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CPP Colloquium with Marco Verschoor: Democracy, Secession and the Boundary Problem

Thursday 11 February 2016
CPP Colloquia 2015-2016 & 2016-2017
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

The Center for Political Philosophy in Leiden is pleased to announce a talk by

Marco Verschoor (Leiden):  “Democracy, Secession and the Boundary Problem


This paper addresses the democratic boundary problem as it appears in disputes over secession (i.e. the act of breaking up a larger state into smaller political units). This problem concerns the decision as to who should be included in the demos when democratic decisions are made. Should the relevant constituency consist of those individuals only who wish to secede from the democratic state of which they are currently (still) members? Or should this constituency be demarcated more broadly, and if so, how much more? For example, should the constituency not only include all would-be secessionists but also all other members of the political community from which they wish to secede? Or should the constituency perhaps be expanded even further so as to encompass all human beings inhabiting the globe? The value of individual autonomy represents the key to solving this problem. Democracy is premised on a normative conception of individuals as autonomous, i.e. free and equal, individuals. According to this conception, individuals ought to be able to understand themselves as the co-authors of the coercive norms and laws to which the state subjects them. It follows that democracy’s domain, i.e. the political unit within which democracy is practiced, should include all and only those who will be coerced by its decisions. Since any answer to the question “Who will be coerced by a polity’s decisions?” presupposes an answer to the prior question “What constitutes coercion?”, I make a distinction between two theories of coercion: the success theory and the subjection theory. According to the former theory, A coerces B not to do X if and only if (1) there is coercive intent in A in the sense that A aims to make B not do X by threatening to do Y should B do X, and (2) there is coercive effect on B in the sense that (2a) B refrains from performing X and (2b) the pressure of A’s threat gives B a conclusive reason not to carry out X. According to the latter theory, an individual, B, is subject to coercion, if another individual, A, intends to make B refrain from doing X by threatening to do Y should he do X, regardless of the threat’s failure or success. I reject the success theory because it offers an incomplete picture of the realm of coercion. Instead, I accept the subjection theory and the resulting all-subjected principle for demarcating the demos. Using this principle, I argue: (1) that a state’s coercive regulation of secession is democratically legitimate if and only if it is justified by and to all individuals who are subject to it; (2) that the coercive scope of a state’s regulation of secession is universal; and (3) that this means that the democratic legitimacy of a state’s regulation of secession is dependent on its having received a global democratic justification.


Paper available on request ( d.m.mokrosinska@phil.leidenuniv.nl)

Center for Political Philosophy

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