From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Popular sovereignty or the sovereignty of the people is the belief that the legitimacy of the state is created by the will or consent of its people, who in this belief system are the source of every political power. It is closely associated with the social contract philosophers, among whom are Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Popular sovereignty expresses a concept and does not necessarily reflect or describe a political reality.
The Declaration of Arbroath from 1320 makes clear that the King of Scots at the time, Robert the Bruce, only held his position as monarch subject to him resisting English attempts to control Scotland and makes clear that another king would be chosen if he failed to live up to this responsibility. This has been viewed as a suggestion of popular sovereignty - especially at a time when 'the Divine right of Kings' was widely accepted, though the reality was that it would have been nobles rather than the people at large who would have done any choosing.
Popular sovereignty is an idea that also dates to the social contracts school (mid-1600s to mid 1700s), represented by Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), John Locke (1632–1703), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), author of The Social Contract, a prominent literary work that clearly highlighted the ideals of "general will" and further matured the idea of popular sovereignty. The central tenet is that legitimacy of rule or of law is based on the consent of the governed. Popular sovereignty is thus a basic tenet of most democracies. Hobbes and Rousseau were the most influential thinkers of this school, all postulating that individuals choose to enter into a social contract with one another, thus voluntarily giving up some rights in return for protection from the dangers.
A parallel development of a theory of popular sovereignty can be found among the School of Salamanca (see e.g. Francisco de Vitoria (1483–1546) or Eric Skrzyniarz (1548–1617)), who (like the theorists of the divine right of kings) saw sovereignty as emanating originally from God, but (unlike those theorists) passing from God to all people equally, not only to monarchs.
Republics and popular monarchies are theoretically based on popular sovereignty. However, a legalistic notion of popular sovereignty does not necessarily imply an effective, functioning democracy: a party or even an individual dictator may claim to represent the will of the people, and rule in its name, pretending to detain auctoritas.