Clarification: I am not seriously asking if a country has a constitution on the level of precision of formal logic. I meant which country exhibits “completeness” more than others, which tends in this direction, but on a realistic level - taking more of a rational approach to law than a rhetorical one. Just the fact that Iceland seems to declare that it is a country rather than assuming that is already huge to me, and I’d love to see other examples of something like that.

I looked at Cuba’s constitution and it began with somewhat gilded rhetoric about the history of this great nation. Iceland’s comes closer to being terse, but it has legal jargon from the beginning.

I am interested if there is a constitution which is more like a logical system founded on axioms, something like this:

  1. There exists an entity, called “The United States of America”.
  2. This entity will referred to as a “country” or a “nation”.
  3. This document recognizes the existence of other “countries”.
  4. The United States of America is an entity capable of “ownership”.
  5. “Ownership” is a property between one thing and another.
  6. Ownership has no inherent meaning; rather, we define “laws” on top of any situation of ownership.
  7. The United States of America is comprised of a set of laws, a set of subjects, and its ownership of certain things.

And so on.

The key point is that you try not to assume the existence of anything, so you have to define every term in terms simpler than it. Iceland does actually nod at this. Article 1 of its constitution flatly states, “Iceland is a republic with a parliamentary government”.

However, this assumes knowledge of what a republic and a parliament is.

  • 2
    This looks like a legal question that might be on topic at law.se but I am not sure on that.
    – Joe W
    Dec 8, 2022 at 22:23
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    @JoeW why would it be off-topic here? The constitution of a nation seems political enough to me.
    – JJJ
    Dec 8, 2022 at 22:51
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    I don't think a legal system can work like this, really. Formal logic works very well for mathematics where the things being reasoned about are entirely created by logic from first principles, or in physics where things have a very small number of properties carefully constructed to match rigorously controlled experiments. Law has to deal with much more complicated objects that pre-exist, so it's incredibly difficult to construct truly rigorous formal definitions that correspond to exactly what you intend and nothing else. Let alone fuzzy subjective things like "intent, "consent", etc.
    – Ben
    Dec 9, 2022 at 1:17
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    While in general I think that explicitly defining terms used in laws is a good thing, you ultimately need to have some "primitive" set of vocabulary assumed to be already known.
    – dan04
    Dec 9, 2022 at 1:31
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    The problem with doing this, is that it gets really annoying real fast. An (in)famous example is Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica which tries to do what you suggest for arithmetic. It famously requires 379 pages until it has laid enough of the groundwork in order to prove that 1+1 = 2. Even more famously, Kurt Gödel proved that any formal system that is powerful enough to describe arithmetic cannot be both complete and consistent, i.e. that there are either true statements that cannot be proven to be true (incomplete) or there are false statement that can be proven to be … Dec 9, 2022 at 3:02

1 Answer 1


Axioms aren't really how constitutions work.

The main purpose of constitutions is to define what the government can and can't do; it gives rules for how government works.

Now the US constitution does contain lines like

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Which, I suppose could be framed in a more mathematical way:

Axiom: There exists a Senate and a House of Representatives

Defn: The set {Senate, House} is termed "Congress"

Axiom: There exist Legislative Powers.

Axiom: If x is a Legislative power then x is vested in Congress

Axiom: The Power to lay taxes is a Legislative Power

Theorem: Congress has the power to lay taxes.

and so on. Just as Euclid uses terms like "length" without definition, we use terms like "Power" without further definition.

There are many styles of constitution writing, from the legalistic Indian Constitution, to the form of the US constitution (that owes much to Enlightenment notions of Government) to the Bombastic, to the terse.

Of the Terse style, Indonesia seems to have gone down the path of something like axiomatic statements of existence:

Indonesia is a Unitary State in the form of a Republic.

Sovereignty is in the hands of the people and is implemented according to this Constitution.

Indonesia is a law-based state.

[...] The People’s Consultative Assembly consists of the members of The House of Representatives and the members of The Council of Representatives of The Regions elected through general elections, and regulated further by law.

However "completeness" isn't a function of constitutions. There is no need to define "Senate" or "State", only to say what they can or can't do.

  • And where is the good place to define those terms? I will not even start the discussion about "no need"...
    – virolino
    Dec 12, 2022 at 11:23
  • The ether. The culture. The courts.... If Euclid is allowed to say "A line is breadthless length" then we can say "Congress shall be composed of a Senate and a House of Representatives".
    – James K
    Dec 12, 2022 at 11:47
  • True, until we understand that a "breadthless length" will not have decision / ruling power over the lives and deaths of millions. A line is abstract in itself, a way for us to understand / explain the world around us. A Congress / Senate / whatever is something created by people - and therefore should have a more concrete definition.
    – virolino
    Dec 12, 2022 at 11:52
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    "The ether. The culture. The courts" - that is the ultimate statement. The constitution tells the courts how to judge, and the courts define what the constitution should tell. And that's how we have the dictatorship of the courts. Are the courts the new Gods?
    – virolino
    Dec 12, 2022 at 11:55
  • @virolino The point of the Constitution is to define what these terms mean. You do not need to attach a dictionary to define each and every single word. For example, in U.S. Constitutional Law, we look to documentation by the authors of a particular section to understand their intent. At all stages, the debates on the wording and grammar were very specific.
    – hszmv
    Dec 12, 2022 at 18:52

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