Urgent History: The Sovereignty Debates and Political Theory’s Lost Voices

Jeannie Morefield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


This article argues for the recovery and re-incorporation of lost voices and debates into the history of political thought by focusing on the issue of sovereignty. It begins by examining why such a narrow understanding of the canon has come to dominate the sub-discipline and argues for critical approaches that treat the past as a “contested terrain” rather than an unfolding plot. It then turns to early twentieth-century Britain as an example of an era when thinkers who have been largely forgotten by today’s political theorists argued loudly about the future of state sovereignty. It next focuses on a 1916 exchange of essays entitled “The Nature of the State in View of Its External Relations” by Delisle Burns, Bertrand Russell, and G.D.H. Cole, as an example of some of the most innovative and radical ideas to emerge from the period. The article concludes by arguing that re-engaging the work of these forgotten thinkers can broaden our conceptual horizons about sovereignty, speak to some of the most urgent issues of our time, and force open the concept of “the political” to radical reinterpretation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-191
Number of pages27
JournalPolitical Theory
Issue number2
Early online date24 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • Historical inquiry
  • sovereignty
  • international relations
  • pluralism
  • empire
  • James Tully
  • Wendy Brown
  • Carl Schmitt
  • Bertrand Russell
  • G. D. H. Cole


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