Conventional Anglo-American understandings of constitutionalism suggest that the welfare state is not an appropriate subject for constitutional regulation, either because of political disagreement over its form or because of the dynamic nature of social policy.  Conservatives, neoliberals and progressives alike tend to meet on this plateau, which favours a minimalist constitution.  Yet a number of states in Europe, including France, Spain and notably Germany, diverge from this understanding, and their constitutions contain principles declaring that each country is a 'social' state. The courts of such countries, in turn, tend to give interpretations of their respective constitutions and bills of rights in particular that are protective of established social programmes and in some cases require important social investment.

This lecture will explore the German experience, where the 'Sozialstaatsprinzip' has been the subject of extensive scholarly inquiry and has had important influences on the shape of constitutional, private and social law since the founding of the post-war Republic. The lecture will also briefly consider the antecedent experience of social constitutionalism under the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), and the broader socio-political context surrounding the slow but steady flowering of this constitutional concept.

Dr. King's book 'Judging Social Rights' has recently won the Peter Birks Prize for outstanding legal scholarship.