The politeia
: a defence of literary constitutionalism

  • Mary Dodd

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


The principal endeavour of this thesis is to advance our understanding of constitutionalism beyond the mechanics codification, to embrace a textually discursive approach to constitutionalism which takes into account all aspects of living in human socio-political aggregation akin to the ancient politeia genre. My purpose is to demonstrate how authors producing works which write polities must be understood as actors engaged in a specifically literary mode of constitutionalism.
I use two texts which have been overrepresented in political theory scholarship on constitutionalism – Aristotle’s Politics and Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan – to create a comparison with the textual politeia’s approach, demonstrating the limitations of these canonical texts’ methods. I then apply the politeia as an analytical lens to texts produced during the period of the British Interregnum. It is my argument that the two branches of the politeia genre which I identify and delineate – namely empirical and philosophical politeiai, represented in this thesis through examinations of (1) the Old Oligarch’s Constitution of the Athenians and John Milton’s History of Britain, and (2) Plato’s Republic and James Harrington’s The Commonwealth of Oceana, respectively – enable me to foreground different ways to reflect on constitutions. Therefore, those authors must be understood and credited as committed constitutional engagé(e)s, participating in constitutionalism through written performance.

This thesis uses the results of these investigations to call for the acknowledgement of efforts in writing polities as committed, credible interventions in constitutionalism. This is further emphasised by the concluding commentary on current constituent moments, which illustrates how an understanding of literary constitutionalism enables us to read the articulation of these moments and efforts in a far more holistic way than traditional approaches to constitutional practice.
Date of Award13 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorAnthony F Lang Jr. (Supervisor) & Jacqueline Rose (Supervisor)


  • Constitutionalism
  • Law and literature
  • Aristotle
  • Politics
  • Hobbes
  • Leviathan
  • Milton
  • History of Britain
  • Politeia
  • Constitution of the Athenians
  • Plato
  • Republic
  • Harrington
  • Commonwealth of Oceana
  • Constituent power
  • Old Oligarch
  • Pseudo-Xenophon
  • English civil law

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 28 February 2028

Cite this