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Beyond Empty, Conservative, and Ethereal: Pluralist Self-Determination and a Peripheral Political Imaginary


Over the last couple of years, a stream of pluralist theories of international legal order has developed at the intersection of international law and political theory, having immediate implications for conceptualizing self-determination. The understanding of self-determination under the framework of bounded, constitutional, and radical pluralism markedly departs from the previous wave of normative theories in the 1990s: self-determination is now evacuated from the field of national pluralism and struggles over territory.

This article does not question the thrust of pluralists’ recent work, but complements their critical attunement to global disparities of power, and complicates their neglect of nationalism and rejection of territorial reconfigurations as self-determination's core meaning. In doing so, it unearths two visions that come from the (semi-)periphery of the international political order. The first belongs to Edvard Kardelj, pre-eminent Yugoslav theorist of socialist self-management and the Non-Aligned Movement. The second belongs to Leopold Sédar Senghor, the poet and politician, advocate of négritude, a proponent of French West African integration, and a constitutional advocate for the reconfiguration – not abolition – of the French Union, the heir to the French Empire. While they are suspicious of extensive territorial reconstruction, like contemporary pluralists, unlike them they have seen a role for territorial reconfigurations in the name of national plurality.

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1 Roth B., Sovereign Equality and Moral Disagreement: Premises of a Pluralist International Legal Order (2011).

2 Cohen J., Globalization and Sovereignty: Rethinking Legality, Legitimacy and Constitutionalism (2012).

3 Krisch N., Beyond Constitutionalism: The Pluralist Structure of Postnational Law (2010).

4 My qualification of self-determination as ‘territorial’ is deliberate if somewhat idiosyncratic. It straddles the binary of ‘external’ and ‘internal’ self-determination, ‘principle’ and ‘right’, and ‘ethnic’ and ‘civic’ self-determination. Qualified this way, it hopefully enables me to capture different phenomena that appear on the register of left politics, which escape the simple divide between an ‘independent’ statehood and mere political participation, between the invocation of an ethnic nation and a territorially defined people. Equally, it enables me to commensurate self-determination in practice with theoretical approaches that do not make much use of the categories deployed in international law. When I speak of ‘self-determination’ in the remainder of the article I will be referring to its ‘territorial’ variant.

5 For the liberal pluralist vision see generally Kymlicka W., ‘Western Political Theory and Ethnic Relations in Eastern Europe’, in Kymlicka W. and Opalski M. (eds.), Can Liberal Pluralism Be Exported? Western Political Theory and Ethnic Relations in Eastern Europe (2001).

6 MacCormick N., Questioning Sovereignty: Law, State and Nation in the European Commonwealth (1999), 167 and passim.

7 Roth, supra note 1, at 81 and passim.

8 Y. Tamir, Liberal Nationalism (1995), 36 and passim.

9 Roth, supra note 1, at 100.

11 Ibid., at 182.

12 Ibid., at 186.

13 Ibid., at 199.

14 Cohen, supra note 2, at 227.

15 Ibid., at 17 and 243 respectively.

16 Ibid., at 312.

17 Ibid., at 81.

18 Ibid., at 146.

19 Ibid., at 79 and 259 respectively.

20 Krisch, supra note 3, at 101.

21 Ibid., at 83.

22 Emerson R., Self-Determination Revisited in the Era of Decolonization (1964), 1.

23 Ibid., at 25.

24 Bassom K. E., Edvard Kardelj and the Pluralism of Self-Managing Interests (1989), 217.

26 Kardelj E., ‘Points of Departure for a Socialist and Democratic Policy in International Relations’, in Kardelj E., Yugoslavia in International Relations and Non-Alignment (1978), 222 at 29.

