by Nicholas Tsagourias (ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 390pp. Hardback. £60.00/$122.00. ISBN: 9780521872041. e-Book format. $98.00. ISBN: 9780511346248.

Reviewed by John E. Finn, Department of Government, Wesleyan University. Email: jfinn [at]


TRANSNATIONAL CONSTITUTIONALISM, edited by Nicholas Tsagourias, explores constitutionalism and constitutional forms in spaces other than the nation state. This is a fascinating topic (though perhaps not as novel as the book implies). By transnational (or European, though the contributors note that these are not precisely the same thing) and international constitutionalism, the editor refers to “unfolding models of European and international constitutionalism” and seeks to evaluate them by “contextualizing their structural and normative premises and critically reflecting on their constitutional ethos” (p.9). As Tsagourias suggests, continental scholarship on these questions is “thriving,” in part because of the continuing development and constitutionalization of the European Union.

The book is a collection of essays by European scholars. As is common in such efforts, the result is something of mixed bag, and its overall value depends largely on how much interest and value the reader can find in the individual chapters. That is especially true in this case, because the essays address a wide variety of issues and topics, and it is not immediately apparent how they connect to the general themes or to each other. Although the various topics they explore and approaches they utilize are interesting, they do not explicitly engage a common set of inquiries or concerns. Similarly, the editor does not do enough to illuminate common themes or trends in the various chapters.

In short, the appeal of the book to a wider audience could have been strengthened by a stronger editorial touch. The opening chapter does do a good job of summarizing the current literature in both fields. It also includes a very useful summary of the chapters. Tsagourias provides the reader with a sense of the kinds of issues that scholarship on transitional and international constitutionalism addresses, and also proposes a working set of definitions for terms like “constitution, “constitutionalization,” and “constitutionalism” and how those definitions have implications for transnational and international constitutionalism. In particular, Tsagourias suggests that “constitutionalism is the narrative behind processes of self-creation, self-perception, self-identification, or self-projection. Furthermore, constitutionalism employs prescriptive, axiological and empirical tools, not only to construct but also to continuously read politico-legal spaces” (p.3). This discussion is admirably concise, if perhaps more a set of assertions than [*68] arguments, but the real difficulty is that the rest of the book is not systemically or explicitly integrated with those definitions. The book misses several opportunities to draw points of comparison and contrast between and among the individual chapters. A more sustained effort by the editor to tie his brief descriptions of individual chapters to the analytical premises of Chapter One, for example, would have contributed greatly to the volume. Similarly, brief introductions to the various parts of the book, and a general conclusion, would have helped. The absence of such guides limits the utility of the book to nonspecialists.

In addition to the opening chapter, there are nine others, loosely organized under the categories of “States, courts and constitutional principles,” “Transnational constitutional interface,” and “Visions of international constitutionalism.” The individual chapters vary dramatically, both in subject and analytical approach. Some, for example, such as Capps’ essay on “the rejection of the universal state,” and Tsagourias’ chapter on “The constitutional role of general principles of law in international and European jurisprudence,” are expansive in scope and deeply theoretical. Others, such as the chapter by Rivers on proportionality, seem more doctrinal in character, though no less useful. Several of the essays on European and transnational constitutionalism have as their focus the constitutionalization of the European Union. In contrast, the chapters on international constitutionalism are more engaged with the United Nations and other instruments of international governance. The final two chapters are exceptionally useful insofar as they reach more broadly to consider the future possibilities of international constitutionalism writ large and how the development of constitutional regimes may influence our understanding of constitutionalism more generally.

In sum, this is a useful book, full of critical and analytical discussion concerning recent scholarship in fields of transnational and international constitutionalism. Unfortunately, it does not do as much as it could have to make more explicit the implications of this scholarship for readers whose familiarity and research on constitutionalism is concentrated on forms of constitutional organization that are state-centered.

© Copyright 2008 by the author, John E. Finn.