RPR Review of The State of Sovereignty

By Jeffrey Epstein, I just happened upon his review article “The State of Sovereignty and a Future Democratic Justice,” while looking for something else. (It came out earlier this year.) Since it a generous review, it’s a bit self-serving to say I like it, but he summarizes very well what I was trying to do:

Gratton deserves great credit for the clarity, concision, rigorous engagement with primary and secondary sources, and charitable readings he extends to each figure under consideration. His work is not a partisan broadside or a claim about which theorist is to be crowned the thinker of sovereignty; instead, he attempts to “take on the tradition” in two distinct yet inter-related ways. First, his careful explication of the historicity (e.g., Rousseau), genealogies (e.g., Foucault and Agamben), and conceptual deconstructions (e.g., Arendt and Derrida) of sovereignty provides a succinct and rich treatment of each thinker’s critique of the onto-theological underpinning of sovereign violence and mastery that continue today, thereby demonstrating one important aspect of the political and normative relevance of Continental thought to the “mainstream” tradition of political philosophy. Second, Gratton “takes on the tradition” by challenging the most common post-9/11 philosophical discourses within the Continental tradition, namely the analyses of sovereignty grounded in the “formalisms of the ‘sovereign exception’” (3). Gratton’s text is an effort to move beyond these abstract considerations of the secularized remainders of political theology and Schmittian decisionism toward concrete consideration of popular sovereignty and the illegitimate excesses of sovereign power within the democratic nation-state. Gratton is ever alert to the ways in which nativist fictions legitimize the sovereign nation-state and de-legitimize certain individuals and communities within and outside its borders. For this reason, he labors to secure a place in political theory for the various genealogies and conceptual deconstructions of sovereignty and its justificatory fictions. (276)

He ends the review by asking why I had not treated cosmopolitanism at some length in the book: “This omission leaves unexamined whether or not cosmopolitanism is simply another sovereign fiction or how a non-sovereign future might also be cosmopolitan,” mentioning the work of Seyla Benhabib and Bonnie Honig in particular (279). This raises an excellent question about a pivot towards a more “positive” non-sovereign conception of the political, and certainly even in the authors I cover, Arendt and Derrida, for example, stand out for their writings on it. I would just quickly say that the language of cosmopolitanism, I think, has been usurped by the worst elements (though I do admire Honig’s work on this) and so I’ve avoided it–the world politics we have is one of globalization and sovereigntism (however much it was once thought those were somehow in tension), and thus its use becomes a Kantian-style abstraction or vague moralizing without much teeth in the face of what needs to be confronted.