Re: UK Constitution (Re: US Constitution e-text?)

Chris R. Tame (
Tue, 22 Jul 1997 19:32:33 +0100

In message <Pine.3.89.9707201010.G423-0100000@marui>, Mark Grant
<> writes
>On Fri, 18 Jul 1997, Kevin Redman wrote:
>> Does England have a constitution??
>I think you mean Britain... and no, not really, though it has a hodgepodge
>of laws which politicians like to refer to as a 'constitution'. There is a
>'bill of rights' from 1689, but most of that's ignored by now; there was
>no restriction on later laws restricting those rights. That's at
>Interesting to see which rights they considered valuable in those days,
>compared to today. In a couple of cases (e.g. 'cruel and unusual
>punishments') they seem to have been copied over into the US Bill of
>Rights, but in that case the founders had enough sense to prohibit future
>laws infringing on them.
> Mark
>|Mark Grant M.A., U.L.C. EMAIL: |

It is strange that libertarians - who should have a grasp of the nature
of spontaneous orders and the nature of civil society - should somehow
see an unwritten constitution - like Britain's as somehow less real or
effective than a written one. And it is certainly not just
"politicians" who refer to our constitution - it's the subject of
countless academic books and courses. (To be perfectly accurate, of
course, one should add that parts of the British constitution are indeed
written). Walter Bagehot's The English Constituion (Kegan, Paul,
Trench, Trubner, London, 1867; 2nd edn, 1872/Oxford University Press,
1928/Fontana Library, Collins, London, 1963) is still worth reading.
(Bagehot was a classical liberal at the conservative end of the liberal
spectrum). Also still worth reading is W. Ivor Jennings, The Law and the
Constitution (University of London Press, 1933). George Burton Adams,
Constitutional History of England (Jonathan Cape, London, 1921; 2nd edn,
revised by Robert L. Schulyer - who was also a classical liberal - 1935)
is good and has an implicitly classical liberal slant. Harold
Stannard's The Two Constitutions: A Comparative Study of the British and
American Constitutional Systems (Adam & Charles Black, London, 1949) is
also indispensible. A more recent study (by a conservative) of the
state of the British constitution is Philip Norton, The Constitution in
Flux, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1982.

My own essay "The Case Against a Bill of Rights", South African Freedom
Review, 2(2), Summer 1989, pp. 19-33 (photocopy available from me at the
address below for $1 in US cash) provides a good (in my view!)
discussion of why what is really imortant to preserve liberty is the
nature of the civil society and its "deep structures" of belief and
social practice/tradition. What is written in a constitution (eg the
quite liberal constitution of the old USSR, or the current US
constitution for that matter) is far less important in
creating/preserving liberty than the constituion of society itself.

Chris R. Tame, Director                 
Libertarian Alliance    | "The secret of Happiness is Freedom,   |
25 Chapter Chambers     |  and the secret of Freedom is Courage" |
Esterbrooke Street      |  Thucydides, Pericles' Funeral Oration |
London SW1P 4NN
Tel:  0171 821 5502
Fax:  0171 834 2031
LA Web Site:
Free Life Web Site: