The Attack on Sovereignty: Liberalism and Democracy in Hayek, Foucault, and Lefort

Political Theory 49 (4):662-685 (2021)
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Abstract

This essay examines and challenges some of the theoretical arguments of the neoliberal attack on the concept of popular sovereignty. I argue that in order to resist both the neoliberal reaction against popular power and the subsequent resurgence of populist rhetoric, we need to rework the concept of popular sovereignty. I focus on three groups of texts written in the early years of the neoliberal shift—namely, from the mid-1970s to early 1980s—which deal with the question of sovereignty: Hayek’s Law, Legislation and Liberty; Foucault’s works of the late 1970s; and Lefort’s reflections on the symbolic dimension of power. While Hayek and Foucault defend similar views on sovereignty and argue that it is or should be replaced by technics of management, Lefort proposes a de-essentialized conception of democracy based on redefining sovereignty as the possibility of continually refiguring the space of power.

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