Our first objective is to investigate ancient Greek attempts to reconcile democracy with a mixed system of government as pursued from Thucydides to Aristotle, and then to examine the effort to reconcile the sovereignty of the people with prevailing ideas of political justice in Roman political thought. Our next objective is to trace the Roman legacy through the republicanism of the Italian city-states of the late middle ages, and then to examine its subsequent adaptation through a succession of early modern thinkers including Bodin, Hobbes and Rousseau. A further objective of the network will be to explore debates about the relationship between the sovereignty of the people and the institutions of representative government in the revolutionary decades of the 1770s and 1780s in America and France, before studying the reemergence of popular sovereignty in the controversies that surrounded nineteenth-century nationalism. Claims to popular sovereignty stood at the centre of twentieth-century political disputes as attempts were made to reconcile the will of the people with the institution of the rule of law. Accordingly, our next objective will be to consider the contest between populism and constitutionalism in Weimar Germany, and then to conclude with an investigation of the role played by the idea of self-determination in anti-imperial thought down to the 1940s.


The historical work of the network culminates in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, but the project is designed to improve our understanding of the impact of ideas about popular sovereignty on contemporary disputes over such issues as political union and secession, federalism and devolution, political power and popular consent, and legitimacy within the international order. The findings of the network will have concrete applications to issues of major concern in public life. The primary benefits of our research lie in its direct implications for thinking about such contentious issues as the meaning of a ‘democratic deficit’ within the European Union, about the responsibilityof representative regimes to the demands of their electorates, and about the rights of political intervention in states deemed to lack a truly popular sovereign. In reconstructing the process whereby the supreme will of the people secured its ascendancy in modern democratic thought, we will be employing interdisciplinary research to develop an innovative account of a major theme in our political and intellectual history.