What is constitutional autochthony?

I was recently asked a very interesting question, somewhat related to legal history: namely, what is constitutional autochthony?

‘Autochthony’ is a word that rarely surfaces in everyday English, but it is a synonym for ‘native’ or ‘indigenous’. It is most often used in anthropology, biology and related sciences, but is also used in law. The formal definition is: 1. Originating where found; indigenous: as in ‘autochthonous rocks’; an ‘autochthonous people’ 2. Originating or formed in the place where found, such as an ‘autochthonous blood clot.’ It derives from the Greek, meaning ‘springing from the land’. You can find the definition at: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/autochthony

When referring to ‘constitutional autochthony’, one is therefore referring to the nativity or indigenous nature of a constitution. This has two practical applications in that context: when referring to a constitution that emerges internally from a jurisdiction or country, meaning that it is free from external legal control and influence; or when referring to a constitution that is redrafted, amended or otherwise remade to ‘reclaim’ it as being autonomous and native. When talking about this last meaning — reclamation– this often has occurred when countries achieved independence from colonial powers. Post-colonial countries amend or replace these constitutions with ones developed in the native country, as they are considered more legitimate and authentic and therefore more valid and enforceable. Specific examples include the redrafting of the Irish constitution in 1937 (and previous amendments to the 1922 constitution), India in 1949, Zambia in 1991 (replacing the constitution of 1973) and South Africa in 1996.

Constitutional autochthony is therefore concerned both with the autonomy of the government that has adopted the constitution, as well as with the indigenous (‘native’) nature of the constitution.

For an interesting discussion of the Australian context and how this may be achieved for Australia, see http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/FedLRev/2001/10.html


What is constitutional autochthony? — 19 Comments

  1. Hi–short but helpful– I was looking this up for a Intro to Constitutional Law course and it’s spot on. thanks!

  2. A word that is hard enough to spell, but sometimes even harder to understand! thanks for the clarification, which I saw posted on your profile on linkedin. Looks like an interesting program you’ve got going on, in addition to everything else you are doing! regards, S. Weyland

  3. It has eased my burden in understanding what constitutional autochthony is.I did not get it well in class but now it is halleluya!I can now do my assignment without any problem, thanks alot!

  4. Hi Prof Pilarczyk– I actually had this question come up in the contect of an international law course and found this write-up very helful. thanks!

  5. Thanks for your explicit explanation. Now I have a background knowledge of what constitutional autochthony is. I found it difficult to understand in class before but now am good to go.

  6. Wonderful job you have done here! Constitutional authochthony gave me a hell of time to comprehend until I stumbled into your write up in the course of my research. You really have made my study easier. Thx a bunch.

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