Should the Holy Crown Doctrine be included in the Preamble? (event archive)

January 26, 2011 by  

At the fifth event of the Constitution of Liberty program professor Tóth Zoltán József, renown scholar of the Holy Crown Doctrine explained the centurys old concept to the members of the Common Sense Society. We discussed the relevance of the doctrine to the constitutional reform process, its relation to the separation of church and state, its adaptation possibilities to the current legal framework and whether it has a place in the Preamble of our Constitution.
(Scroll down for an extended summary of this topic.)

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The Holy Crown Doctrine demystified

The ongoing debate whether the Holy Crown should be included in the Preamble of the new Constitution too often confuses basic concepts. Looking at the historical context and legal tradition of the doctrine it becomes clear that it has precious little to do with monarchy and much relevance to the issue of property rights and inalienable public wealth.

Firstly, it must be understood that the Holy Crown Doctrine is primarily related to the question of sovereignty. While there used to be two main schools of understanding sovereignty in Europe, one which attributed sovereignty to the king and the other to the people or the nation, Hungary chose to take a third, rather particular path.

In the country of Saint Stephen, sovereignty rests with the Holy Crown, the only consecrated crown jewel in the Euro-Atlantic region, which also refers to its God-given origins. This is symbolic of the medieval Hungarian understanding of transcendent sovereignty ultimately belonging to God – a concept personified by the Holy Crown itself.

The above notion also had an effect on the Hungarian understanding of the principle of separation of powers. To explain figuratively, suppose the nation has a treasure trove with all of its properties, woods, rivers, forests, land, etc. and there is only one key to open it. This key belongs to the Holy Crown. But since the Holy Crown cannot in fact execute the opening of the trove, the key is held by both the nation and the monarch.

This power sharing constellation necessitated a kind of synergy and cooperation of the monarch and people, which characterized all three branches of government. Although central power belonged to the monarch, there have historically been self-governing units (principalities, territorial, ethnic, or trade federations) which shared power with the ruler. Therefore, in the Hungarian way of separation of powers, the branches were further split into central and local government branches. For example, taxes, for many decades were collected by the local governments and then transferred to the monarch, it came only later that the monarch could institute direct taxes and the national (central) bank was created.

Since the Holy Crown has sovereignty it also owns property. During the era of Andrew II and Bela IV, (13th century) the notion of “inalienable crown properties” was created to provide special protection to the public wealth jointly owned by the nation and the monarch. The reason for this was the emergence of a power player at the time: private banks that brought along mortgage. A new property law therefore required that real estate owned by the Holy Crown could not be sold or given away so as not to impose mortgage on the state.

The Holy Crown Doctrine is also intertwined with the continuity of law and constitutionality. But why should we care about continuity now if a written constitution has been in place for more than fifty years? In this context, we must recognize that the Soviet constitution adopted in 1949 (amended during the regime change) was illegal as the country has been under foreign occupation. The illegality of forced contracts is clearly stated by civil law and it is a matter of common sense. This is why it is essential to break away, symbolically as well as legally from the current constitution and at least acknowledge the legal traditions and unwritten constitutional heritage embodied by the Holy Crown.

The last component of the Holy Crown Doctrine is therefore strongly value-oriented. The Doctrine itself has never been codified in this form, but it has always been an integral part of the unwritten constitution, built on laws and manners, customs and traditions shaped by the Curia (former Supreme Court). Acknowledging the symbolic importance of the Holy Crown would also reiterate a commitment to the rule of law and Hungary’s constitutional heritage.

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