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Rousseau's Critique of Representative Sovereignty: Principled or Pragmatic?


  • The author would like to thank Professor Iain Hampsher-Monk and the anonymous reviewers and editor of AJPS for their instructive comments on earlier drafts of this article.


In the Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau advanced an impassioned critique of representative sovereignty, yet it is often thought that his objections were merely pragmatic and that he did not consider the question of representation to be a matter of basic political right. This article maintains, to the contrary, that Rousseau did have a principled argument against representative sovereignty and elucidates the nature and bearing of that argument by situating it in response to Hobbesian accounts of representation. Rousseau's argument is shown to have far-reaching implications, as it entails that the existence of representative sovereignty contravenes two principles central to the legitimacy of modern democratic states: the sovereignty of the people and the moral equality of the citizens.