The Centre was founded in autumn 2007 by Professor Anthony F Lang, Jr. in the School of International Relations. It  originated in a programme entitled Rethinking the Rules, run by Professor Lang from 2005 through 2007. This programme brought together scholars and policy analysts from around the world to explore the nature of rules at the international level in an attempt to create new insights at the nexus of international law, ethics and politics. The Centre hosted two workshops and created a network of scholars and practitioners from across Europe and North America. On the basis of this initial work, the network published one special edition of a journal (International Relations, September 2006) and an edited volume on rules and international security. (Introduction: Rules and international security Dilemmas of a new world order (PDF, 81 KB))

The Centre also drew upon and has now incorporated the James Wilson Doctoral Programme in Constitutional Studies. This programme was originally designed to fund PhD students doing research in constitutionalism from either the Schools of International Relations or Classics. It provided full funding to three students for their entire career at St Andrews. Now it provides smaller scale funding for research and travel purposes for students working on constitutionalism. More information about this programme can be found here.  The Centre is devoted to exploring international institutions and law through a historical and theoretical engagement with the idea of constitutionalism. It currently includes staff from International Relations, Classics, History, Philosophy, and Divinity and is advised by an international board.

The Centre is not designed to promote a particular global order or advance a world government. Since its inception, the Centre has sought to locate basic constitutional principles such as the rule of law, institutional checks and balances, judicial review, and human rights in the international system. It sees constitutionalism as a political concept that arose in ancient Greece and Rome, evolved through the European medieval and early modern experience, and found its fullest expression in constitutional revolutions in Great Britain at the end of the 17th century, and the United States and France at the end of the 18th century. Today, the idea of a constitutional design is one that has relevance around the world, both in particular national contexts and the wider global political order.