Constitutional origins and liberal democracy: a global analysis 1900-2015 Articles uri icon

publication date

  • January 2021

start page

  • 522

end page

  • 536


  • 2


  • 115

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0003-0554

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1537-5943


  • A strong tradition in democratic theory claims that only constitutions made with direct popular involvement can establish or deepen democracy. Against this view, we argue that new constitutions are likely to enhance liberal democracy when they emerge through a plural agreement among political elites with distinct bases of social support. Power dispersion during constitution writing induces the adoption of institutions that protect opposition forces from the arbitrary use of executive power without unduly impairing majority rule. However, since incumbents may renege on the bargain, the democratizing effect of politically plural constitutional agreements is likely to be larger in the short term, when the identity of negotiating political forces and the balance of power between them tend to remain stable. We find support for these arguments using an original global dataset on the origins of constitutions between 1900 and 2015 and a difference-in-differences design.


  • constitutional origins; liberal democracy; political elites; pluralism; citizen participation