Sièyes and Marx in Paris

  • Stanislas RichardEmail author


Work occupies a central place in most people’s lives, yet a secondary one in most of political philosophy. This article attempts to show the negative theoretical consequences of this neglect by taking the example of the concept of constituent power as it appears in the writings of Emmanuel Joseph Sièyes and Karl Marx. Both authors conceived it as made up of the working classes. This, however, makes them both run into the same paradox: how to politically represent a class that is characterised by a non-political activity – work? I argue that neither of them gives a satisfactory response since both rely on an implausible account of objective class interests based on fragile grounds. I conclude by showing that the political representation of workers is a theoretical and practical problem that the concept of constituent power is unable to resolve.


Marx Sièyes Constituent power Work Representation 



Thanks to Janos Kis, Nenad Dimitrijevic, Bruno Leipold and two anonymous referees for helpful written comments on earlier drafts, as well as audiences at MANCEPT and POLEMO for helpful discussions.


  1. Andrew, E. (1983) Class in itself and class against capital: Karl Marx and his classifiers. Canadian Journal of Political Science 16(03): 577–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arneson, R. (1993) On democracy at the national and workplace levels. In: J.E. Hampton, D. Copp and J. Roemer (eds.) The Idea of Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 118–148.Google Scholar
  3. Brenkert, G.G. (1979) Freedom and private property in Marx. Philosophy & Public Affairs 8(2): 122–147.Google Scholar
  4. Briggs, R. (2000) From the German forest to civil society: The Frankish myth and the ancient constitution in France. In: Civil Histories: Essays Presented to Sir Keith Thomas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 231–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cohen, G.A. (1978) Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. D’Alix. (2012) Dictionnaire de la Commune et des Communeux. Paris: Hachette Livre BNF.Google Scholar
  7. Ellis, H. (1988) Boulainvilliers and the French Monarchy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Faure, C. (2008) Sieyes, Rousseau et la theorie du contrat. In: P.-Y. Quiviger (ed.) Figures de Sieyes. Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne.Google Scholar
  9. Goldoni, M. (2012) At the origins of constitutional review: Sieyès’ constitutional jury and the taming of constituent power. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 32(2): 211–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hart, D.M. et al (eds.) (2018) Social Class and State Power: Exploring an Alternative Radical Tradition. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  11. Hobbes, T. (1991) Leviathan. Edited by R. Tuck. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Hobbes, T. (1998) On the Citizen. Edited by R. Tuck. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Hont, I. (1994) The permanent crisis of a divided mankind: “Contemporary crisis of the nation state” in historical perspective. Political Studies 42: 166–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Huemer, M. (2013) The Problem of Political Authority. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Isaac, J.C. (1990) The lion’s skin of politics: Marx on republicanism. Polity 22(3): 461–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kalyvas, A. (2005) Popular sovereignty, democracy, and the constituent power. Constellations 12(2): 223–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Katz, C.J. (1992) Marx on the peasantry: Class in itself or class in struggle? Review of Politics 54(1): 50–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kelly, D. (2004) Carl Schmitt’s political theory of representation. Journal of the History of Ideas 65(1): 113–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kelly, D. (2017) Carl Schmitt’s political theory of dictatorship. In: O. Simons and J. Meierhenrich (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Carl Schmitt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Kis, J. (2013) Popular sovereignty: The classical doctrine and a revised account. In: E. Peruzzotti and M. Piot (eds.) Critical Theory and Democracy. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 81–108.Google Scholar
  21. Locke, J. (1960) Two Treatises of Government. Edited by P. Laslett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Long, R.T. (2016) Remembering the Paris Commune, Bleeding Heart Libertarians., accessed 13 December 2018.
