The People's Two Powers:
Public Opinion and Popular Sovereignty from Rousseau to Liberal Democracy
Book Manuscript. Under Review.
Here's an overview of the argument of the book. A table of contents is available for consultation here.
Feel free to contact me if you want to read parts of the manuscript.
In contemporary public discourse and political theory, public opinion and popular sovereignty are considered two core concepts of democracy. At the same time, we are often confused about each notion. This book seeks to dissipate some of that confusion by returning to the perspectives of key democratic and liberal thinkers.
The book's story starts with Rousseau, who introduced the distinction between public opinion and popular sovereignty into our political vocabulary. Rousseau saw them as two distinct manifestations of popular power beyond elections. Popular sovereignty beyond elections was expressed through voting mechanisms (i.e., referenda) and had legally binding consequences on elected officials. By contrast, public opinion was a power of influence, expressed through petitions and associations, which, although politically important, was not legally coercive upon government.
The book chapters chart how, during the Revolution and its aftermath in France – a crucial period for the development of the vocabulary and practice of democratic and liberal thought – influential political actors, including Condorcet, Robespierre, Napoleon Bonaparte, Pierre-Louis Roederer, Benjamin Constant, and Tocqueville, reinterpreted the distinction between the people's two powers in various ways amid shifting political circumstances.
The book is driven by the conviction that when we identify public opinion and popular sovereignty as two distinct expressions of extra-electoral power, we gain a renewed historical perspective on the genesis of modern democratic thought during the French Revolutionary era. Subsequently, we learn how liberalism took shape in reaction to this development in France, and how and why the term “liberal democracy” was first coined in that country in the 1860s. As the book's conclusion suggests, the account of the people’s two powers which this regime originally encompassed still shapes some accounts of liberal democracy today.
Claude Nicolas Ledoux, Coup d'oeil du théâtre de Besançon (1804).