A Waltz of Regimes in the Land of Tangos. Lessons From Argentina on Constitutional Culture and Constitutional Maintenance

Nikolai Wenzel

Advisor: .

Enterprise Hall, 318
March 20, 2007, 08:00 PM to 07:00 PM


This dissertation examines a crucial but neglected element of constitutional stickiness and maintenance: constitutional culture (defined as the prevalent attitudes and values, explicit and implicit, about the nature, scope and function of constitutional institutions and constraints). Chapter one explores constitutional culture, from the individual through the macro level, studied as a complex emergent phenomenon in the spirit of F.A. Hayek, and builds on existing but incomplete definitions. Chapter two examines the relationship between informal and formal constitutional guardians (i.e. constitutional culture v. constitutional parchment). Specifically, it argues that the formal constitution must match the underlying constitutional culture; if the two are slightly mismatched, compromise will follow; if they are radically mismatched, the informal will reject the formal, i.e. not just the specific constitution, but constitutionalism generally. The dissertation then uses Argentina as a case study: with a constitution copied almost verbatim on the US document, Argentina saw repeated instances of military dictatorship and government failure. Why? If the answer lies not in the formal (after all, the documents were almost identical), it must lie in the informal. Chapter three offers a brief review of Argentine history. Chapter four studies Argentina's constitution and founding in depth, ending with a claim that Argentina simply chose the wrong constitution, as parchment clashed with culture. Chapter five examines contemporary Argentina, and the continuing disconnect between formal and informal institutions, which has led to continued government failure. The chapter reports on the author's qualitative fieldwork, which is complemented by quantitative work existing in the literature. The final chapter concludes, and the envoi proposes an agenda for further research on the emergence of constitutional culture into formal constitutional order.