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
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
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
- 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
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.