The State of the Constitution

The concept State is the first to appear in the Spanish Constitution of 1978.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
08 December 2023 Friday 04:00
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The State of the Constitution

The concept State is the first to appear in the Spanish Constitution of 1978. Those who used it surely could not have guessed at the time that they were referring to a reality in full transformation. Along the lines of classical political thought and the etymology of the concepts, they must have thought they were appealing to something static, stable, but in fact there has been nothing more changing. They did not imagine that something that seemed solid and clothed with unquestioned prestige would soon enter a series of resistance tests that were to transform it profoundly, both internally and in relation to Europe and the global world.

Let's start with the internal transformation of the State. The traditional opposition between State and society was very soon manifested as politically unusable. Its verticality and centralism (even if it was only by default, a bias that has tried to assert itself even in the Autonomous State) was soon challenged both by the neoliberal assault and by the very restructuring of a Composite state, in which the tensions that were not resolved with the indefiniteness of the Eighth Title were revealed very soon. While neoliberal deregulation has largely been discredited by the new social democratic moment we are living in, among other things, as a result of the pandemic, the construction of a true polycentric State remains a pending task.

In this dimension, State is a term that no longer refers to anything stable, indisputable or definitive, but designates a task and a debate, a form of organization of political society that requires the consent of the citizenry and that has no another legitimation procedure, which should be thought of less in terms of national sovereignty and more as popular sovereignty.

Our great challenge in this regard remains how to articulate civic consent in circumstances completely different from those of 1978. We must move from a distribution of territorial power conceived as an allocation of administrative powers to a post-sovereignist conception of power, as recognition and pact, something that is incompatible with the old idea of ​​"transfer", of radiality, subordination and supremacy.

The calls for unity, softened by the appeal to diversity, are nothing more than ritual formulas that seem not to have taken into account the growing pluralism of society. Everything that is currently produced in terms of unity will only be done through the recognition of difference. And when I talk about respect for pluralism, I mean both the State as a whole and what exists in each of the communities.

The other factor that has destabilized what was intended to be a sovereign state is initially exogenous: European integration and globalization. The current environments of interdependence, reciprocal conditioning and shared sovereignty were not foreseeable at the end of the 1970s. The entry of the Spanish State into Europe occurred in 1982 and coincided in time with the intensification of the phenomenon we call globalization.

Since then it has become more evident that states, considered in isolation, are overtaken by interdependent public goods that they are unable to safeguard and by shared risks that do not respect the boundaries of their sovereignty.

Phenomena such as economic instability, global public health or the climate crisis force numerous decision-making matters to be decoupled from the area of ​​state responsibility. Global institutions are precisely trying to correct this new incongruity between social spaces and political spaces. Our participation in these institutions implies in fact an acceptance of the new rules of the game of shared sovereignty.

This overcoming of the old self-government is even more evident in the European Union. Unlike international institutions, the EU does not derive all its legitimacy from the member states, but from an emergent property from which a singular community of destiny and interests has emerged with its own logic (without setting up a demos in the sense strict).

When it is said that the states have gone from being nation states to member states (Bickerton), this transformation is being alluded to. It is true that the EU emerged to create a framework for action, thanks to which European states could face the demands of a globalized economy. The Union would provide what the states could no longer ensure, and in this way it would save the states (Milward). But this salvation could only be achieved by radically modifying the picture defined by the states, which have ceased to be fully sovereign actors.

These new realities are not so much demanding a constitutional reform as a conceptual change; we have to think in a different way about things that in fact already work in a different way and give them a new legitimacy in accordance with their actual functioning. The State of the Constitution must resemble the state of reality as much as possible.