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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
November 2023
Print publication year:
Online ISBN:
Creative Commons:
Creative Common License - CC Creative Common License - BY Creative Common License - NC
This content is Open Access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence CC-BY-NC 4.0

Book description

In recent decades, popular sovereignty has come under increasing pressure. The rise of populism, often illiberal or authoritarian, has undermined minority rights, individual autonomy, and rule of law. The expansion of international institutions and greater reliance on market and non-governmental organizations have gradually insulated large areas of policymaking from public control. In turn, these developments cast doubt on the viability and desirability of liberal democracy itself. When the People Rule argues that comprehending and responding to the political crises of our time requires a radical refocusing on popular sovereignty. Each chapter offers a fresh perspective and opens new avenues of inquiry into popular sovereignty, advancing debate over the very heart of this principle - what it means for the people to rule. Thorough and timely, this volume is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.


‘‘We, the People…’ are the beginning words of the American Constitution, perhaps ‘the’ founding document of popular sovereignty. Yet who are the People, and who decides who they are, and how? Such questions imply contested notions of identity, belonging, representation and agency. The excellent contributions to this timely volume do not shy away from controversy when pointing to the many challenges autocratic tendencies and nationalisms pose to the liberal order. The book is a ‘must-read’ for students of democracy and the future of liberalism.’

Helmut K. Anheier - Hertie School

‘This wide-ranging and timely volume argues persuasively that popular sovereignty is an essential concept for understanding political life. Drawing on an impressive variety of scholarly perspectives, the contributors show how popular sovereignty is an indispensable framework not only for analyzing the origins and evolution of modern democracies and their troubled present, but also for imagining their futures.’

Ran Halévi - Gallimard

‘When the People Rule is a refreshingly wide ranging, historically rich and conceptually sophisticated set of essays that illuminate the theory and practice of popular sovereignty. Its star cast of theorists and historians rescues the idea of self-rule from the condescension of those who regard it as an empty place holder or a purely formal concept. Instead, it focuses on how political sovereignty is made to work in different contexts through constant innovation and the actual labor of politics. Its essays shed light on many old puzzles in political theory. At the same time, it powerfully illuminates contemporary political debates over democracy and populism.’

Pratap Bhanu Mehta - Princeton University and Center for Policy Research Delhi

‘Who are The People? Should they rule? Can they? Do they? How? These are among the oldest and deepest questions in political theory. The answers offered by the erudite and provocative essays in this stellar collection set the terms for debating the most pressing issues facing democracy today.’

Josiah Ober - Stanford University

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Full book PDF

Page 1 of 2

  • When the People Rule
    pp i-i
  • SSRC Anxieties of Democracy - Series page
    pp ii-ii
  • Sponsored by the Social Science Research Council
    pp iii-iv
  • When the People Rule - Title page
    pp v-v
  • Popular Sovereignty in Theory and Practice
  • Copyright page
    pp vi-vi
  • Contents
    pp vii-viii
  • Figures
    pp ix-x
  • Notes on Contributors
    pp xi-xiv
  • Preface and Acknowledgments
    pp xv-xviii
  • Table of Cases
    pp xix-xx
  • Introduction
    pp 1-20
  • Part I
    pp 21-110
  • 1 - Plato and the Problems of Modern Politics
    pp 23-39
  • 2 - The Sovereign and the Tyrant
    pp 40-56
  • Boundaries and Violation in Oedipus
  • 3 - The Fact of Fiction
    pp 57-72
  • Popular Sovereignty as Belief and Reality
  • 4 - Thomas Hobbes and the Making of Popular Sovereignty
    pp 73-90
  • 5 - Popular Sovereignty on Trial
    pp 91-110
  • Tocqueville versus Schmitt
  • Part II
    pp 111-254
  • 7 - The Sovereign People and the Liberal Democratic State
    pp 139-157
  • 8 - Three Vignettes
    pp 158-172
  • Popular Sovereignty in French History
  • 9 - The Founding of India and Popular Sovereignty
    pp 173-188
  • 12 - Popular Sovereignty and Recognition
    pp 218-233
  • 13 - Populism, Popular Sovereignty, and Periphery
    pp 234-254
  • Part III
    pp 255-334
  • 15 - Popular Sovereignty, Populism, and Stories of Peoplehood
    pp 275-291

Page 1 of 2


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