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Who is the people? Reflections on popular sovereignty

Popular sovereignty, the foundation of democratic politics, is based on the idea that legitimate authority rests with the people. Many current policy issues challenge this foundation and threaten to become crises of popular sovereignty, and of democracy itself. Current debates on Brexit and Catalonia, or the resurgence of anti-immigrant nationalism in the West, raise fundamental questions about who constitutes “the people”,  when and how they should participate in collective decision-making. Within liberal democracies, what rules define civic membership? How were these established and how have they changed over time?  Is it possible to distinguish between different, more or less respectable, criteria for inclusion/exclusion? How should these criteria be evaluated, and by whom?


Ira Katznelson is Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History at Columbia University. Prior to his position at Columbia, he taught at the University of Chicago and the New School for Social Research, where he was dean of the Graduate Faculty. His latest book Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (W.W. Norton’s Liveright imprint, 2013), which has been awarded the Bancroft Prize in History and the Woodrow Wilson Award in Political Science, sheds light on a pivotal moment in the history of the United States and of liberal democracy. Photo by Eileen Barroso.


Helmut K. Anheier is President of the Hertie School and Professor of Sociology. His research centres on indicator systems, social innovation, culture, philanthropy, and organisational studies. He also holds a Chair of Sociology at Heidelberg University and serves as Academic Director of the Centre for Social Investment.


Ewa Atanassow is Professor of Political Thought at Bard College Berlin and her research and teaching interests focus on questions of nationhood and democratic citizenship, and more broadly on the intersection of ethics and psychology in the liberal tradition of political thought, with emphasis on Tocqueville. She is the co-editor of Tocqueville and the Frontiers of Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2013). Her articles and reviews have appeared in American Political Science Review, Global Policy, Journal of Democracy, Kronos, Nations and Nationalism, Perspectives on Political Science, Przeglad Polityczny.

Ira Katznelson delivers keynote lecture on 8 February at the Hertie School.
Helmut K. Anheier, President of the Hertie School, delivered the opening remarks.
Ira Katznelson's lecture was entitled "Who is the people? Reflections on popular sovereignty."
Ira Katznelson with discussant Ewa Atanassow, Professor of Political Thought at Bard College Berlin.

This event is co-organised by Hertie School and Bard College Berlin with the generous support of the American Social Science Research Council.