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The Endurance of National Constitutions


  • 20 b/w illus. 8 tables
  • Page extent: 272 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.39 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521731324)

Manufactured on demand: supplied direct from the printer

$38.99 (P)

Constitutions are supposed to provide an enduring structure for politics. Yet only half live more than nineteen years. Why is it that some constitutions endure while others do not? In The Endurance of National Constitutions, Zachary Elkins, Tom Ginsburg, and James Melton examine the causes of constitutional endurance from an institutional perspective. Supported by an original set of cross-national historical data, theirs is the first comprehensive study of constitutional mortality. They show that whereas constitutions are imperiled by social and political crises, certain aspects of a constitution’s design can lower the risk of death substantially. Thus, to the extent that endurance is desirable – a question that the authors also subject to scrutiny – the decisions of founders take on added importance.


1. Introduction; 2. How long should constitutions endure?; 3. Conceptualizing constitutions; 4. A positive theory of constitutional endurance; 5. Empirical implications of the theory: identifying risks to constitutional life; 6. An epidemiological analysis of constitutional mortality; 7. Contrasts in constitutional endurance; 8. Contexts of chronic failure; 9. Conclusion.

Prize Winner

Winner, 2010 Best Book Award, Comparative Democratization, American Political Science Association

Honorable Mention, 2011 William H. Riker Book Award, Political Economy Section, American Political Science Association


“This book had the same effect on me as reading Goran Therborn’s 1977 New Left Review paper on the history and origins of Democracy. I found it hard to put down and impossible to stop thinking about. It is an agenda setting work which will hugely influence comparative politics.”
--James Robinson, Professor of Government, Harvard University and faculty associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs

“Elkins and Ginsburg provide the first comprehensive analysis of what makes constitutions survive, adapt, or collapse. Their data collection, on every national charter going back to the 18th Century, is staggering in its own right. But the authors also bring to the table an array of diagnostic strategies that shed light on what accounts for constitutional mortality. Their results force us to reexamine what we thought we knew about the design of institutions and the factors that contribute to, or undermine, their stability.”
--John Carey, Professor of Government, Dartmouth College

“Though ostensibly reporting on only one aspect of a dauntingly ambitious project in comparative constitutionalism, Ginsburg and Elkins manage to offer insights about the most basic ideas of "constitutions" and "constitutionalism" on almost every page. They write limpid and accessible prose but also display methodological sophistication. No student of constitutionalism, however defined, can afford to neglect this book (and to look forward to the other volumes that will emanate from their project).”
--Sanford Levinson, Professor of Law and Government, School of Law and Department of Government, University of Texas, Austin

"[The authors] pose important questions of broad interest, and their findings, for all their tentativeness, are striking and will be of interest to the many communities of scholars (and the army of international experts and consultants) interested in constitution drafting. Readers who find data analysis deadening will be kept alert by a lively writing style."
Perspectives on Politics, Nathan J. Brown, George Washington University

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