Civil Constitutions

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Concept from Pierpaolo Donati, Catholic social thinker:

"To cope with globalization, new political configurations are necessary on a supranational and infra-national level, and it can be useful to draw on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity in order to envisage them. These principles must be interpreted from a new perspective – no longer that of nation States, but rather of an emergent global civil society, which is not limited or bound to the frontiers of the nation States any longer.

The idea is growing that these principles can form the basis of action systems able to generate common goods and elaborate and promote the rights/duties of persons through the networks of civil society, which are now emerging from the processes summarized as globalization. This it is the theme of civil constitutions. It has to do with charters or statutes drawn up by civil bodies, rather than by the political apparatuses of nation States, ones which regulate the actions of the civil subjects who operate in a certain sector of activity. These activities may be economic, social, and cultural ones including the mass media. Some examples are found in the statutes of the ILO and WTO, internationally proscribing child labour, or in the Charters of international organizations approved by journalists, forbidding the exploitation of children in TV advertising.

Civil constitutions are normatively binding and have the following features.

i) They are ‘constitutional’ because they concern the fundamental rights of the human person (e.g. bioethics, labour and consumption).

ii) They are civil because the social subjects, to whom these constitutions are addressed in order to define a complex of rights and duties, have a civil, rather than a political character (they are not the expression of political parties or political coalitions, but of the associational world in the economy and in the non-profit sectors, e.g. WTO, NGOs, etc.).

iii) They give shape to deliberative, rather than representative, forms of democracy, since the social subjects to whom civil constitutions are addressed (and applied) are, at the same time, the subjects that have to promote them through forms of societary governance, rather than political government. In other words, the subjects of such constitutions are at the same time the bearers (träger) of rights and duties and the actors responsible for their implementation.

These civil constitutions are quite independent from territorial boundaries because they are elaborated and implemented by global networks, often international ones, made up of civil subjects. Thus, they place themselves alongside (not against) the classical political relation of citizenship (namely the relation between the individual citizen and the nation State), by assuming certain functions, particularly those concerning the advocacy and empowerment of the rights/duties of persons and of social bodies."

Source: For the Proceedings of THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, XIV Plenary Session, 2-6 May 2008. Prospects (working paper): Discovering the Relational Character of the Common Good. Pierpaolo Donati, University of Bologna and PASS


More Information

  1. the relational characther of the Common Good, by PP Donati
  2. Civil Societarian
  3. Subsidiarity