1st Edition

Language, Democracy, and the Paradox of Constituent Power Declarations of Independence in Comparative Perspective

By Catherine Frost Copyright 2021
    192 Pages
    by Routledge

    192 Pages
    by Routledge

    In this book, Catherine Frost uses evidence and case studies to offer a re-examination of declarations of independence and the language that comprises such documents. Considered as a quintessential form of founding speech in the modern era, declarations of independence are however poorly understood as a form of expression, and no one can completely account for how they work.

    Beginning with the founding speech in the American Declaration, Frost uses insights drawn from unexpected or unlikely forms of founding in cases like Ireland and Canada to reconsider the role of time and loss in how such speech is framed. She brings the discussion up to date by looking at recent debates in Scotland, where an undeclared declaration of independence overshadows contemporary politics. Drawing on the work of Hannah Arendt and using a contextualist, comparative theory method, Frost demonstrates that the capacity for renewal through speech arises in aspects of language that operate beyond conventional performativity.

    Language, Democracy, and the Paradox of Constituent Power is an excellent resource for researchers and students of political theory, democratic theory, law, constitutionalism, and political history.

    1. The Speaking Sovereign

    2. Declarations of independence as proto-legal performatives

    3. America’s Declaration of Independence as index case

    4. Poetic prophecy in Ireland’s 1916 Proclamation of the Republic

    5. Canada’s Secession Reference and the trickiness of sovereign speech

    6. Scotland’s festival of democracy

    7. Paradox, riddles, and the Saturnalia of language

    8. Conclusion: Moving in the gap


    Catherine Frost is Associate Professor of Political Science at McMaster University, Canada. Her teaching and research interests are in political thought and history, including political community, nationalism, and collective identity, as well as communications theory, literature and new media. Her research centers on questions of representation and justice and asks how and why systems of representation are created and re-created and how this reshapes politics. Before joining McMaster, Frost held research fellowships at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, and McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and before entering academia, she served as a policy advisor in the Ontario government and a communications advisor in the private sector.

    "This is a careful and important study of the language of founding moments in modern political thought and four specific cases. It is not a study of the violence, dispossession, genocide, ecocide, racism, displacement and colonization that founding moments enact and try to conceal. Rather, it is a critical investigation of the dense labyrinth of paradoxical claims and counter-claims that the captivating language of founding generates and to which we remain captive, often without realizing it. Frost shows us how to be more self-aware of the paradoxes, disinclined to take their illusions for either truth or reconciliation, and, thereby, able to think critically."

    James Tully, Professor emeritus, University of Victoria

    "Frost’s book is a welcome and important intervention in contemporary debates about constituent power. It provides a novel way of thinking about the concept, while at the same time shedding light on its – until now largely unexplored – relationship to declarations of independence. It is a work that political and constitutional theorists, as well as contemporary constitutional lawyers, interested in founding moments will now have to take into account."

    Joel Colón-Ríos, Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington

    "Frost’s innovative approach to the problem of naming the subject of constituent power combines a deft treatment of the thorny problems of sovereignty of representation as they reveal themselves in declarations of independence with clever readings of contemporary moments of collective expression, from the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic to the prospect of declaring an independent Scotland. A book that will certainly be of interest to political theorists and legal scholars alike."

    Sarah Drews Lucas, Lecturer in Political Theory, Exeter University

    "This is a remarkable book. Amidst a every-growing number of contributions to the subject, Catherine Frost offers a radically new way of looking at the problem of constituent power which will be of interest to the students of constitution-making across disciplinary confines, and which deserves to be read by anyone interested in the role of the people in radical political transformations in general."

    Zoran Oklopcic, Carleton University