Skip to main content

Photo: “Library“, by Stewart Butterfield licensed under CC BY 2.0. Hue modified from the original.

Daly, Eoin. “Rousseau’s illiberal constitutionalism: Austerity, domination, and the circumstances of politics.” International Journal of Constitutional Law (2022).


While contemporary commentary on illiberal constitutionalism has focused on questions of democratic procedure—highlighting populist attacks on constitutional structures—a rather different dimension or tradition of illiberal constitutionalism is found in the constitutional projects of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. While the illiberalism of Rousseau’s theory of political freedom is well understood in abstract terms, the illiberalism of his substantive constitutional proposals has not been commented upon to the same extent. In this article, I argue that the illiberal constitutional devices he prescribes for specific eighteenth-century societies help shed some light not only on the foundations of Rousseau’s antiliberal philosophy, but also, relatedly, on certain weaknesses or blind spots of liberal constitutionalism, particularly in its orientation towards questions of freedom and domination. While Rousseau aims to foster social and economic austerity using constitutional devices, this not only illustrates an alternative dimension of illiberal constitutionalism, but also speaks to a dimension of freedom and domination—especially in the symbolic and cultural realms—that liberal constitutionalism tends to ignore.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.