The Paradox of Popular Sovereignty

If Inventing The People is a work of consensus history, it is not one that seeks to celebrate blindly the development of an Anglo-American tradition of popular sovereignty. “The popular governments of Britain or the United States rest on fictions as much as the governments of Russia and China” (13). Indeed, many of Morgan’s most important conclusions in the book are remarkably radical—reminding us that all power is at some level arbitrary, and that appeals to rationality alone cannot justify any single system of government. Indeed, governments that try and conform to the letter of their appeals to the people could not long hope to survive. “The fiction must approach the fact but never reach it” (91). Thus, while Morgan unquestionably concludes there is a coalescence of ideas of popular sovereignty, it is not a reassuring consensus. The consensus on the dominance of popular sovereignty is necessary, for else a community can never be made fit to govern. Continue reading

Thomas Hobbes and Post-Revolutionary American Citizenship

Leviathan_by_Thomas_Hobbes“Considered broadly,” says Douglas Bradburn, “the problem of ‘citizenship’ remains one of the most compelling contexts to attempt to understand the process, limits, and meaning of the American Revolution.”[1] This post is a brief exercise in the problem of American citizenship in the immediate post-revolutionary era (and a note towards an article-length project on international law in the new republic). It begins with the dilemma of dealing with the fallout of a civil war like the War of Independence, and it follows the reception of a slightly unexpected figure in the history of American political thought: Thomas Hobbes. Continue reading