It has become almost banal to argue that we live in a globalized world in which the traditional institutions of public policy and power – state, government, citizenship, democracy, etc. – no longer mean what they once did. Much research has been devoted to the analysis of the problems that globalization has brought about, but in the urgency to find practical solutions to social ills less attention has been paid to the conceptual framework within which the affected institutions have been thought and understood. Are those frameworks appropriate anymore? Indeed, have the concepts with which political and legal institutions are commonly understood ever been valid currency?
The project at hand, hosted by the Faculty of Law at the University of Helsinki, and funded by the Swedish-Finnish Cultural Foundation and the Kone Foundation, suggests that this is doubtful. The conceptual frameworks relevant to state, government, citizenship and democracy (etc.) have traditionally been inferred from a juridical paradigm that this proposal calls ‘statist’. The statist paradigm is a postulate, originally developed in the legal sciences in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that conceptualizes the state through the epistemological fiction of legal personhood: the state is a legal entity capable of both enjoying rights and carrying obligations. The statist paradigm both justifies and delimits the power exercised by the state and defines the role of individuals as subjects and political actors. In other words, the statist paradigm is the cornerstone on which political life is conceptualized. The fiction of legal personhood and the consequent statist paradigm have always been predominant in the discourse of international law, but they also continue to dominate the more general debates concerning states and the power that they exercise.
The project proposes to rethink the statist paradigm through a radically revised constitutional theory, radical both in its scientific aspirations and its political implications. It aims to expose the fundamental theoretical shortcomings of a juridical ‘statism’ that has continued to dominate constitutional debates even after real-life changes in the policies of states and governments should have convinced us otherwise. The project continues to propose a new paradigm, a political constitutional theory, more fit for contemporary times.
The first stage of the work of the project resulted in the publication of an edited volume The Contemporary Relevance of Carl Schmitt: Law, Politics, Theology (eds. Matilda Arvidsson, Leila Brännström & Panu Minkkinen, Routledge 2016). In the second stage, the project will distance itself from proper names and focus more thematically on issues that have come up so far. Taking especially into account the current political climate in Europe, our key themes will include, among others, popular sovereignty, the ’people’ as a constituent power, and radical democracy.
The second stage revolved around a symposium entitled ‘The People’: Democracy, Populism, and the Constituent Popular Sovereign which was arranged in Helsinki in June 2017 with keynote speakers Christa Davis Acampora (Hunter College, CUNY, USA), Bonnie Honig (Brown University, USA), and Hans Lindahl (Tilburg University, the Netherlands). An edited collection is under preparation.