WWS Calendar

Law-Engaged Graduate Student Seminar with Gabe Levine: Against Plebiscitary Sovereignty: Popular Will in Constitutional Theory and Practice

Dec 12, 2018 12:00PM to 01:20PM
348 Wallace Hall - LAPA Conference Room


Restricted to Princeton graduate students, faculty, and fellows
Gabe Levine, PhD candidate, Politics

Graduate students, fellows, and faculty only, please.
Each seminar features law-related papers or practice job talks presented by graduate students from many disciplines.

Gabe Levine is a second-year PhD student in Politics and a JD student (on leave) at Yale Law School. His primary interests include constitutional theory, American constitutional and political development, and the intellectual history of American environmentalism.

Précis: What would it mean for “the People” to be sovereign within a polity? Prominent constitutional theorists have argued that popular sovereignty requires the People to speak with one voice, without governmental mediation—through constitutional plebiscites, for example. In this paper, I reject that view. I argue, first, that “plebiscitary” theorists of popular sovereignty provide no way of specifying when the People should speak. Plebiscitary theories therefore cannot explain how to avoid the twin perils of pure direct democracy or Schumpeterian minimalism. I then argue, second, that even if constitutional plebiscites are useful, in some circumstances, they are unlikely to express the People’s collective will. General, empirical features of politics, likely to hold across contexts, mean that plebiscitary results will almost certainly be 1) not the People’s; 2) not collective; and 3) not acts of will, in any strong sense. I conclude by suggesting that popular sovereignty would be better understood as requiring equal popular control of officeholders.


RSVP appreciated for lunch

Contact Leslie Gerwin, lgerwin@princeton.edu

Presented by the Program in Law and Public Affairs