Constitution or Conflict?
NBER Working Paper No. 8733
A self-enforcing constitution creates a political process that provides an alternative to civil conflict for resolving disputes among the constituent groups of the polity. This paper is concerned with discovering the conditions under which it is possible to design such a self-enforcing constitution. The paper is also concerned with discovering generic features of a self-enforcing constitution. The analysis yields the following theoretical propositions: If and only if (1) none of the parties to a dispute regards the dispute to be too important relative to the expected incremental cost of civil conflict and (2) no party has too big of an advantage in civil conflict, then the parties are able to resolve a dispute constitutionally. Also, under a constitution that is self enforcing the outcomes of constitutional contests for political power do not matter too much. The paper illustrates the relevance of the theoretical analysis by applying these propositions to two dramatic historical examples of constitutional failure: the secession of eleven Southern states from the Union in 1861 and the National Socialist revolution in Germany in 1933.