27 Ibid., at 27.

28 Kardelj, ‘The Historical Roots of Non-Alignment’, in Kardelj, supra note 26, at 165.

29 Ibid., at 187.

30 Kardelj, ‘The National Question and the Policy of Non-Alignment’, in Kardelj, supra note 26, at 112.

31 Kardelj, supra note 28, at 147.

33 Kardelj, supra note 28, at 185.

35 Tripković Đ., ‘Kardelj-Hariman: Šta posle Tita’, (2011) 29 (2)Istorija 20. veka 173, at 185.

37 Roth, supra note 1, at 14.

39 Kardelj E., ‘Self-Management and Non-Alignment’, in Kardelj E., Yugoslavia in International Relations and Non-Alignment (1978), 222.

40 E. Kardelj, ‘Remarks during Discussion in the Plenary Session of the Tenth Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, Belgrade, May 27, 1974’, in Kardelj, supra note 26, at 140.

41 McCullock M., ‘Polyvalent Federalism: Johannes Althusius to Edvard Kardelj and Titoism’, in Ward L. and Ward A. (eds.), Ashgate Research Companion to Federalism (2009), 331.

42 E. Kardelj, ‘The Historical Roots of Non-Alignment’ in Kardelj, supra note 26, at 178.

43 E. Kardelj (Sperans), Razvoj slovenačkog nacionalnog pitanja (treće, pregledano i dopunjeno izdanje) (1988), xxxii–xxxiii (translation mine).

44 E. Kardelj, ‘The Federation and the Republics: Speech to the National Assembly, 20 September 1962’, in The Nations and Nationalism (1981), at 137–40, quoted from Jović D., ‘Yugoslavism and Yugoslav Communism: From Tito to Kardelj’, in Djokić D. (ed.), Yugoslavism: Histories of a Failed Idea 1918–1992 (2003), 168.

45 For an example of the use of Kardelj's account of self-determination for the purposes of creating an independent liberal-democratic Slovenia, see Jambrek P., ‘Pravica do samoodločbe slovenskega naroda’ quoted from D. Jović, ‘Fear of Becoming Minority as a Motivator of Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia’, (2001) 5 Balkanologie, available at

46 Jović, supra note 44, at 165.

47 Orford A., Reading Humanitarian Intervention: Human Rights and the Use of Force in International Law (2003), 13.

48 See ‘Osnovna načela’ (Basic principles), Ustav SFRJ (1974) (Constitution of SFRY) available online: For an extended discussion see also Hayden R., Blueprint for a House Divided: Constitutional Logic of the Yugoslav Conflicts (1999).

49 Samardzic S., ‘Yugoslav Federalism: Unsuccessful Model of a Multinational Community’, (1996) 6 International Review of Sociology: Revue internationale de sociologie 249, at 252.

50 For a description of the variety of French West African views on ‘African Socialism’ see Mohan J., ‘Varieties of African Socialism’, (1966) 3 Socialist Register 220.

51 Jones E., ‘Diallo and Senghor as Interpreters of the New French Africa’, (1948) 21 (6)French Review 444, at 449.

52 Senghor L., On African Socialism (1964), 107.

54 Markovitz I., Leopold Sédar Senghor and the Politics of Negritude (1969), 89.

55 S. Diagne, ‘Négritude’ (2010), in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available at

58 Cooper F., ‘Alternatives to Empire: France and Africa after World War II’, in Howland D. and White L. (eds.), The State of Sovereignty: Territories, Laws, Populations (2009), 97.

60 Ibid., at 98.

61 Marshall B., French Colonial Myth and Constitution-Making in the Fourth Republic (1973), 216.

62 Ibid., at 215.

63 Lewis J., ‘The MRP and the Genesis of the French Union’, (1998) 12 French History 276, at 284.

64 Marshall, supra note 61, at 229.

65 Ibid., at 230.

66 Cooper, supra note 58, at 102.

67 Marshall, supra note 61, at 231.

68 Dechamps H., The French Union: History, Institutions, Reality (1956), 96.

69 Ibid., at 96.

70 Ibid., at 97.

71 Ibid., at 102.

72 Ibid., at 103.

73 Ibid., at 97.

74 This yielded some important legislative victories: the labour code of 1952 guaranteed equal pay and equal benefits for equal work, the 40-hour week and paid vacations for all workers, and the right to unionize and strike irrespective of race, religion, or origins.

