Constituent Power, Violence and Sovereignty

Stream: Panel 18 - Political Theory: Constituent Power
Date: Monday, 26 September 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm
Speaker(s): Dimitris Vardoulakis

Constituent power can be understood from the perspective of violence. The state, in its instituted form, or what can be called constituted power, changes when it is (violently) challenged by constituent power. In the context of the French Revolution, when the concept of constituent power was first explicitly, developed this violence was explicitly bloody, but in modern times it can be understood also as various forms of resistance to power. In either case, the crucial point is that violence establishes a circle whereby constituent power changes constituted and thereby metamorphoses itself into constituted power, only for constituent power sooner or later to challenge this new form again. But how can one distinguish constituent power from the absoluteness of sovereignty, whose exercise of violence relies on a similar circle? It seems only a petitio principii to say that one is productive and the other conservative, since the success of constituent power collapses that distinction. And if the circularity of violence and power that characterizes both constituent power and sovereignty are ultimately hard to distinguish, then constituent power may appear as nothing but another ephemeral manifestation of sovereignty. This paper poses the question: Is it possible to conceive of a way to disrupt this vicious circle of sovereignty? And if so, what happens to the concept of constituent power?