Constitutionalism in the periphery: Revisiting the roots of self-rule movements in Ireland and India

T.T. Arvind, Daithí Mac Síthigh

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The purpose of this article is to re-examine the constitutionalism that underlay moderate self-rule movements in Ireland and India. It argues that early self-rule movements in India and Ireland were rooted in the same tradition of civic republicanism that also exercised a formative influence over transatlantic political thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Despite these parallels, however, Irish and Indian actors were not simply adopting British thought. The constitutionalism they developed was distinctly a constitutionalism of the periphery. It differed in several ways from English republicanism, and developed the republican tradition in ways that have no counterparts in English political thought.

These developments left a lasting legacy on constitutional thought in India and Ireland, and they present an interesting contrast with the direction in which political and constitutional thought developed in Britain in the 19th century. Through an examination of the views of Mill and Dicey on Empire, we show that constitutional thought in the UK saw a shift away from older republican traditions of politics towards an interests-based constitutionalism, which saw government as being justified by its efficiency in promoting particular interests. This shift played a significant role in making accommodation with the self-rule movements impossible. We conclude by considering some of the broader implications of our work for the manner in which the Empire is treated in constitutional scholarship in the present day.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNorthern Ireland Legal Quarterly
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2020

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