Sovereignty, RIP Don Herzog

Publication date:
23 Jun 2020
Yale University Press
320 pages: 210 x 140 x 27mm
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Has the concept of sovereignty outlived its usefulness?

SSocial order requires a sovereign: an actor with unlimited, undivided, and unaccountable authority. Or so the classic theory says. But without noticing, we’ve gutted the theory. Constitutionalism limits state authority. Federalism divides it. The rule of law holds it accountable. In vivid historical detail—with millions tortured and slaughtered in Europe, a king put on trial for his life, journalists groaning at idiotic complaints about the League of Nations, and much more—Don Herzog charts both the political struggles that forged sovereignty and the ones that undid it. He argues that it’s no longer a helpful guide to our legal and political problems, but a pernicious bit of confusion. It’s time, past time, to retire sovereignty.

Don Herzog is the Edson R. Sunderland Professor of Law at the University of Michigan. His many books include Defaming the Dead, Household Politics, and Cunning.

“[A] thorough and convincing demolition of the classic theory of sovereignty, with a fresh look at concrete historical and political struggles illustrating its sure demise”—Jessica Shurson, Modern Law Review [Journal]

“In his characteristically bravura style, Don Herzog combines history, logic, and withering wit to argue not just that we’ve gotten sovereignty wrong all these years, but that the very idea has passed its expiration date. Sovereignty, RIP is poised to upend the conversation about one of the key terms of modern political life.”—Sophia Rosenfeld, author of Democracy and Truth: A Short History

"Don Herzog has written a brilliant book that we all must read immediately. He demonstrates in clear, precise, and witty prose, chock-full of telling historical examples, that the notion of sovereignty as unlimited, undivided, and unaccountable is long past its sell-by date and has become 'a threat to social order.'"—Steven Pincus, University of Chicago