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Patrick S. O'Donnell

Thanks so much for the reply Roman. The uses and abuses of political concepts and language is an important topic and you have, in turn, raised several issues worthy of sustained address which I won't attempt to explore now but perhaps in a future post I will speak to some of them (I'll drop you a note if I do.). Incidentally, the "acquiescence" idea sounds very much like what Russell Hardin claims in the book I cite above. And while it is true that "the people" can be an historical term, we need to distinguish between analytical, explanatory, and normative tasks, at least from the perspective of political theory, which is my primary orientation and thus I would probably not view the historical evidence as decisive or determinative, in the end, for answering our normative questions (which can serve as something like 'regulative ideals'). I know, I just opened a can of worms!


There's so much to chew on here that I'm not sure where even to begin. (Thanks for the reference, by the way!)

I guess I'll start by saying that I don't see popular sovereignty as a necessary element of democracy. What I mean is that popular sovereignty is often a discourse used by those in power to sustain their power, and not necessarily to pursue or sustain democratic ends. I think Morgan's work demonstrates this nicely, as does Kramer's, although I'm not sure Kramer is as aware of it. Nevertheless, it also most certainly provides a language and a logic for those who do not hold political power to gain access to such power.

I think as we move forward it will be important (or at least interesting) to distinguish between those uses of "the people" that further democratic ends and those that do not. For example, I have suggested elsewhere that the secession of the American South was deeply rooted in ideas and practices of popular sovereignty. But I wouldn't say that secession was directed towards democratic ends (at least not in modern liberal terms).

The other thing I would say is that I'm still not convinced that this gets us closer to the question of how a group of people becomes the people. Landemore's work seems more focused on the question of why we might want collective decision-making. I get the bindingness point, and I do think it's important. But this still leaves the question of how it becomes binding.

Roger Sherman Hoar, to point to one effort to make sense of the how, thought it was the "acquiescence" of those who were not involved in the specific process of drafting the binding rules. I'm not sure I find this totally satisfying either, especially since he tried to make it a constitutional rule at some level. But it does point to something more metaphysical perhaps about the process of becoming "the people."

Finally, I would suggest that "the people" is at least as much an historical term as a trans-historical one, and that it would be useful for those of us on the historical side to examine historically many of the theoretical claims you all are exploring.

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