75 Keese A., ‘Quelques Satisfactions d'Amour-propre”: African Elite Integration, the Loi-cadre, and Involuntary Decolonization of French Tropical Africa’, (2003) 27 Itinerario 33, at 36.

76 Cooper, supra note 58, at 109.

77 Markovitz, supra note 54, at 80.

78 Levine V., ‘Political-Cultural Schizophrenia in Francophone Africa’, in Mowoe I. and Bjornson R. (eds.), Africa and the West: The Legacies of Empire (1986), 156.

79 Markovitz, supra note 54, at 94–7.

80 Cooper F., ‘Alternatives to Nationalism in French Africa, 1945–60’, in Dülffer J. and Frey M. (eds.), Elites and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century (2011), 110 at 117.

81 Ibid., at 113.

82 Summers J., Peoples and International Law: How the Right of Self-Determination and Nationalism Shape a Contemporary Law of Nations (2007), 68.

83 Al Attar M. and Miller R., ‘Towards an Emancipatory International Law: The Bolivarian Reconstruction’, (2010) 31 (3)Third World Quarterly 347, 353.

84 Not all voices in contemporary international legal debates share that opinion. See Wheatley S., ‘A Democratic Rule of International Law’, (2011) 22 EJIL 525, at 541, for an opinion that the ‘all-affected-interests’ principle is inapplicable beyond a nation-state.

85 Abizadeh A., ‘Democratic Theory and Border Coercion: No Right to Unilaterally Control Your Own Borders’, (2008) 35 Political Theory 37, 51.

86 Agné H., ‘Why Democracy Must Be Global: Self-Founding and Democratic Intervention’, (2010) 2 International Theory 381, 389.

87 Smith R., ‘The Principle of Constituted Identities and the Obligation to Include’, (2008) 1 (3)Ethics & Global Politics 139, at 149; Dahl R., After the Revolution? Authority in a Good Society (1970), 67.

88 Mazrui A., ‘On Poet-Presidents and Philosopher-Kings’ (1990) 21 (2)Research in African Literatures 13, at 18.

89 MacCormick, supra note 6, at 56.

90 Gupta A., ‘The Song of the Nonaligned World: Transnational Identities and Reinscription of Space in Late Capitalism’, (1992) 7 (1)Cultural Anthropology 63, for an account of the germs of such a ‘transcontinental’ affective political community. I thank Luis Eslava for this reference.

91 Cohen, supra note 2, at 99.

92 Cohen, supra note 2.

93 Krisch, supra note 3, at 305 and 306 respectively.

94 Roth, supra note 1, at 163.

95 Ibid. For a deeper critique of Roth's project that challenges his understanding of political violence see Parfitt R., ‘B. R. Roth. Sovereign Equality and Moral Disagreement: Premises of a Pluralist International Legal Order’, (2012) 23 EJIL 1175 (book review).

96 To approve these territorial reconfigurations in the name of ‘self-determination’, however, will be difficult both because of the lack of grounding in the doctrine (as argued by Roth), and because there are other tropes, such as ‘affected interests’ that emerged from Krisch's radical pluralism, that complicate the idea of straightforward self-determination of a specific group.

* Assistant Professor, Department of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University []. The first version of this paper was presented at the International Law and the Periphery conference in Cairo in February 2012. I wish to thank the participants at the conference for their comments. The article has also greatly profited from stimulating conversations with Amy Bartholomew, Luis Eslava, Rose Parfitt, Neil Sargent, and Adrian Smith. I am also indebted to Helena Kolozetti, Ingo Venzke, and two anonymous reviewers for their incisive remarks. The mistakes remain only mine.

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