Title of Document: ON POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY
Hsin-Hua Fan, Ph.D., 2009
Directed By: Professor Christopher W. Morris, Department of
Popular sovereignty is a frequently used concept in contemporary politics. Many states,
governments, or rulers claim to base their rule on popular sovereignty. Politicians use this
concept often in their rhetoric. When people go to polls to cast their votes or demonstrate
in the streets, they think they are exercising popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty
seems to be a well-recognized idea. However, in spite of its popularity, popular
sovereignty often appears as an ambiguous notion. Could it be a myth or a fiction without
much substance? Is it used only in political rhetoric, but has little objective reality? In his
paper “The Very Idea of Popular Sovereignty: ‘We the People’ Reconsidered,”
Christopher Morris does express skepticism about the possibility of attributing
sovereignty to “the People”.
If democracy is understood as the rule by the People and for the People, then
popular sovereignty is the foundation or essence of democracy. This implies that to
understand and justify democracy, we have to understand and justify popular sovereignty.
If we cannot understand or justify popular sovereignty, then democracy would be
problematic or impossible. Since democracy is increasingly deemed to be a universal
value, clarifying and exploring its fundamental questions is not only unavoidable, but
also important. An exact and thorough explication of the notion of popular sovereignty is
therefore necessary. A skeptical view about popular sovereignty such as Morris’s also
needs to be reconsidered.
Therefore, I aim to both construct and defend a theory of popular sovereignty.
While providing an exact and thorough explication of popular sovereignty, I will also
argue against skepticism about popular sovereignty. Specifically, there are three primary
objectives in my theory: to clarify and reshape the notion of popular sovereignty; to
discuss issues in realizing popular sovereignty; to justify the People’s right to sovereignty;
and explore the need for popular sovereignty. The general points I want to make in my
theory are: the People in any state ought to be the sovereign; popular sovereignty can not
only be understood, but can also be exercised and realized.
ON POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY
Dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Mary