Editors: Bas Leijssenaar and Neil Walker
Publisher: Cambridge University Press – 236 pages
Book Review by: Sonu Chandiram

The editors and authors of this book discuss the question of whether the idea and the reality of sovereignty is growing or declining. More and more new nations have emerged during the past several decades. At the same time, alliances of nations have also formed, particularly in Africa, Asia, South America, and most notably in Europe.

This book is a product of the 10 authors of its chapters including the editors, after they participated in a conference entitled Images of Sovereignty held in June 2017 at KU Leuven.

They presented versions of their papers in the context of a research project: “Sovereignty in the Belgian Constitution: Its 1831 Meaning and Its Implications for Citizen Participation Today.”

The ten specialists on sovereignty and related subjects from six countries – Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States – authored the following nine chapters of this book:

Introduction: Sovereignty in Action

  1. Part I – Theory in History
  2. Post-Sovereignty?
  3. When Sovereigns Stir
  4. The People as Popular Manifestation
  5. Sovereignty, Action, Autonomy
  6. Part II – History of Theory
  7. Liberal Governmentality and the Political Theology of Constitutionalism
  8. Popular Sovereignty: The People’s Two Bodies
  9. Nations against the People: Whose Sovereign Power
  10. A Positive or Negative Conception of Sovereignty
  11. Political Idolatry; The Relation of Schmidt’s Two Claims in Political Theology

The editors Bas Leijssenaar and Neil Walker begin this book by asserting in the Introduction that once again, as in the past, sovereignty – commonly believed to be the right of a people with a common history to govern themselves – is under pressure.

They write: “Sovereignty is the ‘boomerang’ concept of Western legal and political thought. For all the best efforts of scholars, politicians, lawyers and citizens to consign it to oblivion, sovereignty always returns, typically with a vengeance.”

In recent decades, groups of nations have formed, such as the European Union, in an effort to experiment whether single, united actions by a multinational organization could result in better economic benefits or returns for all member nations, rather than with each nation working solely for its own betterment.

Not long after, Britain’s people wanted to go their own way and voted to be separate themselves from the pack. This decision called ‘Brexit’ however still remains controversial and is being debated in the country’s parliament. Can you guess what will be the final outcome?

Perhaps  Leijssenaar and Neil Walker were alluding to Brexit when they wrote:

“Unsurprisingly then, despite the recent intensification of supranational and transnational patterns of legal and political authority, once believed to be one more – and perhaps final – nail in sovereignty’s coffin, we stand at yet another critical juncture, with sovereignty flying back in our faces.”

What you will glean from reading about the various ideas discussed in this book, as I did, is that the reality and the outward manifestations of sovereignty are changing, with no clue as to what will be the political natures of various nations in say, fifty years from now. Your guess on future reality could be as good, worse, or better than mine. This brings us back to the often-repeated truism: the only thing constant in life is change.

This is a very valuable book. It’s important because politics influences economics: the most prosperous nations have great political systems.



Bas Leijssenasar works at the Centre for Ethics Social and Political Philosophy at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, abbreviated KU Leuven. This is a research university in the Dutch-speaking town of Leuven in Flanders, Belgium, with roots from the 15th century.

His research is focused on the theories of sovereignty and constituent power in nineteenth century and contemporary debates. The aim of his PhD project, funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) is to develop a pluralist conception of constituent power. He is one of four founding members of the Constituent Power Network an international research network dedicated to the study of constituent power from interdisciplinary perspectives…


Neil Walker holds the Regius Chair of Public Law and the Law of Nature and Nations at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. His main area of expertise is constitutional theory. He has published extensively on the constitutional dimension of legal order at substate, state, supranational and global levels.

He was Professor of European Law at European University Institute in Florence (2000-2006) and has held various visiting appointments. His most recent books include Intimations of Global Law (2015) and The Scottish Independence Referendum: Constitutional and Political Implications (co-edited with Aileen McHarg, Tom Mullen, and Allan Paige, 2016).