The Constituent Moment. Social Rights in the Constitution (Almedina, 2010)




With the financial crisis, the question of the reform of the welfare state has become a central theme in the political agenda. In Portugal the debate about the future of the welfare state almost always falls back on the issue of the constitutional pre-commitment to social rights.

In this book, Mónica Brito Vieira and Filipe Carreira da Silva take us back to what is arguably the founding moment of the democratic welfare state in Portugal - the workings of the Constituent Assembly of 1975-76. In this return to institutional origins they recover the range of reasons put forth by the founding fathers of the Portuguese democratic regime for locking in the Constitution that which is one of the longest and most detailed lists of constitutional social rights in the world.

What emerges from the analysis is that the unanimous final vote on the issue of social rights hides a deep political divide about the meaning and purposes of these rights, as well as about the role of the “social state”. The constitutional compromise on social rights emerges therefore as a rawlsian overlapping consensus of sorts, in which fundamental commitments of principle - e.g. on social rights as an essential dimension of democratic citizenship - were affirmed on the basis of contrasting, when not opposing, comprehensive ideological outlooks on the nature of the good society and its ideal relation to the "social state".

The book provides a unique behind-the-scenes look at the workings of the Constituent Assembly, the dynamics of the specialized drafting committee on social rights, and the floor debates, with an emphasis on the range of argumentative strategies which were deployed to construct the notion of social citizenship. The book also includes an edition of the floor debates on social rights in the Constituent Assembly.


Table of Contents:

I. The Constituent Assembly at Work: A Chronology

II. The Process of Constitutional Creation

III. Voting the Section on Social Rights

IV. The Rhetoric of Social Rights: Argumentative Strategies

V. Constitutional Cleavages