We fear that the growing threat of violent attack has upset the
balance between existential concepts of political power, which
emphasize security, and traditional notions of constitutional
limits meant to protect civil liberties. We worry that
constitutional states cannot, during a time of war, terror, and
extreme crisis, maintain legality and preserve civil rights and
freedoms. David Williams Bates allays these concerns by revisiting
the theoretical origins of the modern constitutional state, which,
he argues, recognized and made room for tensions among law, war,
and the social order.
We traditionally associate the Enlightenment with the taming of
absolutist sovereign power through the establishment of a legal
state based on the rights of individuals. In his critical
rereading, Bates shows instead that Enlightenment thinkers
conceived of political autonomy in a systematic, theoretical way.
Focusing on the nature of foundational violence, war, and
existential crises, eighteenth-century thinkers understood law and
constitutional order not as constraints on political power but as
the logical implication of that primordial force. Returning to the
origin stories that informed the beginnings of political community,
Bates reclaims the idea of law, warfare, and the social order as
intertwining elements subject to complex historical development.
Following an analysis of seminal works by seventeenth-century
natural-law theorists, Bates reviews the major canonical thinkers
of constitutional theory (Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau) from
the perspective of existential security and sovereign power.
Countering Carl Schmitt's influential notion of the autonomy of the
political, Bates demonstrates that Enlightenment thinkers
understood the autonomous political sphere as a space of law
protecting individuals according to their political status, not as
mere members of a historically contingent social order.
Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy
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