The State of Sovereignty

Lessons from the Political Fictions of Modernity

By Peter Gratton

Subjects: Political Theory, Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary French Thought
Paperback : 9781438437842, 299 pages, January 2013
Hardcover : 9781438437859, 299 pages, June 2012

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Table of contents

The Vase of Soissons and the Lessons of Sovereignty
The Noble Thesis and the Ends of Pagan Sovereignty
Where Sovereignty Lies Today
1. Rousseau and the Right of Life and Death over the Body Politic
The State of Sovereignty after the Social Contract
Contracting the Sovereign
Lessons from “L’artifice et le jeu” of Sovereignty
Men and Citizens, Life and Death
The Sovereign Pardon
2. Arendt’s Archaeology of Sovereignty
The Fragmented Past and The Future of the Political
Beginning Again: The Archē of the Political
Finding a Home in the Political
3. “The World is at Stake”: Sovereignty and the Right to Have Rights
Sovereign Totalitarianism
The Rise of the Nation-State
Policing the State
4. Torturing Sovereignty: Foucault’s Regicide in Theory
Genealogies in the Multiple
Sovereign Madness
Histories of the State of Sovereignty
The Rise of the Nation-State
Bio-political Sovereignty
Foucault, Schmitt, and “the King Who Rules but Does not Govern”
Beyond the Sovereign Decision
Sovereign Freedom, or Freedom from Sovereignty
5. What More Is There to Say? Agamben and the Hyperbole of Sovereignty
The Sacrifice of History
Homo Sacer: The Significance of Words
From Homo Sacer to Vir Sacer
The Glory of Another Sovereignty
Sovereign Relations
Last Words: The Language of Sovereignty and Noo-Politics
The Hyperbole that Remains
6. Derrida and the Limits of Sovereignty’s Reason: Freedom, Equality, but Not Fraternity
Le Tres Haut of Mount Moriah
Freedom, Equality, but Not Fraternity

Considers the problems of sovereignty through the work of Rousseau, Arendt, Foucault, Agamben, and Derrida.


Following up on the fables and stories surrounding political sovereignty—once theological, now often nationalist—Peter Gratton's The State of Sovereignty takes aim at the central concepts surrounding the post-9/11 political environment. Against those content to conceptualize what has been called the "sovereign exception," Gratton argues that sovereignty underwent profound changes during modernity, changes tracked by Rousseau, Arendt, Foucault, Agamben, and Derrida. Each of these thinkers investigated the "fictions" and "illusions" of claims to sovereign omnipotence, while outlining what would become the preeminent problems of racism, nationalism, and biopower. Gratton illustrates the principal claims that tie these philosophers together and, more importantly, what lessons they offer, perhaps in spite of themselves, for those thinking about the future of politics. His innovative readings will open new ground for new and longtime readers of these philosophers alike, while confronting how their critiques of sovereignty reshape our conceptions of identity, freedom, and selfhood. The result not only fills a long-standing need for an up-to-date analysis of the concept of sovereignty but is also a tour de force engaging readers in the most important political and philosophical questions today.

Peter Gratton is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the coeditor (with John Panteleimon Manoussakis) of Traversing the Imaginary: Richard Kearney and the Postmodern Challenge.


"Gratton's methodological rigour in reconstructing each pathway is a great strength of the book … This is a very pedagogical book, full of lessons in the way it treats each of the authors under discussion. It is therefore a good graduate student text, and for each discussed author the book makes significant contributions to current scholarship." — Philosophy in Review

"Drawing on eminent thinkers including Boulainvilliers, Rousseau, Arendt, Foucault, Agamben, and Derrida, Gratton … provides a novel synthesis. He concludes that for those who believe in freedom and democracy, questioning rather than resigning to sovereignty as it presents itself is essential. The book reflects some of Gratton's earlier published work and further attests to his facility with French political thought … Gratton's discussion overall is penetrable and stimulating." — CHOICE