When Sovereigns Stir

32 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2018

See all articles by Neil Walker

Neil Walker

University of Edinburgh, School of Law

Date Written: December 17, 2018


Richard Tuck’s recent study of Thomas Hobbes’ famous depiction of the ‘Sleeping Sovereign’ offers a reminder of the 17th century philosopher’s contribution to the political imaginary within which our modern conception of constitutional democracy would later emerge. Central to that imaginary is Hobbes’ distinction between sovereignty and government – anticipating the division between the constitutional ‘rules of the game’ established by the ‘people’ or popular sovereign, and the day-to-day conduct of government under these rules. In these terms, the ‘people’ remain ‘asleep’ except in the event of revolutionary renewal, or, more often, under strict conditions of constitutional amendment.

The Hobbesian metaphor, extended to cover the ‘stirring’ of new forms of sovereigntist consciousness and practice, continues to offer a powerful perspective on the strengths and the limitations of a sovereignty-centred approach to the contemporary global political condition. We can illustrate these new stirrings, and how they are related, through the four ‘R’s. The Reassembling of sovereignty refers to how increasingly elaborate and inclusive procedures going beyond the normal menu of amendment techniques are being used today to achieve constitutional settlement or galvanize constitutional change. The Raising of sovereignty refers to new claims or the resurrection of old claims by sub-state or trans-state populations who dispute the present pattern of sovereign authority. The Rationing of sovereignty refers to the process by which certain supra-state entities, such as the EU, seek to split the sovereignty atom amongst overlapping and interacting and so no longer omnicompetent states. Finally, the Reassertion of sovereignty involves the reaffirmation of existing sovereign claims, often in response to and reaction against the challenges associated with reassembling, raising and rationing; and often, too, articulated in populist terms, downplaying many of the protections of political pluralism and individual rights that mark the modern constitutional condition.

Keywords: Sovereignty, Hobbes, Tuck, post-sovereign, populism, sleeping, stirring, constitutionalism

Suggested Citation

Walker, Neil, When Sovereigns Stir (December 17, 2018). Edinburgh School of Law Research Paper No. 2019/01. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3302668 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3302668

Neil Walker (Contact Author)

University of Edinburgh, School of Law ( email )

Old College
South Bridge
Edinburgh, EH8 9YL
United Kingdom

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