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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Beauty of European languages

By the title I do not want to express any ‘ethnophilic’ sentiment towards the languages of the old continent, I merely want to point out to the document  recently published by Brussels Studies and reported *here* by an excellent weblog A Fistful of Euros. The Brussels Studies’ document considers an interesting trend that recently appeared in Brussels, and by extension, in Belgium as such; English is becoming the city’s lingua franca and Dutch and French are only the second and the third most spoken language, respectively.

This trend might not be unexpected, as the similar development might be seen in Europe at large, yet the question whether this is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ still remains. First, ‘good or bad’ from which perspective? The whole continent being able to communicate in one language seems to be something we all desire – the idea is that people and statesmen would be able to better understand each other and many issues of our social life would be much faster to solve as the necessity to translate from one language to another would almost diminish. Thus, our beloved politicians would be able to better cooperate (and a sceptic might add, deceive), people themselves might become more benevolent and englishunderstanding to their other European neighbours, pro-European socialists would be happy that this would promote a sense of belonging to the ‘society Europe’ as such and they would have free hands to fully employ their welfare-policies at large.

‘Utility’ of having European lingua franca (or lingua britannica as suggests A Fistful of Euros) evidently seems to never end. I fully accept this and I also fully embrace the necessity to have a language, or languages, which are understood by all people in Europe, especially when taking the further integration of the Union in mind. Yet, one has to ask a question whether people are only simple automatons choosing their actions and considering ‘the best choice’ only in terms of efficiency and utility, as many liberals thinkers and economists suggest. To consider the embrace of a language which would be spoken by all European peoples as ‘a good thing’ only because its undeniable utility – that is, that it would make the operation of the Union more efficient – is, I believe, a mistake. Even more, it is an abstract kind of thinking that reduces individuals to automatons as mentioned above.

To understand this, one has to ask: ‘what is this language?’ First of all, a language is not only a means of communication, it is not only some ‘utility’ to use to get other goods. A language also contains a part of its people’s thinking – its history, its myths, its way of life (consider for instance various colloquial terms which are used in one language and compare them to another – you might even encounter such that would be completely incomprehensible without knowing the content – without living in that particular country!) and it has a substantial socializing effect on every child, which through learning a language also forms an understanding what he or she is – what is the child’s place in this large world, what happened in his or hers country before and what had an impact on his or hers surroundings and family the most. One’s mother tongue is simply not ‘a tool of communication’ – it is a part of the identity ‘me.’ My language is a part of what I am, and to start to speak in a second, or a third language, does not simply mean to find an equivalent for a word in my mother tongue to that in a foreign language, but to also find in what context this word is being used, what history the word has behind it. A seemingly innocent world ‘leader’ is, as everyone knows, directly translated to German as ‘führer,’ which has obviously much more livid images associated to it than its English counterpart.

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Carl Schmitt, Aristotle and the concept of the political

schmittCarl Schmitt, besides being one of the thinkers of the ‘conservative revolution’ of the interwar Germany, was also notoriously infamous for being a ‘Hitler’s jurist,’ thus one of those important intellectuals who provided the necessary legal framework for the brutish Nazi regime. Yet, our world is seldom such that individuals can be so simply categorized as ‘good’ or ‘evil,’ and Carl Schmitt, has an interesting concept of the political which might give, and gives, contemporary political students and academics a completely new perspective on the sphere of politics.

Indeed, what is politics and its area of interest – the political? I might well continue by countless common definitions like ‘the political is what concerns the state,’ or I might mention the argument of many radical feminists or some of the scholars as Colin Hay (2002, pp. 69) who suggest that ‘everything has the potential to become political’ – even what was considered to be solely a domain of the ‘private’ – as was a few years ago shown in the infamous ‘fox hunting case’ in Britain.

Thus, the ‘classical’ definition of the political perceives politics as an arena – as Politics with the capital ‘P’ (by equating politics with places where is politics being created ~ usually the state, the government. However, many scholars including the ‘communitarians’ Charles Taylor, Michael Walker, Michael Sandel and Alasdair MacIntyre would certainly argue that politics is today also, or even primarily, created outside the national borders of the state – for instance in INGOs, QUANGOs, TNCs and in economic and financial organizations associated with them such as WTO or Bretton Woods institutions). Nevertheless, the second, ‘less traditional’ definition of politics perceives it as a process. When conceived as a process, in terms of application of power, or as of ‘transformatory capacity’ as Anthony Giddens formulates (1981), politics has the potential to emerge in every social location.

Colin Hay specifies:

‘Power … is about context-shaping, about the capacity of actors to redefine the parameters of what is socially, politically and economically possible for others. More formally we can define power … as the ability of actors (whether individual or collective) to “have an effect” upon the context which defines the range of possibilities of others’ (Hay, 1997, p. 50; quoted in Hay, 2002, p. 74)

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Nietzsche on friendship and on the ‘tragedy of life’

Friedrich Nietzsche ‘Friendship’ is something to which we all probably would nod and we would say that we fully understand what is meant by it, but do we? Who are these ‘friends’ we think are around us? What do they mean to us and do these ‘friends’ of today really differ from people we only ‘know better’ and or to whom we ‘talk more’ than with random people we daily meet? These might sound like silly questions to ask, really, however, when the phenomenon of Facebooks, Myspace etc. strikes daily the news and journalists often mention that people have tens or even hundreds ‘friends’ on their profiles, I believe it is never useless to stop and wonder for a moment.

