The Conversation Global: “Western democracies are in turmoil. From Brexit to Donald Trump, to a general lack of trust in politics, disillusioned voters are expressing their frustration in strange ways. In Iceland, they are taking a more proactive, hopeful approach – and it’s a lesson to the rest of the world. It looks as though a crowd-sourced constitution, developed in 2012, could finally be about to make its way through parliament.in
The document – the result of four months of consultation – was approved by a two-thirds majority in a national referendum but was ultimately rejected by the government of the time. It includes clauses on environmental protection, puts international human rights law and the rights of refugees and migrants front and centre, and proposes redistributing the fruits of Iceland’s natural resources – notably fishing.
The Pirate Party has made getting the constitution through parliament a priority. And a pre-election agreement between five parties to make that happen within two years suggests a strong commitment on almost every side.
As important as the content is how the constitution was produced. The participatory nature of its writing sets it apart from other similar documents. The soul-searching prompted by the economic crash offered a chance to reassess what Icelandic society stands for and provides the perfect moment to change the way the country operates. This existential reimagining is the heart of the constitution and cannot be underestimated.
The process has been reminiscent of the Occupy movement that sprang up across the world in 2011. For radical politics, legitimacy comes not simply through single-shot participation, such as through elections, but through a continued involvement in “constitutionalising” – in the processes of rule-making and defining the identity or ethos of a particular community.
In mainstream politics, constitutions bring social order. They represent the agreement of a single set of principles and associated rules. But once these are decided on, they are often fixed (think of the way the US Constitution is used as an unquestionable governing rule-book and how hard it is to pass amendments). Popular change is often virtually impossible. Elites can even sometimes overrule or ignore constitutional provisions…
Constitutionalising does not stop after a certain point, but ought to continue as a fundamental part of social and political activity. The problem with the nation state, potentially with the exception of Iceland, is that it has become ossified. So what might an alternative look like?
Rather than handing collective responsibility to institutions such as parliaments and courts, no matter how well-intentioned, protection is assured via a set of rules to which everyone consents and has a hand in designing…
In Iceland the crowd-sourced constitution contains a provision for citizen-led initiatives to propose and alter legislation. So the great promise of this next phase in Iceland’s politics is not simply a social democratic consensus around financial and industrial regulation and human rights, but also an attempt to redress the balance of power between citizens and government. Beyond being given a chance to help write the constitution or to vote every few years, the people are being given the chance to remain constantly involved in the shaping of the rules that govern their society….(More)”