Robert Cover as a radical democrat

Maxim Van Asseldonk* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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The political philosophy of radical democracy has made innumerable invaluable contributions to theories of democracy. However, while radical democrats tend to focus on the political, a cogent and comprehensive framework of law appropriate to radical democracy has only recently been begun to be developed. Interpreting the vast tradition of radical democracy to be based at least on the fundamental tenets of radical equality, anti-foundationalism, and to a lesser
extent conflict, this paper argues that the oft-forgotten work of the American legal philosopher Robert Cover may provide critical resources for a radical democratic theory of law. According to Cover, every agent living under law is embedded, or embeds themselves, within a nomos or normative universe. From this nomos legal texts become imbued with widely different meanings, many of which will be mutually incompatible. Cover’s legal anarchism, moreover, gives way to the argument that no agent or institution has a particularly privileged view of the ‘correct’ law. Accordingly, every legal texts gives rise to a proliferation of normative universes which due to their mutual incompatibility will eventually come into conflict with one another. This paper shows that Cover’s normative commitments are highly congruent with those professed by many radical democrats, and that therefore Cover’s legal philosophy furnishes a fruitful basis on which to further theorise a framework of radical democratic or agonistic law that incorporates struggle while remaining committed to equality and disavowing of any determinate foundations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-205
Number of pages21
JournalLaw and Critique
Issue number2
Early online date16 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research & Innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 754326.


  • radical democracy
  • Robert Cover
  • agonism
  • law and democracy
  • Nomos


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