Sovereignty, Civic Participation, and Constitutional Law : The People versus the Nation in Belgium book cover
1st Edition

Sovereignty, Civic Participation, and Constitutional Law
The People versus the Nation in Belgium

ISBN 9780367712280
Published January 9, 2023 by Routledge
314 Pages

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Book Description

This book brings recent insights about sovereignty and citizen participation in the Belgian Constitution to scholars in the fields of law, philosophy, history, and politics.

Throughout the Western world, there are increasing calls for greater citizen participation. Referendums, citizen councils, and other forms of direct democracy are considered necessary antidotes to a growing hostility towards traditional party politics. This book focuses on the Belgian debate, where the introduction of participatory politics has stalled because of an ambiguity in the Constitution. Scholars and judges generally claim that the Belgian Constitution gives ultimate power to the nation, which can only speak through representation in parliament. In light of this, direct democracy would be an unconstitutional power grab by the current generation of citizens. This book critically investigates this received interpretation of the Constitution and, by reaching  back to the debates among Belgium’s 1831 founding fathers, concludes that it is untenable. The spirit, if not the text, of the Belgian Constitution allows for more popular participation than present-day jurisprudence admits.

This book is the first to make recent debates in this field accessible to international scholars. It provides a rare source of information on Belgium’s 1831 Constitution, which was in its time seen as modern constitutionalism’s greatest triumph and which became a model for countless other constitutions. Yet the questions it asks reverberate far beyond Belgium. Combining new insights from law, philosophy, history, and politics, this book is a showcase for continental constitutional theory. It will be a valuable resource for academics and researchers in constitutional law, political and legal philosophy, and legal history.

Chapters 3, 4, 11, and 15 of this book are freely available as a downloadable Open Access PDF under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0 license available at

Table of Contents

1. A Simple Sentence. Towards a New Interpretation of Sovereignty in the Belgian Constitution

Raf Geenens, Brecht Deseure, Stefan Sottiaux

Part I. Intellectual Context

2. Constitutionalism in Restoration Europe

Markus J. Prutsch

3. Benjamin Constant and the Limits of Popular Sovereignty

Nora Timmermans

4. Abbé Sieyès: The Immanent and Transcendent Nation

Olga Bashkina

Part II. 1831 – The Belgian Moment

5. The Liberal and Catholic Origins of the Belgian Constitution. From the Opposition under the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Constitutional Debates of 1830-1831

Stefaan Marteel

6. The Coppet Group and the Political Liberalism of the Belgian Founding Fathers

Christophe Maes

7. Constituent Power in the Belgian National Congress and the 1831 Belgian Constitution

Christophe Maes, Bas Leijssenaar

8. ‘All Powers Emanate from the Nation’. People, Nation and Sovereignty in the Belgian Constitution of 1831

Brecht Deseure, Christophe Maes

9. Belgium’s 1831 Representative System: Making Representation National Again

Christophe Maes, Brecht Deseure

Part III. Sovereignty and Civic Participation

10. The Monist Nation and the General Will: Raymond Carré de Malberg on Sovereignty

Olga Bashkina

11. Pulling the Curtain on the National Sovereignty Myth. Sovereignty and Referendums in Belgian Constitutional Doctrine

Christophe Maes, Brecht Deseure, Ronald Van Crombrugge

12. Laboratories for Democracy. Democratic Renewal in the Belgian Federation

Ronald Van Crombrugge

13. A Non-Populist Direct Democracy for Belgium

Nenad Stojanović

14. Democratic Constitution-Making under the Belgian Constitution. Utilising its Untapped Potential

Ronald Van Crombrugge

15. Sovereignty without Sovereignty. The Belgian Solution

Raf Geenens


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Brecht Deseure is a post-doctoral researcher at King’s College London, UK.

Raf Geenens is an associate professor of ethics and legal philosophy at KU Leuven’s Institute of Philosophy.

Stefan Sottiaux is a professor of constitutional law and human rights at KU Leuven's Faculty of Law.