As was the case in Thailand, these provisions often destabilize politics by legitimizing individuals and groups seeking to undermine the status quo. Several of today’s trouble spots, including Mali, Turkey, and Venezuela, have constitutional rights to resist. In many ways, the regimes in these countries couldn’t be more different. But they also share something else: disputed legitimacy at the time of their ascension.
Here’s how this dynamic typically plays out:
Step 1: A government with questionable democratic credentials takes administrative control following a coup or revolution, or else is democratically elected after previously failing to seize power through one of the above. Soon afterward, these rulers consolidate their power by drafting a new constitution—one which includes a “right to resist,” ostensibly meant to serve as ex-post-facto validation of their past attempts to overthrow their predecessors.
Step 2: In Faustian fashion, the proviso becomes a thorn in the side of the administrations that govern under the new constitution, as agitators and enemies wield it to foment instability. When that instability grows great enough, it produces a crisis that topples the very system it was supposed to be legitimizing. And yet, the provision—or one like it—often sticks around in the next constitutional revision, since taking it out might signal weakness or fear on the part of the country’s new rulers.
Step 3: Rinse and repeat.