Sovereignty, the Corporate Religious, and Jurisdictional/Political Pluralism

Jean L. Cohen


We typically associate sovereignty with the modern state and presuppose the coincidence of political rule, public power, government, legitimacy and jurisdiction with territorially delimited states. We are also used to referencing liberal principles of justice, egalitarian ideals of fairness, republican conceptions of non-domination and separation of powers, and democratic ideas of popular sovereignty (democratic constitutionalism), for the standards that should constitute, guide, limit and legitimate the exercise of sovereign power. This Article addresses an important challenge to these principles: the reemergence of theories and claims to jurisdictional/political pluralism on behalf of non-state “nomos groups” within well-established liberal-democratic polities. Theories of jurisdictional political pluralism purport to account for the independent sovereign authority of the corporate religious, while providing a “postmodern,” “permeable,” “pluralist” conception of sovereignty allegedly more appropriate descriptively to twenty-first century reality and more attractive normatively, than the modern statist version. This Article analyzes and assesses these claims. It criticizes the disassociation of the sovereignty concept from publicly accountable power, challenges the displacement of rights-holders from individuals to corporate groups, and offers a different, federal alternative to anachronistic or normatively flawed modern monistic statist conceptions. My purpose is to preserve the key achievements of democratic constitutionalism and to apply them to every level on which government, power, rule, and/or domination is exercised.

Full Text: