Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 64 (3):509-532 (2002)

Sovereignty and representation are the two concepts that legal theory is quick to regard as redundant in any account of legal authority. Sovereignty is alleged to be at odds with both the facts and the values of political pluralism; representation is, at most, a provisional substitute for participation in supra- and infra-national legal development. Antonio Negri, however, analyses sovereignty and representation as the two, closely linked, conceptual devices by which a legal order neutralizes constitutive political power. He argues that constitutionalism and institutionalism are but the contemporary guises of these traditional notions and advocates openness for the multifarious initiatives of 'the multitude' to create new societal structures. This article argues that Negri is right in his critique of, in particular, institutionalism, but that he is wrong in thinking that Lefort's position can be reduced to its simple version. In the background of Lefort's theory we should see the political analogon of Merleau-Ponty's celebrated distinction between parole parlante and parole parlée. Negri himself appears unable to avoid the appeal to questionable referents of sovereignty and representation
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