Sovereignty: theory and practice | Political economics

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he events that have been unfolding for several months in Pakistan have raised the question: to what extent does the country meet the criterion set for sovereign states?

Our compromised ability to make meaningful choices places Pakistan in the category of satellite states except for a few years under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Sovereignty is a political concept that refers to dominant power or supreme authority. In a monarchy, the supreme power belongs to the sovereign or the king. The concept of sovereignty is arguably one of the most controversial ideas in political science and international law. It is closely linked to the difficult concepts of state and government, independence and democracy.

Sovereignty, or the general will, is inalienable, because the will cannot be transmitted; it is indivisible since it is essentially general; it is infallible and always just, determined and limited in its power by the common interest; he acts by laws. comes from latin superanus, speak French sovereigntythe term was originally understood to mean the equivalent of supreme power.

In the 16e Century France, Jean Bodin (1530-1596) used the new concept of sovereignty to strengthen the power of the King of France over rebellious feudal lords, facilitating the transition from feudalism to nationalism. He was a jurist and political philosopher, member of the Parliament of Paris and professor of law in Toulouse.

A careful reading of Bodin’s writings has pointed out that even with regard to their subjects, sovereigns are bound to observe certain fundamental rules derived from divine law, the law of nature or reason, and the law common to all nations (gentium juice), as well as the basic laws of the state that determine who is sovereign, who succeeds to sovereignty, and what limits sovereign power.

Thus, the sovereign of Bodin was limited by the constitutional law of the state and by the superior law which was considered binding on every human being. The thinker who did most to give the term its modern meaning was the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who argued that in every true state some person or group of people must have ultimate authority and absolute to declare the right. Dividing this authority, in his view, was essentially destroying the unity of the state.

The theories of English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) and French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) – that the state is based on a formal or informal pact of its citizens, a social contract by which they entrust to a government the powers necessary for the common protection – led to the development of the doctrine of popular sovereignty which found expression in the American Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Another twist was given to this concept by the provision enshrined in the French Constitution of 1791 according to which “sovereignty is one, indivisible, inalienable and imprescriptible; it belongs to the Nation; no group can claim sovereignty nor an individual can arrogate it”. In the 19th century, the English jurist John Austin (1790-1859) developed the concept by researching who exercises sovereignty on behalf of the people or the state. He concluded that sovereignty belongs to a nation’s parliament. A parliament, he argued, is a supreme body that makes laws binding on all but is not itself bound by laws and can change those laws at will.

In modern democracies, sovereign power belongs to the people and is exercised by representative bodies, such as Congress or Parliament. In other words, sovereignty is the ultimate power, authority and/or jurisdiction over a people and territory. No other person, group, tribe or state can tell a sovereign entity what to do with their land and/or people.

An example of an internal sovereign is Louis XIV of France in the 17th century, who claimed he was the state. Jean-Jacques Rousseau rejected such monarchical rule in favor of another type of authority in a sovereign state: public sovereignty.

Four elements are vital for sovereignty. They are: (1) population, (2) territory, (3) government, (4) independence. The first two elements form the physical or material basis of the state while the last two form its political and spiritual basis. Sovereign power is eternal and has unlimited powers. Sovereignty is above the law and is not regulated by law. It is for this quality that the State can legislate.

The principle of sovereignty, previously applied to a very limited number of European states. The resulting system of international relations became universal. The principle of the sovereign equality of States was enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and has become the cornerstone of the international legal system. After the creation of the United Nations, the world moved from the old system, in which sovereignty was limited by the law of force, to a new one which limited the use of force against sovereign states. Born in Europe, the idea of ​​sovereignty, which implies the independence of states and their mutual irresponsibility, finally reached the colonial possessions of European powers and took root there.

The supremacy of the Westphalian political system rested on the economic and military preeminence of the European powers. When Philadelphia’s alternative system (based on the principle of the confederation of North American states) collapsed, it was left without rivals. In the 20th century, the Westphalian system embraced the whole world in the form of the League of Nations, the very first international organization with 65 members (all existing states except the United States and Saudi Arabia were members ).

Its successor, the United Nations, born after the Second World War (in 1945), had a broader scope than the League of Nations. Currently, it has 191 members.

The main limitations on a state’s sovereignty include constitutional provisions, public opinion, membership in international organizations and international law. The sovereignty of a State is also limited if another State uses force to interfere in its internal affairs in order to settle internal conflicts there. The United States is the most striking example of such interference, perpetrated directly or through multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Another form of interference passes through the metropolitan bourgeoisie. This is how neo-colonialism is perpetuated.


The author is a professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts, National University Beaconhouse, Lahore

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