Difference Between Constitution and Constitutionalism

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Apr 6, 2022, 8:07

The terms constitution and constitutionalism refer to the legal system of a country. Though they may sound similar and are often used interchangeably, they are fundamentally distinct concepts. The Main Difference Between Constitution and Constitutionalism is that whereas the constitution is the supreme law of a nation-state, constitutionalism is a concept demanding the limitation of the powers of the omnipotent state by the rule of law.

Constitution Definition

The vast majority of modern constitutions contain a higher law that dictates the primary purposes of the state, political structures and processes, and fundamental rights. This higher level of legislation is the constitution. Though there is no universal definition of a constitution, Elliot Bulmer (2007), in his book What is a Constitution? Principles and Concepts defined a constitution as a document encompassing a set of rules that are -

  1. Binding on all members of the state, including the state itself
  2. Involving the structure and operation of government institutions, political principles, and fundamental rights
  3. More difficult to change/amend than ordinary laws
  4. Meeting the requirements of the international democratic system in terms of representation and human rights

Constitutionalism Definition

Constitutionalism is an ideology that holds that government authority is derived from the people and should be limited by a constitution that specifies what the government can and cannot do. It is the idea that the state, rather than being free to do anything it wants, is constrained by laws that limit its authority.

Constitutionalism has a long and illustrious history that dates back thousands of years. King John signed the Magna Carta, which limited the powers of the British Monarch, in 1215. King William III of England endorsed the English Bill of Rights in 1689.

Political thinker John Locke was a pivotal contributor to the development of constitutional theory. In his theory of Social Contract, he defines the state as -

  • A product of a social (not divine) contract
  • A body that came into existence not by a divine decree but by the consent of the people
  • A body created by citizens to protect their life, liberty, and property, which he considered three natural rights
Important UPSC Topics
UPSC ExamUPSC Exam Date
UPSC NotificationUPSC Eligibility
UPSC Online ApplicationUPSC Exam Pattern
UPSC SyllabusUPSC Previous Year Question Papers
UPSC Cut OffUPSC Preparation Strategy
UPSC BooksUPSC Exam Analysis
UPSC Admit CardUPSC Results

Difference Between Constitution and Constitutionalism

Constitution

Constitutionalism

A document that limits the powers of the state

The concept/ theory/ ideology behind limiting the powers of the state

Written document

Soul/ philosophy of the constitution- unwritten

Deals with the structure of the government, political processes, and rights of the citizens

Deals with limiting the powers of the state and protecting individual rights

Set rules and standards to distribute benefits and burdens in a society

Application of the laws in achieving those goals

Not necessarily related to liberal democracy. For instance, China has a constitution

The underlying basis/ principle of liberal democracy

Can be dead when a rigid constitution fails to meet the changing nature and aspirations of the society

A living idea

Liberalism sees the state as a necessary evil that can preserve and, at the same time, obtrude into individual liberty. Therefore, in any liberal democracy, the constitution acts as a document that limits the power of the state (for instance, fundamental rights in India), and constitutionalism is the concept of limiting the outreach of the state.

More Current Affairs Topics
Difference Between Democracy and RepublicAgri Udaan
Difference Between Endogenic and Exogenic ForcesAgricultural Extension Service
Agriculture Infrastructure FundAgricultural Price Policy in India
Agro-Based Industries in IndiaAgro Climatic Zones in India
Discretionary Power of GovernorAhom Kingdom

FAQs on the Difference Between Constitution and Constitutionalism

Q.1. Is the Difference Between Constitution and Constitutionalism relevant?

Yes, the Difference Between Constitution and Constitutionalism is relevant. Countries having a constitution may not practice constitutionalism, for instance, Singapore. However, constitutionalism limits authoritarian tendencies.

Q.2. What is the main Difference Between Constitution and Constitutionalism?

The Main Difference Between Constitution and Constitutionalism is that the constitution is a written document that outlines the structures and functions of the state. On the other hand, constitutionalism is an unwritten idea or the soul of all liberal democratic constitutions that aim to limit the powers of the state and protect individual rights.

Q.3. What outlines the Difference Between Constitution and Constitutionalism in India?

The historic Kesavananda Bharati judgment outlines the Difference Between Constitution and Constitutionalism in India. The verdict limits the plenipotentiary amending powers of the parliament. They cannot alter the basic structure of the constitution- the soul of the document or the idea of constitutionalism.

Q.4. What is the ideological Difference Between Constitution and Constitutionalism?

The ideological Difference Between Constitution and Constitutionalism is that Constitutionalism as an ideology comes from the liberal school of political thought. However, not all constitutions are liberal-democratic. Example: China.