  23. Loughlin, M. (2014) The concept of constituent power. European Journal of Political Theory 13(2): 218–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Loughlin, M. (2017) On constituent power. In: M.W. Dowdle and M.A. Wilkinson (eds.) Constitutionalism Beyond Liberalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 151–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Del Lucchese, F. (2016) Spinoza and constituent power. Contemporary Political Theory 15(2):182–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Macpherson, C.B. (1962) Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  27. Marx, K. (1968) The Civil War in France. New York: International publishers.Google Scholar
  28. Marx, K. (1976) Capital. Volume 1. Markham: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  29. Marx, K. (1981) Capital. Volume 3. Markham: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  30. Marx, K. (1984) Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Moscow: Progress Publishers.Google Scholar
  31. Marx, K. and Engels, F. (2010a) Marx and Engels Collected Works. Volume 20, Marx and Engels, 1864–1868. London: Lawrence & Wishart.Google Scholar
  32. Marx, K. and Engels, F. (2010b) Marx and Engels Collected Works. Volume 23, K. Marx and F. Engels, 1871–1874. London: Lawrence & Wishart.Google Scholar
  33. Marx, K. and Engels, F. (2010c) Marx and Engels Collected Works. Volume 46, Letters, 1880–1883. London: Lawrence & Wishart.Google Scholar
  34. Marx, K. and Engels, F. (2010d) Marx and Engels Collected Works. Volume 6, K. Marx and F. Engels, 1845–1848. London: Lawrence & Wishart.Google Scholar
  35. Michnik, A. (2007) The ultras of moral revolution. Daedalus 136(1): 67–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pasquino, P. (1987) Emmanuel Sièyes, Benjamin Constant et le « gouvernement des modernes . Contribution à l’histoire du concept de représentation politique. Revue française de science politique 37(2): 214–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pettit, P. (2005) Liberty and leviathan. Politics, Philosophy & Economics 4(1): 131–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pitkin, H. (1972) The Concept of Representation. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  39. Proudhon, P.-J. (2011) Property Is Theft!: A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology. Edited by I. McKay. Edinburgh and Baltimore: AK Press.Google Scholar
  40. Quiviger, P.-Y. (2015) Sièyes et le clergé. Noesis 24–25: 12–26.Google Scholar
  41. Roberts, W.C. (2017) Marx’s Inferno. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Pres.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ross, K. (2015) Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune. London, New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  43. Rubinelli, L. (2016) How to think beyond sovereignty: On Sièyes and constituent power. European Journal of Political Theory 18(1): 47–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schmitt, C. (1988) The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. Edited by E. Kennedy (trans.). Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  45. Schmitt, C. (2008) Constitutional Theory. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sewell, W.H.J. (1994) A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution: The Abbe Sièyes and What Is the Third Estate?. Durham and London: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sièyes, E.-J. (2002) Qu’est-ce que le Tiers état?. Paris: Éditions du Boucher.Google Scholar
  48. Sieyes, E.-J. (2003a) Essay on privilege. In: M. Sonenscher (ed.) Political Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett, pp. 68–92.Google Scholar
  49. Sièyes, E.-J. (2003b) Views of the executive means. In: M. Sonenscher (ed.) Political Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett, pp. 1–68.Google Scholar
  50. Sièyes, E.-J. (2003c) What is the third estate? In: M. Sonenscher (ed.) Political Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett, pp. 92–163.Google Scholar
  51. Smith, A. (1993) An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Edited by K. Sutherland. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Sommerer, E. (2011) Le Contractualisme Revolutionnaire de Sièyes. Revue Française d’Histoire des Idées Politique 33: 5–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Vrousalis, N. (2018) Council communism and the socialization dilemma. In: J. Muldoon (ed.) Council Democracy: Theorising Boundaries Between the Political and Economic. London: Routledge, pp. 1–20.Google Scholar
  54. Wood, A.W. (2014) Marx on equality. In: Allen Wood (ed.) The Free Development of Each: Studies on Freedom, Right, and Ethics in Classical German Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 253–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceCentral European UniversityBudapestHungary

Personalised recommendations