Julius Stone Address 2021: Can the People be Sovereign? – Law School: Events Julius Stone Address 2021: Can the People be Sovereign? – Law School: Events

Julius Stone Address 2021: Can the People be Sovereign?

Julius Stone Address 2021: Can the People be Sovereign?

The Address will be delivered by Philip Pettit, Princeton University and Australian National University

The notion of sovereignty goes back to Jean Bodin, a 16th century French jurist. For him the sovereign had to be a single individual or a majoritarian committee—whether of an elite or of the whole—and had to be able to dictate the law without external, uncontracted constraint, including the constraint of previously established laws. From the late 18th century, many argued that in a representative democracy or republic the people were sovereign, although not by constituting a majoritarian committee of the whole. The claim retains currency in popular and academic circles—it is a centrepiece of populism—but has always defied reconciliation with the original definition.

The claim and the definition may both stand, however, under a conception of the people as an organization that operates, via a multitude of mutually checking channels, as a corporate agent. Those who act in the name of that corporate people may each be externally constrained by organizational checks but those checks will represent only internal constraints on the body as a whole; they will be analogous to the constraint of majoritarian voting that Bodin himself allowed. Hence the collective people, suitably organized, can be sovereign, being free to dictate law without external, uncontracted constraint.

Will that entail democracy? Alas, no. Democracy requires that within the organization of the sovereign corporate people, ordinary individuals must enjoy equal powers of a kind that corporate popular sovereignty does not ensure. It requires power for individual citizens, not just power for the collective citizenry.


About the speaker, Professor Philip Pettit

Philip Pettit A.C. is L.S.Rockefeller University Professor of Human Values at Princeton University and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Australian National University. He has worked in a range of areas, including ethical and political theory and the theory of collective and corporate agency. His recent books include Group Agency (with Christian List, OUP 2011), Just Freedom (Norton 2014), and The Birth of Ethics (OUP 2018). He gave the Tanner Lectures in Human Values in Berkeley in 2015, and the John Locke Lectures in Philosophy in Oxford 2019. He gave the Hart lecture in Law at Oxford in 2018 and in 2019 gave the Wright lecture at Toronto Law School and the Bloustein Law and Ethics Lecture at Rutgers University. Common Minds: Themes from the Philosophy of Philip Pettit appeared from OUP in 2007, edited by Geoffrey Brennan and others.


Time: 6-7.30pm

This is a free online event. 


CPD Points: 1.5


This event is hosted by the Julius Stone Institute of Jurisprudence at The University of Sydney Law School. 

The Julius Stone Address is generously sponsored by the Educational Heritage Foundation. It is named to commemorate the life and work of Professor Julius Stone, Australia’s foremost legal philosopher and for many years Challis Professor of International Law and Jurisprudence at The University of Sydney.


May 06 2021


6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

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