This groundbreaking study sets out to clarify one of the most influential but least studied of all political concepts.
Despite continual talk of popular sovereignty, the idea of the people has been neglected by political theorists who have been deterred by its vagueness.
Margaret Canovan argues that it deserves serious analysis, and that it's many ambiguities point to unresolved political issues. The book begins by charting the conflicting meanings of the people, especially in Anglo-American usage, and traces the concept's development from the ancient populus Romanus to the present day. The book's main purpose is, however, to analyse the political issues signalled by the people's ambiguities.
In the remaining chapters, Margaret Canovan considers their theoretical and practical aspects: Where are the people's boundaries?
Is people equivalent to nation, and how is it related to humanity - people in general? Populists aim to 'give power back to the people'; how is populism related to democracy? How can the sovereign people be an immortal collective body, but at the same time be us as individuals?
Can we ever see that sovereign people in action? Political myths surround the figure of the people and help to explain its influence; should the people itself be regarded as fictional? This original and accessible study sheds a fresh light on debates about popular sovereignty, and will be an important resource for students and scholars of political theory.