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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A new European Treaty

reform-treaty In the night from 19th to 20th October, the leaders of the 27 European countries agreed the proposed draft of the ‘Reform Treaty’ which was being finalised in the preceding months after the heated July conference.

This agreement is a victory for all pro-Europeans, not because of the content itself, but mainly because it will allow it to proceed towards possible more radical changes in its structure. If the treaty would not have been accepted, the EU might had been plunged into another ‘depression’ even deeper than that which followed the French and Netherlands ‘NO’ to the European Constitution. As I have mentioned in my previous article, the treaty strengthens the power of Brussels as against national governments, which is in areas outside tremendously important common foreign and defense policy something I cannot agree with, yet it is better than to stand still or even to question the very necessity of the European integration.

The more integrated Union will mean that the politicians will have to engage even more with the European affairs and we will have more opportunities to restructure the Union to our bidding.

(the draft document approved in October is available to download from here)


The new European treaty in short:

  • the current fundamental treatises establishing the EU will not be supplanted by the new Treaty (as was planned with the rejected European Constitution)
  • the EU will receive the full legal personality and will thus be able to sign international treatises
  • the current post of ‘President-in-Office‘ of the European Council (held by the head of government of the country that actually has the presidency of the EU for half a year) will be exchanged by a post of the ‘President of the European Council’ elected by the new qualified majority voting system for two and half years.
  • there will be a common representative on foreign affairs for European Union, although he will not be called the ‘Union Foreign Minister‘ but ‘High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy’ and the current post of ‘European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy’, also the High Representative will become the European Commission’s vice-president and have his or hers own diplomatic corps
  • the number of Euro-commissioners will be decreased from the current 27 to two thirds of the number of the member states as of 2014
  • the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (formerly a part of the rejected European Constitution) is moved to the appendix and will be legally binding for all members except Britain (one of her ‘red lines’ – opted out) and Poland
  • the current Nice Treaty voting system will be replaced by the qualified majority voting system as of 2017 (from 2014 to 2017 there will be a so-called ‘transitory phase’, where officially the new qualified majority system will be put into effect, but the states will be able to use the old Nice Treaty system whenever they wish)
  • the Treaty does not have a ‘constitutional’ character – i.e. there is no notice of common anthem or flag
  • the rights of the members’ national governments will be enlarged, so they can appeal the European Commission to reassess their decisions

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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Site updates and the vote for ‘the European of the Year’

Today, the section ‘About’ has been updated and I have also added there some general information about the intended purpose of this blog, so some of the readers who are wondering whether there is any ‘purpose’ behind at all might want to check it out. Besides that, the link section ‘EU blogging community’ was expanded by some new additions and there is also a completely new link collection for blogs dealing with politics outside the affairs concerning EU, which I hope to expand in the nearest future. Any link suggestions are obviously more than welcome. merkel

Besides that, you might find interesting that European Voice holds the vote on 50 individuals who have most influenced the European political agenda during the last year. There are exactly 9  categories, each having 5 candidates to choose from and one final category where you might select ‘the European of the Year.’ The most interesting category might well be the ‘statesmen of the year’ where are present probably the most renowned names. For me, the statesmen of the year is obviously the German Chancellor Angela Merkel who managed to successfully conclude the June meeting of the EU leaders by pushing the ‘Reform Treaty’ on the European Union’s political agenda.

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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Globalization seems to be almost a mythical word. As mentioned by Jerry Mander, media in the West almost unilaterally portray it as another step of ‘progress’ towards a ‘better world.’ [1] Consequently, as a striking opposition to smiling men in suits, media present shots of ‘globalization opponents’ which are portrayed solely as violent anarchists throwing paving stones on some or other demonstration against a meeting of G8, or any Bretton Woods institution for that matter. This inaccurate and misleading approach creates in public the perceived dichotomy of the supporters and opponents of globalization; the first are associated with the ‘educated’ and the latter with the ‘asocial rabble subverting the current effort for a better, liberal world order for all humanity.’

The world is nevertheless never so simple that it could be summarized as a battle of the forces of good against the forces of evil. The academic literature which supports the case against globalization exists, even it is flourishing and is supported by many erudite and distinguished scholars, whose ideas unfortunately, do not seem to fit into the contemporary political state of affairs. Academics like Alasdair MacIntyre, Michael Sandel or Charles Taylor [2] are communitarians supporting localized management of political and economic affairs against the globalization, which they accuse of destroying both local culture and economy.

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