Thomas L Lowish

PhD Candidate

Early Modern Europe


I study the field of governance in the early modern world, in particular the legal and political philosophy of this period. Through a case study of Catherine II, my dissertation attempts to apply the concept of sovereignty to Russia in the eighteenth century. It asks how the conceptualization and the functioning of power relate to the early modern doctrine of sovereignty. The work reconsiders Catherine's engagement in western political and legal thought, notably through Montesquieu and William Blackstone. It is the first work to look specifically at Catherine's 'theory of sovereignty' in the Nakaz, the most important work of political philosophy in Russia in the eighteenth century. Further chapters address other crucial aspects of sovereignty — the field of command-giving, lawmaking, and the body of the sovereign. The dissertation concludes with a comparison of Catherine's ideas on political power with those of the peasant rebel Yemelyan Pugachev, who led the largest popular uprising of the period, masquerading as her deceased husband, Peter III.

Upon completion of this current work, I am planning an in-depth study of how Enlightenment thinkers in the eighteenth century further developed a distinction between de jure and de facto authority. This line, which involved a separation of sovereign and despotic power, brought them into conflict with a formidable opponent, the seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, who glossed over this distinction. In addition to clarifying an important line of thinking about sovereignty in the eighteenth century, this work will take the discussion in two new directions: the place of sovereignty in the Enlightenment's understanding of the historical development of human societies, and the connection between religion and different forms of political power.