Alexander Hamilton likes this

Iceland is using Facebook as a town hall medium in rewriting its constitution. This – mass collaboration a common draft – is much closer to wiki-constitutionalism than the original example of successive strongmen rewriting from scratch. Facebook does lack the ability to propagate rapid minor version updates. On the other hand it plugs into the social fabric with an almost disturbing ease, making the political discussion a natural outgrowth of relationships in the polity.

Rewriting from scratch, with a mass referenda signoff, is if anything analogous to broadcast media. It’s the end of season cliffhanger where all the characters wake up to discover it was all a dream.  (Noticed by John.)


John B points out (off-blog) a post on The New Republic that with its blend of political and technical metaphors sounds more like a post from early 21st century South Sea Republic: Wiki-constitutionalism.

It describes the tremendous affection South American nations have for rewriting their constitution from scratch, at a rate of once every ten years or so.

Though it’s a catchy name, Wiki-constitutionalism isn’t a great analogy. The defining aspect of C2 or wikipedia was always progressive collaborative refinement of its documents. A rewrite from scratch is more akin to what Jefferson advocated, in Cam’s words:

Jefferson believed constitution’s should be sunsetted every 25 years, so each succeeding generation can rewrite government to be a reflection of themselves. I agree. The reason republicanism has such traction is that our constitution is a 16thC document with an elected upper house thrown in. Many of the errors, skewings and inefficiencies in our system can be traced to their constitutional origins.

To continue the analogy, and reuse one that came up on SSR more than once, it is like throwing out a creaking legacy system written in VB by a million monkeys, and having a new crack team come in and rewrite it in Python (or the tech du jour).

The example of South America is, however, not reassuring. Going back to TNR:

Latin American leaders have discovered that, by packaging ever-longer lists of promises and rights alongside greater executive functions, they can make a new constitution appealing enough to the masses that they will vote for it in a referendum. The result is constitutions that are not only the shortest-lived, but also among the longest in the world. Bolivia’s and Ecuador’s recently approved constitutions have 411 and 444 articles, respectively, and read like laundry lists of guaranteed rights, such as access to mail and telephones; guarantees for culture, identity, and dignity; and shorter work-weeks. By contrast, the U.S. Constitution, the longest-serving in the world, has only seven articles and 27 amendments.

Making most of these efforts, to complete the last lap around this allegorical track, about as successful as your typical Big Redesign In The Sky.