Sovereignty: The History of the Concept

leviathanWhat is sovereignty? In general, it might be said that the sovereignty is always either ‘internal’ or ‘external’, or de facto and de jure [1]. My primary concern in this essay will be to shed some light on the first of these – internal sovereignty. Indeed, it is entirely correct to say that sovereignty cannot be so easily labelled into two separate categories and it should be acknowledged that the ‘external’ sovereignty, in the light of the Westphalian peace treaty, could be regarded as nothing else but placing a last piece of the puzzle of sovereignty into its place – granting the internally acknowledged sovereign entity also the external recognition of its legitimacy.

John Hoffman suggests that most often, the contemporary view considers sovereignty to be a ‘unitary, indivisible and absolute power concentrated in the state’ [2]. However was it always so? If not, when did the idea of sovereignty as supreme power, as Weberian ‘monopoly on the violence in a given territory’, first appear? My suggestion will be that the concept of sovereignty in its fullness is a very modern phenomenon, whose emergence can be traced back no deeper than into the early modern period [3], but which, nevertheless, remains with us almost intact even today – still being necessarily thought of as ‘absolute and indivisible’.

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