Popular Sovereignty and Political Will

Free Seminar with Prof Peter Hallward

This event has now concluded.

The MSCP is proud to host a seminar by Peter Hallward, Professor of Modern European Philosophy at Kingston University, London. Professor Hallward will speak about his most recent research project on 'Popular Sovereignty and Political Will'. Professor Hallward will be joined by Dr Mark Kelly (WSU), Dr Jessica Whyte (WSU), Dr Jon Roffe (UNSW), Dr Nicholas Heron (UQ) and Dr Robert Boncardo and Bryan Cooke (MSCP) who will each respond to aspects of Professor Hallward's presentation. The day will finish with questions and general discussion.

University of Melbourne Law School
Room: PAR-Law-102 (Theatre)

Date and Time
Saturday, 23 July 2016
9.30am – 4.30pm

'Popular Sovereignty and Political Will'

Democracy is an empty word unless it implies the power of ordinary people to prevail over any form of privileged interest or ruling class. Sovereign power commands compliance, and its essence is classically, and helpfully, understood as an exercise of political will. Here as elsewhere, to will the end is to will the means: to affirm popular sovereignty is then to affirm a capacity to overcome (rather than merely endure or resist) the obstacles that might block the realisation of 'the people's will'. This general capacity, in turn, depends on several mutually reinforcing collective abilities or powers, in particular capacities for assembly, education, deliberation, organisation, resolution, and imposition.

By thus approaching the notoriously ambiguous concepts of both 'people' and 'will' the one through the other, I hope to show how both terms, and their conjunction, still deserve a central place in our theoretical repertoire. In order to flesh out this account of democratic political will, I will draw on fragments of canonical texts by Rousseau and Marx, and on the quasi-voluntarist accounts of political agency and capacity advanced by figures like Robespierre, Blanqui, and Gramsci.

Peter Hallward’s publications include:

  • Absolutely Postcolonial: Writing Between the Singular and the Specific, Manchester University Press. 2001
  • Badiou: A Subject to Truth, University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
  • Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, Verso, 2006.
  • Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment, Verso, 2007.
  • Concept and Form Vol 1 & 2, (ed.) with Knox Peden, Verso, 2012.
  • Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, Continuum, 2004.

Schedule (Abstracts Below)

9.30 Welcome etc.

9.45 Prof Peter Hallward

10.45 Break

11.00 Dr Mark Kelly

11.40 Dr Nicholas Heron

12.20 Lunch

1.15 Dr Jessica Whyte

1.45 Dr Jon Roffe

2. 25 Dr Robert Boncardo & Bryan Cooke

3.05 Break

3.30 Hallward replies

3.50. Questions

4.45 Close



1. Thinking Hallward with Foucault
Mark Kelly

In this talk, I take up Hallward’s claim that there is a lacuna in contemporary philosophy around the will, a claim endorsed explicitly by Foucault himself, and try to think how Hallwardian collective will can be understood in terms of Foucault’s conception of power. I will argue that what Hallward thematises as ‘will’ can be understood as a form of self-conscious counter-power. I will however raise questions about the precise relation of such a collective will to individual wills, to individual consciousness and intention.


2. Conceptions of the “people”.
Nicholas Heron

For Peter Hallward, Rousseau, with his central concept of the general will, is the paradigmatic thinker of popular sovereignty. But he is also, and precisely because of this, the paradigmatic thinker of the distinction between sovereignty and government. This paper will examine how Rousseau’s conception of popular sovereignty effectively necessitates his recuperation of the sovereignty/government distinction from the absolutist tradition he seeks to contest, and inquire whether the two paradigms in fact entail two distinct conceptions of the “people”, with different genealogies.


3. Friedrich Hayek and the Neoliberal Privatization of the Will.
Jessica Whyte

"The most fundamental modern political choice," Peter Hallward argues, "is between empowerment or disempowerment of the will of the people." In this paper, I aim to clarify the contemporary stakes of this choice through an examination of Friedrich Hayek’s attempt to disempower the will of the people—or in his words, to “dethrone politics.” A central tenet of Hayek’s social theory is that conscious volition plays a minor role in human history, and the proper comportment in the face of the opacity of the processes that shape our lives is submission. Far from simply seeking to break the will, Hayek’s thought (like contemporary neoliberal ideology) is marked by an over-valuation of the privatized individual will at the expense of the capacity of collective volition to re-shape the economic and social order. In this context, I argue that Hallward’s affirmation of the priority of the will over determination risks giving support to the neoliberal mantra that each individual is responsible for her own fate. Today, it is necessary to rethink the relation between individual and collective forms of volition. Genuine self-determination requires not only voluntarism but also a cognitive attempt to render visible those structures of domination and exploitation that limit possibilities for action.


4. The will beyond voluntarism: A Deleuzean account of political agency
Jon Roffe (and Sean Bowden)

Peter Hallward’s 2006 Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation concludes with the assertion that Deleuze’s philosophy does not and cannot provide any resources for meaningfully thinking agency, let alone political agency. In this paper, we would like to assert not merely that this is incorrect – that Deleuze presents us with just such resources – but that his account of the will is viable where Hallward’s voluntarist account is not. 


5. Fidelity to Politics, Fidelity to the Party: Badiou Between Voluntarism and Determinism
Robert Boncardo & Bryan Cooke

While recognizing the contribution Alain Badiou has made to contemporary conceptions of communist politics, Peter Hallward has recently argued that he fails to provide an adequate theory of political organisation beyond the constitution of tiny vanguards that are as impotent as they are pure. In contrast, Hallward maintains that any consequent theory of the will must conceive of it as not only general but as generalisable, that is, as implying the capacity for assembly, deliberation and the actual implementation of a common program on a scale large enough to pose a real egalitarian challenge to an inegalitarian social order. In this paper, we will argue that Badiou makes an indispensable intervention into any future theory of political organisation through his account of the tension between fidelity to politics and fidelity to the party. We will follow Badiou in acknowledging terror as the ineluctable concomitant to the fraternity any organisation must strive to preserve. At the same time, we will also follow him in recognizing the necessarily generic orientation of politics, from which it follows that while terror may be an indispensable condition for political cohesion, it cannot be the origin and end of a procedure whose aim is generic universality. As a corollary to this, we will show how Badiou draws on a dialectics of scission to sublate the opposition between the voluntarism Hallward rightly says is required in politics, and the fact that the freedom of the will always emerges because of, and not despite, its determination.