Review of Linda Colley’s The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen – Warfare, Constitutions, and the Making of the Modern World

Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity on France Paris city hall, the motto of the French Revolution

Reviewed by Andrew Lanham, Climenko Fellow and Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School.

Lanham argues that Colley’s thesis—”that states make war, and wars make constitutions”—has profound implications for understanding notions of constituent power and the rise in liberal and democratic institutions since the 18th century. 

“By emphasizing this decidedly instrumental value of written constitutionalism as a legal and political practice, Colley lets us see written constitutions as technologies for enhancing military power and militarizing society, every bit as much as they are mechanisms for creating and restraining a government and protecting its citizens’ autonomy. And that is a very different way to understand the nature and purpose of written constitutions than the near-religious veneration that’s often directed at the U.S. Constitution.”