The astounding story of Iceland's constitution - and its government's failure

Originally published at:


If not for the weather in Iceland, it’d be a good option for those that had enough of the good ole’ USA.


The joker in me wants to post Verizon Guy, but I’ll refrain because this is a topic deserving of more respect and gravitas.


Sounds like they need a monarch who can dissolve parliament and have new elections.

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(1) I don’t think the current representatives have any obligation to follow through on non-binding referenda. Since it presumably abrogates the current constitution, I’d hate to think that the constitution can be ignored (for good or ill) on the basis of 50% + 1 of those who happen to vote in a referendum.

(2) The video indicates exactly the right way to deal with the representatives failing to follow through on the non-binding referendum. Win the election with a large enough margin to impose a new constitution on the populace. I presume that that margin would be the same as the margin necessary to override the new constitution (if it takes 2/3rds of the voters to override the constitution, it should take 2/3rds of the voters to impose it.)

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I don’t know much … or anything actually … about politics in Iceland, but I think I agree with you. I don’t think adopting a new constitution should be easy for any nation, regardless of how many people vote in favor of it. It’s like reformatting your hard drive. The system should ask at least one more time, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Also, just because “the people” drafted the constitution doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Jeez, can you imagine if the American people drafted a constitution? We were this close to electing Donald Trump President.


I have to point out that countries outside the US do not tend to regard constitutions as being religious documents. The US regards its constitution as being sacred, yet then allows 9 unelected officials to engage in pilpul about what it means. I have to say that 9 is fewer than 1000, especially when you consider Iceland is not a pluralistic society - its population is about 1/6 that of the average US state and is rather homogeneous.


Indeed. That’s why I think the minimum to install the constitution should be the minimum to alter/remove it. If your new constitution is easily amendable, then there’s not much risk making it law and the bar to that should be low.

If you believe that the constitution shouldn’t be subject to easy change, then your ability to impose it upon the populace should also be difficult.

You’re missing my point. Because the US Constitution appears to be rigid and inflexible, a few people, political appointees, are allowed to rule on its meaning, resulting in apparently bizarre decisions such that corporations are people and money is speech.
Because the UK doesn’t even have a written constitution, more people are involved in deciding what the law should be at any time.
If a constitution is frequently revised by a number of people of shared culture, it’s much more likely to agree with everybody’s needs than an 18th century document using long outdated philosophical and political ideas. Setting a high bar for decisions just encourages conservatism. For a small country like Iceland in a rapidly evolving environment, that’s probably not a good idea.


Yet the UK looks to be just about as much of an ongoing shitshow as the United States.

I didn’t argue it was a good system for the UK, which I think was much better off in the EU, but specifically explained why I think Iceland is different.
We have a local referendum next week to set the priorities for our district. It’s flawed but it’s still a small injection of local democracy, and at that level I’m all for it.

It doesn’t have a codified constitution. But substantial parts of it are written, e.g. the various Parliament Acts.

Of course, but it isn’t put into a book and labelled “Constitution: needs 60:40 vote to overturn any part.”

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Only Americans have this fetish.

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