This groundbreaking study sets out to clarify one of the most influential but least studied of all political concepts. Despite continual talk of popular sovereignty, the idea of the people has been neglected by political theorists who have been deterred by its vagueness. Margaret Canovan argues that it deserves serious analysis, and that its many ambiguities point to unresolved political issues.
The book begins by charting the conflicting meanings of the people, especially in Anglo-American usage, and traces the concept's development from the ancient populus Romanus to the present day.
The book's main purpose is, however, to analyse the political issues signalled by the people's ambiguities:
- "Where are the people's boundaries? Is people equivalent to nation, and how is it related to humanity – people in general?
- "Populists aim to ‘give power back to the people'; how is populism related to democracy?
- "How can the sovereign people be an immortal collective body, but at the same time be us as individuals? Can we ever see that sovereign people in action?
- "Political myths surround the figure of the people and help to explain its influence; should the people itself be regarded as fictional?
This original and accessible study sheds a fresh light on debates about popular sovereignty, and will be an important resource for students and scholars of political theory.
Table of Contents
- Identifying the people
- The sovereign people in action and in myth
- `The People` and its past
- Prelude in Rome : the people in action
- The people in reserve: from shadow to substance
- Civil War to American Revolution: the English people in rebellion
- We the People: the American Revolution and its significance
- Popular sovereignty and Parliamentary reform in nineteenth-century Britain
- Popular government and the people
- Ourselves and others – people, nation and humanity
- People and nation
- Peoples and people
- Part and whole – people, populism and democracy
- The Common People
- Populism in contemporary liberal democracies
- Identifying populism
- Populism, democracy and the people
- We the sovereign people
- Can popular sovereignty be understood?
- Can popular sovereignty be exercised?
- Myths of the sovereign people
- Myths of the people
- The people as a fiction
- The people as myth and political reality
“"The People" are invoked or assumed by much political theory and practice, yet the concept rarely attracts sustained analysis in its own right. Canovan's study fills this lacuna. As she notes, appeals to "the people" rarely resolve political disputes for all too often disagreement over what "the people" means lies at their heart. Consequently, taking the people seriously proves frustrating for those looking for clear solutions to political problems, but is inescapable for all that.”
— Professor Richard Bellamy, Academic Director ECPR, Co-editor CRISPP, Department of Government, University of Essex
“'An immensely useful volume. Canovan does a superb job of transforming "the people" from a cliché into an important object of moral and political analysis.”
— Bernard Yack, Lerman-Neubauer Professor of Democracy, Brandeis University