Some men have suggested that sovereignty resides in the people. This is a general or abstract proposition, [and] when one wants to apply it to history, or in history, one finds that the people have never been and never can be sovereign: for where would the subjects be if the people were sovereign? If one wants sovereignty to reside in the people, in the sense that it possesses the right to make laws, one finds that no part of the people has made laws, that it is likewise impossible that a people would make laws, and that it never has done, and that it is not able to do anything other than adopt the laws made by a man called for this reason, legislator: and yet, to adopt laws made by a man is to obey; and to obey is not to be sovereign, but a subject, and perhaps a slave.~ Louis de Bonald, Theorie du Pouvoir

Louis de Bonald’s political theory is a valuable challenge to the stock opinions that American conservatives have held about the role of “the people” (or even the existence of “the people” as a political reality) in government, and I believe that his very simple attention to the meaning of the word sovereignty unravels a number of apparently knotty theoretical problems about the source of legitimacy in government and the ‘location’ of sovereignty.

The translation is my own, taken from a citation in Jacques Alibert’s Les triangles d’or d’une societe catholique. I apologise for any errors that may have crept into the translation; I have endeavoured to be both accurate and to make it as intelligible as possible.