The Sovereign Awakened

A Radical Democratic View on Protest

in Democratic Theory
Oliver MarchartProfessor, University of Vienna, Austria

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This article contrasts the liberal idea of a “sleeping sovereign” with the democratic one of a “sovereign awakened.” The right to protest is defended as an expression of popular sovereignty, envisaged as a right to popular “self-awakening” instigated by an imperative call of duty not reducible to a set of liberal individual rights. In contrast to some approaches of agonistic democracy, it is argued that democratically breaking the rules of the game of liberal democracy is an indispensable dimension of democratic protest. Taking into account Étienne Balibar’s thoughts about a rule-breaking right to have rights, it is suggested we revisit the French Constitution of 1793, in which a popular duty to insurrection is enshrined. The article ends with the proposal to supplement insurrectionary accounts of sovereignty with a Gramscian view that would insist on the necessity of hegemonically constructing a democratic “collective will.”

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