Quite interestingly, I would like to point out to perhaps the most unexpected person who considered friendship in his work – to Friedrich Nietzsche. He, just as the voluntarist Schopenhauer before him, had almost no friends at all. Suffering from constant health problems – migraine headaches and vomiting, this brilliant intellectual had to resign from the post of professor at the University of Basle, which he received at unheard age of 24, and in 1879 started to travel around Europe, seeking seclusion and peace from his collapsing health near mountain lakes deep in the Alps.

In earlier days of his writing career, Nietzsche was a friend and admirer of the work of Richard Wagner. Nietzsche saw in Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde (1865) the possible resurrection of the antic tragedy. The Greek tragedy was for Nietzsche especially important because he regarded it as an ‘honest depiction of human life.’ That is, as a piece of art that depicts each person as born with certain qualities, but also possessing the ‘tragic flaw,’ which gives him a destiny that he cannot escape. Although in the Greek tragedy characters struggle with their predestined path, by each step they inadvertently proceed towards their certain end.

This is perhaps best depicted in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, where Oedipus is given a terrible predicament – he is to marry his mother and kill his father. The tragic flaw in case of Oedipus is hubris – and although that when he hears his terrible fate from the Delphic Oracle and tries to flee from the place where his (foster) parents live, escaping, he kills his father Laius – only because they argue who has the right-of-way.

Nevertheless, heroes of the antic tragedy – although endowed with the tragic fate – are not content with it, and they struggle till the very end. As Nietzsche mentions in The Birth of Tragedy this is a ‘honest’ image of what life is – tragic.

One is born into a condition one does not chooses. He is endowed with certain predispositions, born into a certain family, into a specific community, which make tremendous impact on one’s identity – on the fact ‘who one is.’ The ancient Greeks personified this human precondition as ‘given’ by three Moirae – the personifications of destiny. The ancient hero, however, is the one who, although endowed with both flaws and qualities, does not ‘give up’ and fights his destiny and although never wins (the human life can never be won, the human life is tragic, it always ends in death which can never be avoided) he understands that ‘there are moments and things worth living (and dying) for.’

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Individualists and their Liberal friends

We would all probably agree that every individual is in some way or another unique. Everyone of us has inside a potential, a certain predisposition, both due to inborn and socially-given qualities. As formulated by the first conservative thinkers as Edmund Burke or even those more radical like Joseph de Maistre, the role of our peers, those closest to us, of our nearest community, is to help us understand and then to develop this potential. This does not serve only to the particular person whose qualities are discovered, but ultimately to the development of the particular community as a whole. An individual as such is ‘nothing,’ only in a process of interaction with his natural and nearest communities he gains the sense of himself. Each fulfills one’s role, each gives his best, according to his qualities, in order to ‘build’ and ‘create’ above himself. One participates in what is interchangeable called ‘society’ or ‘community’ (in a sense of daily, journalistic use, while in the academic literature these terms are distinguished, mainly as ‘negative’ in the first case, and positive in the latter – F. Tonnies, O. Spengler, S. Freud). This society or community to call it freely for the moment is truly an organism, as true conservatives rightly for decades pointed out – an intellectual, worker, teacher, politician – all have certain functions, ‘social roles,’ as it is in an organism where a brain, muscles, senses, instincts also fulfill certain duties without which the organism could not function. Even those less able are not condemned because they can find their purpose in being a part of a larger whole – in this higher creation of all called community.

This conservative view of the society (not the liberal mutation manifested in the so-called conservatism of Thatcher or Reagan) is opposed by liberalism. Liberalism argues that for atomized society – society of autonomous, self-serving, Benthamite ‘utility maximisers,’ who seek above all else ‘their own way to happiness.’

But is this liberalism really that liberal as it tries to convince by its very name? There is ‘liberal’ democracy, ‘liberal’ market and so on, but what is the real meaning, the real content behind these powerful and bold phrases?

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Human intelligence

albert-einsteinI have to thank for this article to my friend Pavel Hait on whose blog I have   unwittingly found the inspiration to write about “human intelligence.”

Few hours back, when reading Pavel’s article, I could not have stop to think whether ‘this’ what he is writing about is really what the intelligence consists of. The question is – can we consider the manual worker or some skilled artisan to be geniuses in their respective profession just we often do in the case of the mathematician or the director of a company?

My friend answered that this is indeed possible by distinguishing various types of intelligence like logical, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal… and so on. The logical conclusion of such distinction has to be that the artisan can be genius, even if different than for example the artist.

However, the thing that is not taken into consideration is the actual amount of work or thinking that the artisan compared to some ‘boss’ has to do.

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Oswald Spengler and ‘Faustian culture’

spenglerWhen the first volume of Spengler’s Decline of the West appeared in Germany shortly after the First World War, it was an unexpected success. At this time, Spengler’s idea that the Western civilization is slowly but inevitably entering into its last phase of ‘life’ was in the eyes of the German public confirmed by hardships of the post-war years. Moreover, it provided very much desired answers that rationalised the German post-war suffering into a context of the decline of the Western civilization itself.

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