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The new sovereigntism and transnational law: Legal utopianism, democratic scepticism and statist realism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 March 2016

SEYLA BENHABIB
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science, Yale University, 115 Prospect St, New Haven, CT 06511
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Abstract:

This article examines the contemporary debate about the spread of transnational law and its sovereigntist critiques. Sovereigntists argue that the rapid development of international and transnational treaties and the emergence of regional human rights courts such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) undermine sovereignty and thus pose a threat to democratic self-determination. I criticise the new sovereigntism and argue that transnational human rights strengthen rather than weaken democratic sovereignty, and name processes through which rights-norms are contextualised in polities ‘democratic iterations’. I develop the ‘authorship model of democratic legitimacy’ in order to show how constitutional rights and international human rights can be understood to be in harmony and dissonance with one another. The challenge is to think beyond the binarisms of the cosmopolitan versus the civic republican; democratic versus the international and transnational; democratic sovereignty versus human rights law. Distinguishing between state sovereignty and popular sovereignty enables us to do so. By constraining certain sovereign powers of the state, international human rights regimes and courts can enhance popular sovereignty in that they strengthen the rights of the marginalised and the excluded. The article also briefly touches upon the significance of the Alien Tort Statute in US courts from the standpoint of the development of international human rights norms and focuses on Hirst v the United Kingdom, recently adjudicated by the ECtHR, to substantiate the distinction between state and popular sovereignty.

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Research Article
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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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