The Review of Austrian Economics

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 55–78 | Cite as

From contract to mental model: Constitutional culture as a fact of the social sciences

  • Nikolai WenzelEmail author


This paper develops the concept of constitutional culture—the attitude, thoughts, and feelings about constitutional constraints and the nature, scope, and function of constitutionalism. Constitutional culture is approached as a complex emergent phenomenon bridging Hayekian cognitive and institutional insights. It can be studied as a mental model, a series of expectations and understandings about the constitutional order, how it is, and how it ought to be. The “map” and “model” approach from Hayek’s Sensory Order (1952) is employed to understand how individuals and (cautiously) groups of individuals at the national level approach constitutionalism. This paper goes beyond the more traditional one-size-fits-all approach where all individuals respond uniformly to incentives, as provided by the constitution qua contract. Instead, constitutionalism is tied up in the individual’s vision of the world, that is, what Hayek (1948) labels “the facts of the social sciences.” The paper concludes with four areas where constitutional culture can further the insights of constitutional political economy: comparative political economy, constitutional stickiness, constitutional maintenance, and the new development economics.


Constitutional culture Mental models Constitutional political economy Constitutional maintenance Informal institutions 

JEL Classifications

B52 B53 F59 043 P48 Z13 



For the discussion and comments, many thanks to Richard Wagner, Peter Boettke, Dragos Aligica, Don Boudreaux, David Levy, Mark Patton, Jim Loveland, Eduardo Stordeur, Bill Butos, participants at the 2008 meeting of the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics, the Henry C. Simons Circle, and an anonymous referee. Thanks also to George Mount for the research assistance. Financial support from the H.B. Earhart Foundation, the Hayek Fund at the Institute for Humane Studies, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University is gratefully acknowledged. The usual disclaimer applies.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics and Business AdministrationHillsdale CollegeHillsdaleUSA

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