The Paradox of Sovereignty: Authority, Constitution, and Political Boundaries
Whitt, Matt Spencer
This dissertation clarifies a tension within the modern ideals of sovereignty that inform the contemporary state system. On one hand, sovereignty is idealized as a kind of authority that constitutes the collective subject over which it is exercised. On the other hand, sovereignty is idealized as a kind of political authority that emanates from the very collective subject that it would constitute. This subject, ‘the people’, is construed as both the precondition for, and artifact of, sovereign authority. This paradoxical circularity has historically been hidden by appeals to territoriality as a fixed criterion of political community and democratic inclusion. The constitution of ‘the people’, in other words, is construed as objectively given by the apparently natural or pre-political boundaries of geographic territory. This appeal to purportedly pre-political boundaries can undermine genuinely democratic self-determination, as well as inquiry into the justice or legitimacy of political constitution itself. In order to criticize this type of purportedly pre-political closure, I draw upon recent work in democratic theory to clarify the fundamental contestability of sovereign acts of constitution and boundary setting.