Book Discussion Series 10

The Caliphate of Man: Popular Sovereignty in Modern Islamic Thought 

Andrew March


In the Caliphate of Man (2019) Andrew March argues that the case of popular sovereignty among Muslim political theorists reflects ‘a genuine intellectual revolution in modern Islamic thought’. Much like the political shifts brought to Shi’ism by Khomeini in the 1970s, March documents a similar transformation in modern Sunnism brought by Sunni political theorists. Where Sunnism once defended the rule of pious kings and scholars, now on March’s reading, it favors the rule of a just and pious people. This transformation is built on a theological claim about mankind’s status as God’s vicegerent—or caliph—on earth. Writing in the wake of the Arab uprisings of 2011, the book’s aim is to put in tension western commitments to popular sovereignty on the one hand and western anxiety for illiberal democrats or Islamists on the other. While major Islamist thinkers (namely, Hasan al-Turabi) are notably absent, the author closely reads key modern Muslim political thinkers such as Mawdudi, Qutb, Rida and others in chronological order ending on a fifty-page denouement in the work of Rachid al-Ghannouchi (b. 1941).

The book contributes to the small but growing field of comparative political theory between the west and Islamic political thought found in the work of similar authors such as, Salman Sayyid, Murad Idris, and Roxanne Euben. The book’s strength is in explicating a body of literature often marginalized by the western political canon. The book reads very well. It does not assume expertise in Islamic Studies and gives ample context and historical background. All foreign language material is translated for an English speaker in mind. Where the book does well to summarize Islamist arguments, the author does very little to critique their work. He passes in silence many arguments that are best enthymemes. Perhaps the most confusing aspect is the lack of explanation for the bewildering conclusion of the book; where the Islamist tradition, once grounded in its desire to save the Caliphate, simply turns out to be another call for liberal democracy. The reader is left to decide whether this is the product of March’s selective reading or is this in fact the case?

The Caliphate of Man is highly recommended because March does an excellent job closely reading the main Islamist thinkers of the modern period. This book will be useful for students working in comparative political theory, intellectual history and Muslim world politics.

By: M. Üveys Han (CIGA Senior Research Associate)

Constructing Global Order: Agency and Change in World Politics

Amitav Acharya


One main arguments of Acharya is that global order is traditionally conceptualized, as an extension of the European state system, and subsequently, as the by-product of an American‑led liberal hegemonic order. Furthermore, he emphasizes that many governing ideas and institutions of the post-war global order, despite originating from specific European and American context, are assumed to have a universal quality, in the sense of applying to all. Yet, in reality, they have been and continue to be contested. This book argues that efforts at achieving global order should produce a situation of “reduced conflict,” and “some degree of cooperation and stability”, including the absence of “war for survival”. For the author, the foundations of global order include a set of ideas and norms relating to sovereignty, security, development, human rights, environmental protection, etc., that help to limit conflict, induce cooperation and stability, and expand legitimacy through representation and participation. Acharya suggests that a Multiplex World is the solution for the current hegemony. For him, a Multiplex World is a decentered world, which has multiple layers of governance, including global, interregional, regional, domestic, and sub-state.

By: Fadi Zatari (CIGA Senior Research Associate)