Critical Dialogues: On Sovereignty and Other Political Delusions

Carmen E. Pavel, King’s College London
Carmen Pavel

Joan Cocks’s book On Sovereignty and Other Political Delusions encourages us to disavow the treacherous language and practice of sovereign power. She questions adeptly what my book takes for granted: that there is some value in sovereign authority. Our books pursue different targets, but we share a concern with the oppressive, destructive power of the state, whose perceived legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens and outsiders gives it the power to steamroll over masses of people in the name of self-determination or national interest. And we both seek to challenge the concept of sovereignty as it was handed down from those who first imagined it as an unmovable, fixed building block of our universe.

In some ways, Joan Cocks has her sights set much higher. Whereas I seek to constrain sovereign power to render it truer to its promise of protecting the citizens’ most basic rights, Cocks recommends a complete decoupling of political autonomy and sovereign power. The book is structured into three chapters. The first is a wide-ranging reflection on the contested nature of political concepts, and sovereignty especially. The second chapter underlines the foundational violence that accompanies projects of sovereign creation by focusing on the crimes committed against native peoples by the new United States as it became independent from British rule. The final chapter discusses the complicated and ongoing struggle between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs set in motion by the birth of the Israeli state.

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Perspectives on Politics / Volume 14 / Issue 01 / March 2016, pp 193-195
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016