Constitutional Revolutions Under Autocracy


Constitutional Revolution


Gary Jacobsohn and Yaniv Roznai’s (2020) book Constitutional Revolution offers a sophisticated conceptual framework with a fascinating description of empirical occurrences of substantive revolutions in the practice and understanding of constitutionalism in Germany, India, Hungary, and Israel. While the conceptualization in the book and its empirical illustration clearly draw from regime transformations or substantive changes within democratic regimes, we know little about the extent to which substantive constitutional reforms are possible and meaningful in autocratic regimes. As their concept of constitutional revolution is ambiguous and requires a substantive engagement with an individual case at hand, we cannot sim- ply expect concept equivalence when expanding its use beyond a transitory or democratic context. Hence, in this contribution I ask, What constitutes a constitutional revolution in an autocratic regime? To shed light on this question, I rely on the expectation that we do not find important differences in the substance of autocratic constitutions compared to democratic constitutions. Autocratic elites, also, under- stand the possibilities of constitutional change and respond to them as they offer regime stability and simply more power, but that is not a revolution. Therefore, I argue that the substantive meaning of an amendment must be a departure from the inherent logic of the constitution, especially outside the standard procedures for autocratic ruling. Thus, in this paper I discuss the theoretical implications of a constitutional revolution under autocracy without a regime transition and provide empirical evidence from various constitutional amendments and de facto reforms in Russia. I show that a constitutional revolution is not always the most important or most discussed constitutional change—at least, not in an autocratic context. This discussion has important implications for understanding constitutionalism and autocratic stability and the largely overlooked relationship between substance and process in nondemocratic settings.