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A Defense of Non-Representational Constitutionalism: Why Constitutions Need Not Be Representational

Alon Harel


The standard opinion is that the force of the constitution hinges on the fact that it is willingly endorsed by the people or, at least representative of the people. This Article challenges this view. More specifically, I differentiate between two types of legitimation: representational legitimation and non-representational or reason-based legitimation. While representational legitimation rests on the fact that the constitution is representative of who the people are or what they want, reason-based constitutions are based on the judgement that the constitution is just or, at least grounded in reason. I also show that some of the puzzles in constitutional theory can be resolved by acknowledging the significance of the latter type of legitimation. For instance, I illustrate that constitutions that were not adopted freely by the nations and could not have been characterized as representative of the people such as the German Constitution can still be legitimate. To put it provocatively: the legitimation of a constitution need not rest on the conviction that it represents the people whom it governs; it may simply rest on the belief that it is a good or just constitution. Representational legitimacy is only one form of legitimacy but not the only one.

Corresponding author: Alon Harel, Mizock Professor of Law, Federmman Center for the Study of Rationality, The Hebrew University Law School, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel, E-mail:

Published Online: 2020-12-04
Published in Print: 2020-11-25

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