Plebeian Theories of Sovereignty

This paper discusses sovereignty through the lens of radical republican theory, which is premised on the socio-ontological divide between the powerful few and the plebeian many, on the fundamental distrust of elites and the popular power to resist their domination. It surveys the constitutional ideas of Machiavelli and Condorcet and analyzes how their conception of plebeian sovereignty contributes to our understanding of the crisis of representative democracy and the erosion of institutions. While for Machiavelli the plebs were the ultimate guardians of liberty, having the final say on law and punishment as a check on oligarchic power, for Condorcet the sovereign was the common people gathered in a network of local assemblies, empowered to exercise veto, initiative, and constituent power to keep the republic free from systemic corruption.