John Austin's Theory of Sovereignty

Topics: Law, Sovereignty, Political philosophy Pages: 17 (6154 words) Published: May 6, 2012

1.1 What is sovereignty?
The concept of sovereignty is one of the most complex in political science, with many definitions, some totally contradictory. Usually, sovereignty is defined in one of two ways. The first definition applies to supreme public power, which has the right and, in theory, the capacity to impose its authority in the last instance. The second definition refers to the holder of legitimate power, who is recognized to have authority. When national sovereignty is discussed, the first definition applies, and it refers in particular to independence, understood as the freedom of a collective entity to act. When popular sovereignty is discussed, the second definition applies, and sovereignty is associated with power and legitimacy.

Sovereignty and Political Authority
On the international level, sovereignty means independence, i.e., noninterference by external powers in the internal affairs of another state. International norms are based on the principle of the sovereign equality of independent states; international law excludes interference and establishes universally-accepted rules. Thus, sovereignty is eminently rational, if not dialectical, since the sovereignty of a state depends not only on the autonomous will of its sovereign, but also on its standing vis-a-vis other sovereign states. From this perspective, one can say that the sovereignty of any single state is the logical consequence of the existence of several sovereign states. It is thus a serious mistake to assume that sovereignty is possible only within the framework of the classic type of state, i.e., a nation-state, as do representatives of the “realist” school, such as Alan James and F. H. Hinsley, or neo-Marxist theoreticians like Justin Rosenberg. One should not confuse the concepts of nation and state, which do not necessarily belong together, or assume that the concept of sovereignty was formulated clearly only in terms of the theory of the state. Closer to the truth is John Hoffman’s assertion that “sovereignty has been an insoluble problem ever since it became associated with the state.” Even though a concept of sovereignty did not exist before the 16th century, it does not follow that the phenomenon did not exist in political reality, and that it could not have been conceptualized differently. For example, Aristotle does not mention sovereignty, but the fact that he insists on the necessity for a supreme power shows that he was familiar with the idea, since any supreme power — kuphian aphen with the Greeks; summum imperium with the Romans — is sovereign by definition. Sovereignty is not related to any particular form of government or to any particular political organization; on the contrary, it is inherent in any form of political authority. The problem with sovereignty appeared at the end of the Middle Ages, when the question posed was no longer only about the best form of government or the limits of political authority, but about the relation between the government and the people, i.e., the relation between ruler and ruled in a political community. -What is sovereignty? Alain de Benoist

1.2 John Austin
Austin's basic approach was to ascertain what can be said generally, but still with interest, about all laws. Austin's analysis can be seen as either a paradigm of, or a caricature of, analytical philosophy, in that his discussions are dryly full of distinctions, but are thin in argument. The modern reader is forced to fill in much of the meta-theoretical, justificatory work, as it cannot be found in the text. Where Austin does articulate his methodology and objective, it is a fairly traditional one: he “endeavored to resolve a law (taken with the largest signification which can be given to that term properly) into the necessary and essential elements of which it is composed” As to what is the core nature of law, Austin's answer is that...
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