he crisis of the neoliberal order, which has been spectacularly displayed in the victory of Brexit and the difficulties experienced by Hillary Clinton in the US presidential election campaign, has resuscitated one of the most time-honoured of political notions: the idea of sovereignty. If the Left is to conquer post-neoliberal hegemony it has to construct […]
The crisis of the neoliberal order, which has been spectacularly displayed in the victory of Brexit and the difficulties experienced by Hillary Clinton in the US presidential election campaign, has resuscitated one of the most time-honoured of political notions: the idea of sovereignty.
Usually understood as the authority of the state to govern over its own territory, sovereignty had been thought to have been consigned to the dustbin of history in the globally interconnected world of the internet and multinational corporations. But this notion is now almost obsessively invoked by the new populist formations and leaders that have emerged on both the Left and the Right since the 2008 financial crash.
The Brexit Leave campaign with its demand to “take back control”, centred on reclaiming sovereignty away from a European Union that was accused of depriving the UK of control over its own borders. The recent decision by the High Court ruling that parliament has to vote on Brexit has led Tory politician David Davis to appeal to popular sovereignty over parliamentary sovereignty declaring that “parliament is sovereign, has been sovereign, but of course the people are sovereign”. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the US has made sovereignty its leitmotiv. He has argued that his immigration plan and his proposed overhaul of trade agreements would ensure “America’s prosperity, security, sovereignty.” In France, Marine Le Pen pronounces the word “sovereignty” on every available occasion, in the context of tirades against the EU, migration and terrorism. She has declared that this issue will be the centre-piece in her campaign to become the next president of France. In Italy the 5 Star Movement has often appealed to sovereignty, with one of his leaders, Alessandro Di Battista recently declaring that “sovereignty belongs to the People”, and that Italy should abandon the euro to regain control over its economy.
However, the question of sovereignty has not been just the preserve of right-wing and centrist formations. Demands for sovereignty have also come from the Left, a camp where this notion had for a long while been looked on with great suspicion, due its association with nationalism and territorial exclusion. In Spain, Podemos’ leader Pablo Iglesias has often described himself as a “soberanista” and has consistently adopted a patriotic discourse, appealing to Spanish history and national pride. While rejecting Brexit, Iglesias has argued that nation-states should recuperate their “sovereign capacity” within the EU. In the US, Bernie Sanders has criticized global finance and, like Donald Trump, global trade. Opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Sanders has argued that it would “undermine US sovereignty”.