Dilemmas of popular sovereignty

The principle of popular sovereignty posits that, to be legitimate, authority must rest with the people – the very people who are subject to that same authority.  Premised on a certain vision of humanity, statehood, citizenship and belonging, popular sovereignty has become the paradigmatic way of legitimizing political power. Subject of long theoretical and historical reflection, it has informed a great deal of empirical and institutional analysis.

This collaborative course will be dedicated to studying contemporary problems of democratic governance related to questions of popular legitimation by illuminating their historical roots and theoretical ramifications. Deploying the complex concept of popular sovereignty and situating its elements in concrete cases (e.g. Catalonia, EU and Brexit, the US Civil war, or Weimar Germany) the course aims to develop analytical and interpretive tools that are applicable across a wide range of contemporary and past instances.

The kind of questions it will ask include: What does it mean for a people to be sovereign, and who can belong to a sovereign people? How and when does the people appear in political life, through what institutions or modes of representation? What is the social and cultural basis of popular sovereignty, and how does it evolve? Drawing on different modes of investigation, and comparing diverse historical and geo-political perspectives, our purpose will be to gain a deeper understanding of both current policy challenges and inherent dilemmas of liberal democracy.

This course is for 2nd year MIA and MPP students only.