Sovereignty and Reason

The theory and practice of state and popular sovereignty continue to structure the experiences of instability and order, force and politics, suffering and redemption, persecution and justice, death and life, ownership and distribution, exclusion and belonging, power and resistance, war and peace, oppression and freedom, humiliation and recognition, ignorance and knowledge, discrimination and equality, particularism and universalism, and more. State and popular sovereignty were never absolute in practice, even when they were thought of as such in theory. Therefore, and in a fundamental way, it is not a choice whether in the future sovereignty will be absolute or not. It will not. The real question is whether the future of state and popular sovereignty will be predominantly shaped by universalizable moral and institutional considerations or by private interests and morally opaque/resistant social processes. This presentation will focus on this fundamental question and on the type of legal theory it calls for.

Prof. Barrozo's evolving reflections on sovereignty and reason are anchored on a general interpretation of modern legal thought developed in The Great Alliance: History, Reason, and Will in Modern Law. It is available for download here:

The core ideas of his paper will be further developed into a chapter of the Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Legal Thought and his forthcoming book Law as Moral Imagination.

Paulo Barrozo is an Associate Professor of Law at Boston College Law School. His scholarship focuses on general legal theory and on the philosophy of international law, constitutional law, and criminal law. Before joining Boston College Law School, Professor Barrozo was a Lecturer in social thought at Harvard University, where he was an eleven-time recipient of the Derek Bok Distinction in Teaching Award and the first recipient of the annual Stanley Hoffman Prize for Excellence in Teaching.