The foundations of constitutionalism: an analysis of debaathification


This article analyzes the administration of lustration—what Arthur Stinchcombe termed the “social basis of constitutionalism”—and its unintended consequences in comparative and international law and politics. It is concerned with the social function of animating ideas in the evolution of institutions. The article demonstrates that in the case of Iraq, the commitment of institutional engineers and transitional administrators to the idea of purifying the state, and their concomitant willingness to watch the institution of lustration naturally evolve in respect of that central idea, has had disastrous consequences for the foundations of constitutionalism. These consequences flowed from the institutional design of the U.S. occupation more generally. By reconstructing, for the very first time, the evolution of debaathification in contemporary Iraq, this article deepens our understanding of the foundations of constitutionalism. Aside from its contribution to the theory of institutional design, the article also speaks to the ongoing debate over the creation of governments, regimes, and states in the international system. In the context of this debate, which has important implications for the practice of institutional design, the administration of lustration—from within or from without—is an insufficiently understood phenomenon, making it a worthy subject for institutional analysis.

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  1. 1.

    For discussion of sovereigns and the origins of the rule of law, see Weingast (1997) and Barzel (2002).

  2. 2.

    On the controversy surrounding the formation of the IGC, and its functions, see International Crisis Group (2003).

  3. 3.

    On the role of the United Nations in the formation of the IIG, and the status of the occupation forces, see International Crisis Group (2004a, pp. 11–29).

  4. 4.

    The UIA’s constituent members are the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, including the Badr Brigade, its military wing; the Da’wah Party; and the Sadr Movement (named after Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Shi’ah opposition in Iraq). Although space constraints disallow an organizational analysis, it bears mentioning that the victory of the UIA belies its internal divisions. For a useful account of these divisions, see Marr (2007, pp. 7–12).

  5. 5.

    The theoretical inspiration for this analysis came from Preston and Roots (2004); Roots (2004) and Pierson (1993). See also McCubbins et al. (1990).

  6. 6.


  7. 7.

    In June 2005, Khalilzad was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. From November 2003 to June 2005, he served as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan.

  8. 8.

    On the institution of “international territorial administration” in international law, see, most important, Caplan (2005); Chesterman (2004); and Wilde (2001, 2004).

  9. 9.

    On the term “technical correction,” see Farrell (2004). CPA efforts notwithstanding, most observers have interpreted the announcement as a policy reversal rather than a technical correction. “Coalition spokesmen have insisted that the change is only procedural and that Bremer’s original policy hasn’t changed. But many others, including American proponents of de-Baathification, see it as a significant rollback.” Moran (2004).

  10. 10.

    For examples of assassinations in Mosul, Najaf, and other Iraqi cities, see Saouli (2004).

  11. 11.

    On the ethics of lustration, see Meierhenrich (2006).

  12. 12.

    For a broader critique of the international administration of Iraq, see Watkins (2004, p. 5).

  13. 13.

    Consider in this context, for example, the controversy surrounding Article 7 of the draft constitution that outlawed the “Saddamist Baath” and caused Arab Sunnis to fear “de-Sunnification.”


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Correspondence to Jens Meierhenrich.

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Meierhenrich, J. The foundations of constitutionalism: an analysis of debaathification. Const Polit Econ 19, 277 (2008).

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  • Institutional design
  • Constitutional design
  • Lustration
  • International law
  • International territorial administration
  • Iraq
  • Debaathification

JEL Classification

  • D7
  • H1
  • K1
  • K4