A Sociology of Constitutions: Constitutions and State by Chris Thornhill

A Sociology of Constitutions: Constitutions and State by Chris Thornhill

By Chris Thornhill

Utilizing a technique that either analyzes specific constitutional texts and theories and reconstructs their old evolution, Chris Thornhill examines the social function and legitimating prestige of constitutions from the 1st quasi-constitutional records of medieval Europe, in the course of the classical interval of innovative constitutionalism, to contemporary tactics of constitutional transition. A Sociology of Constitutions explores the explanations why glossy societies require constitutions and constitutional norms and offers a particular socio-normative research of the constitutional preconditions of political legitimacy.

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Nonetheless, the diverse accords marking the end of the investiture contests put in place the foundations for a division of jurisdictional powers between church and state, and in principle they accepted a legal distinction of competence between these powers. These legal controversies over investiture had the most far-reaching consequences for the secular-political structure of European societies. Indeed, one main result of these controversies was that political institutions began to design themselves around the same principles of positive legal order that had been consolidated in the church, and, in different 13 For this interpretation see Classen (1973); Minninger (1978: 208); and Paradisi (1987: 387).

The argument in this book builds in certain respects on such analyses, and it shares the widespread historical-sociological view that societies, especially in periods of rapid transition, converge around structurally autonomous political institutions, and that these institutions cannot be reduced to simple aggregates of economic influence. However, the emphasis of the argument proposed here is rather distinct from that evident in other examples of historical sociology. Central to this book, first, is the claim that modern societies are defined – in the first instance – by the fact that they require and produce, not autonomous political institutions, but rather autonomous reserves of political power: that is, the evolution of modern societies has depended on the capacities of these societies for generating quantities of political power that could be applied across complexly differentiated social terrains in reasonably positive, independent and easily inclusive and reproducible fashion, and whose utilization was not subject to endless local coercion or personalized controversy.

12 In this respect, the increasing consolidation of law in the Roman Catholic church clearly marked a crucial step towards the more general enforcement of law and political jurisdiction in the temporal sphere. In addition to this, however, the legal reorganization of the church had its most significant external or secular consequences, not in any direct appropriation of ecclesiastical legal structure in the political arena, but rather in the protracted conflicts between the church and emergent states, which defined the political contours of high medieval society and are generally known as the investiture contests.

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