Let me start by expressing my gratitude to the editors of the Verfassung blog and to the contributors to this debate. When I was writing the book, the very idea of it being read sent me into a panic. It still does today, but I am lucky to have found generous and insightful readers in Peter Niesen, Carlos Pérez Crespo, Markus Patberg and Esther Neuhann. Their comments raise both general methodological points and specific historical questions about the chapters. I will try to answer them in turn: I will first engage with the methodological critiques and I will then move to interpretative questions about the story I tell in the book, its protagonists and their historical contexts.
The main aim of the book is, as I see it, to explain how the idea of constituent power has been used to make sense of the democratic principle according to which power belongs to the people. [...] Continue reading >>
In her book Constituent Power: A History (2020), Lucia Rubinelli aims to provide a history of the “language” or, more precisely, the “words ‘constituent power’” (14). She narrates this impressive history along five historical key moments, from Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès to Hannah Arendt.
In the following, I will, first, comment on the methodology Rubinelli adopts throughout the book and, second, focus on the fifth historical moment “Arendt and the French Revolution” (Chapter 5). In this chapter, Rubinelli reconstructs Arendt’s critique of “sovereignty as a theoretical category and as a principle of political organization” (177) and her suggestion to replace it with ‘constituent power’. It is an original contribution of the book to show that Arendt’s argument is in line with the sense in which Sieyès originally put forward ‘constituent power’ – although Arendt herself framed it as a critique of Sieyès which, according to Rubinelli, is rooted in her inaccurate reading of Sieyès through Carl Schmitt. Continue reading >>
In these brief remarks, I reflect on Rubinelli’s interpretation and critique of what is going on in contemporary theoretical debates about constituent power. What I want to argue is that while her reconstruction of classical positions is highly illuminating and takes our understanding of constituent power’s complex history to a new level, we risk underestimating the ideas in play if we regard them, as Rubinelli suggests we should, as “contingent” (p. 29) and therefore equally valid. Continue reading >>
In this comment, I engage with Chapter 3 of Lucia Rubinelli's book, which is an essential contribution to the study of constituent power in the Weimar Republic and the reception of this idea in the work of the controversial jurist Carl Schmitt (1888-1985). My thoughts are organized into two sections. In the first, I summarize Rubinelli's reading of Schmitt’s understanding of constituent power in Weimar. My main criticism concerns Rubinelli’s reading of the arbitrary character of constituent power in Schmitt, which in my view insufficiently reflects Schmitt's distinction between dictatorship and despotism. In the second part, I turn to the historical transition of constituent power that Rubinelli detects between the 19th-century French lawyers and the Weimar Republic. I point out that there is a missing link in Rubinelli's history of Schmitt's constituent power: the dialogue between the languages of German state theory (Staatslehre) and French public law (Droit Public) in the early 20th century. Continue reading >>
The research question of 'Constituent Power. A History' is framed in the book‘s introduction as a critical mission in intellectual history, as Rubinelli identifies a major confusion in recent works on the historiography of political thought. A small industry has sprung up in recent years to backdate the advent of constituent power to the middle ages and even to antiquity. Authors claim to have discovered an employment of the concept in texts dating back to before the term became historically available in Emmanuel Sieyès. Rubinelli is surely right to castigate the anachromisms involved, and referring to Aristotle, Marsilius or Machiavelli, Bodin, Spinoza or Hobbes as early adapters to a timeless concept of constituent power seems misguided, but perhaps for other than her stated methodological reason, that we need to attend to the usage of the term because there is no determinate and stable concept of constituent power. Continue reading >>
Lucia Rubinelli’s book Constituent Power. A History (Cambridge 2020) is a major contribution to democratic thought, in both method and substance. This Verfassungsblog symposium in the context of the Hamburg DFG-funded project „Reclaiming Constituent Power“ (319145390) arises from a shared interest in the subject matter of the book, the democratic reading of the fundamental lawmaking power of the people, as well as from a shared interest in the authors identified as relevant. The comments are devoted to the successive chapters of the book, on Emmanuel Sieyès (Peter Niesen on chap. 1), on French droit publique and Carl Schmitt (Carlos Perez on chap. 2-3), on the post-WW II lawyers such as Mortati and Böckenförde (Markus Patberg on chap. 4), and on Hannah Arendt (Esther Lea Neuhann on chap. 5). Continue reading >>