralism’ (2002) 65 Modern Law Review 317–59.

25 Ibid 324–7.

26 Ibid 328–31. See Tully, J, Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995).

CrossRefGoogle Scholar

27 Walker (n 24) 337.

28 Ibid 343–54.

29 Ibid 340.

30 Ibid 336–7: ‘the idea of constitutional pluralism here defended should be distinguished from the various more general “legal pluralisms” which mark our academic landscape’.

31 Ibid 336.

32 Ibid 359.

33 Ibid 359.

34 Milward, AS, The European Rescue of the Nation-State (Routledge, London, 1992).

Google Scholar

35 See Walker, N, ‘Constitutionalism and Pluralism in Global Context’ in Avbelj, M and Komárek, J (eds), Constitutional Pluralism in the European Union and Beyond (Hart, Oxford, 2012) 1737, 18. His stance is ambiguous because he suggests that the attraction of constitutional pluralism ‘is a matter both of fact and of value – of the force of circumstance as well as of preference’. He continues: ‘at least as the constitutional pluralist views the world, it becomes increasingly difficult if not impossible not to conceive of the environment of constitutionalism in non-unitary terms – as a place of heterarchically interlocking legal and political systems’.

Google Scholar

36 See Weiler, JHH, ‘Prologue: Global and Pluralist Constitutionalism – Some Doubts’ in de Búrca, G and Weiler, JHH (eds), The Worlds of European Constitutionalism (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2011) 8: ‘Constitutional Pluralism is today the only party membership card which will guarantee a seat at the high table of the public law professoriate.’ For a comprehensive overview of the state of the play with respect to this concept see Avbelj and Komárek (n 35).

Google Scholar

37 Pernice, I, ‘Multilevel Constitutionalism and the Treaty of Amsterdam: European Constitution Making Revisited?’ (1999) 36 Common Market Law Review 703–50.

CrossRefGoogle Scholar

38 This is Pernice’s (highly implausible) argument: see Pernice, ibid 710.

39 Kumm’s (equally implausible) ‘paradigm-shift’: see Kumm, M, ‘The Cosmopolitan Turn in Constitutionalism: On the Relationship between Constitutionalism in and beyond the State’ in Dunoff, JL and Trachtman, JP (eds), Ruling the World? Constitutionalism, International Law and Global Governance (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009) 258324.

CrossRefGoogle Scholar

40 This amounts to the pursuit of Walker’s innovative claim that constitutionalism is to be treated as a medium to its ultimate point: see text at (n 29).

41 On the state as a scheme of intelligibility, see Loughlin, Foundations (n 8) ch 7.

42 M Loughlin, ‘In Defence of Staatslehre’ (2009) 48 Der Staat 2–27.

43 M Loughlin, ‘Public Law and Its Discontents’, Global and Comparative Public Law Theory Colloquium, NYU, Sept 2011, available at <>.

44 M Poiares Maduro, ‘Three Claims of Constitutional Pluralism’ in Avbelj and Komárek (n 35) 67–84, 67, 68.

45 Ibid 70.

46 Ibid 70.

47 Ibid 73. Somek’s question is posed in A Somek, ‘Monism: A Tale of the Undead?’ in Avbelj and Komárek (n 35) 343–79.

48 Maduro (n 44) 75

49 Ibid 75

50 Ibid 76

51 Ibid 76–7.

52 Case C-147/03 (7 July 2005).

53 Maduro (n 44) 77.

54 Case C-438/05 (11 December 2007).

55 Maduro (n 44) 77.

56 Ibid.

57 Ibid 77–8.

58 Ibid 78.

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid 78–9.

61 Ibid 79.

62 Ibid 82.

63 Calhoun, C, ‘The Class Consciousness of Frequent Travelers: Toward a Critique of Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism’ (2002) 101 South Atlantic Quarterly 869–97.

CrossRefGoogle Scholar

64 Maduro (n 44) 82.

65 Schmitt, C, The Concept of the Political (Schwab, G trans., University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996); de Jouvenel, B, The Pure Theory of Politics (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1963).

Full text views

Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.

Total number of HTML views: 116
Total number of PDF views: 487 *
View data table for this chart

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th February 2021. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Constitutional pluralism: An oxymoron?
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Constitutional pluralism: An oxymoron?
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Constitutional pluralism: An oxymoron?
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *