Rediscovering Political Sovereignty

The Rebirth of French Political Philosophy

Authored by: Natalie J. Doyle

Routledge International Handbook of Contemporary Social and Political Theory

Print publication date:  March  2011
Online publication date:  March  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415548250
eBook ISBN: 9780203875575
Adobe ISBN: 9781135997946


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1975 was a significant year for French political thought. Two books signalled its rebirth after its domination by Marxism: Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish and Cornélius Castoriadis's The Imaginary Institution of Society (Foucault 1977; Castoriadis 1987). Both constructed theoretical accounts of modern power. The former attracted a following in the English-speaking world. The latter, on the other hand, inspired a reflection on democracy still informing the French contemporary debates on democracy explored in this chapter. I will show how their definition of modernity goes against some of the central assumptions of Foucault's work by situating them in a conceptual framework that highlights their limitations, how the forms of submission Foucault analysed are the perverse by-products of a wider project of liberation, that of human sovereignty. This discussion of sovereignty is distinguished by its historical perspective, specifically by its engagement with the revolutions of the eighteenth century outside Foucault's concerns. I must point out, in this respect, that all the authors discussed were at some point associated with the centre for political research created by the historian François Furet at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, Paris), in honour of the sociologist and liberal thinker, Raymond Aron, who died in 1983: a historian of the French Revolution, Furet gave the Centre de Recherches Politiques Raymond Aron a cross-disciplinary character by bringing together historians, philosophers, sociologists, and economists to reflect on the principles that inform contemporary liberal democracy through the prism of a re-interpretation of eighteenth-century history, especially of the contrast between the genesis of French and American democracy. The centre pioneered the rediscovery of a French tradition of liberalism obscured by Republicanism.

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