Working Paper

Reconstructing Sovereignty

The concept of sovereignty designates an institution of supreme rule which seems common to all politically organized peoples throughout history. Every people since the ancient polities to the most recently constituted states, concerned with the control, organization and uses of power, has also found a fundamental utility in institutionalizing various forms of the principle of the supreme rule. Quoting from Mountague Bernard’s historical account of the neutrality of Great Britain during the American Civil War, Henry Maine observes in one of his 1887 lectures on international law that by “sovereign state” it is meant “a community or number of persons permanently organized under a sovereign government of their own”, where “sovereign government” means “a government, however constituted, which exercises the power of making and enforcing law within a community, and is not itself subject to any superior government”. Exercise of power and absence of superior control, would thus “compose the notion of sovereignty and [be] essential to it” [1]. A remarkable aspect of this institution is that it seems to have emerged in every case as a result of an autonomous process, like an inherent trait of the organization of political power among people, and not as a transplant in a pattern of external expansion and influence from from one people to another. Territorial conquest in the past has not usually meant that sovereignty was established for the first time in that land, but rather the substitution, often violent, of the local territorial supreme rule structure by that of the occupant power.