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date: 20 September 2019

Summary and Keywords

The concept of sovereignty has been the subject of vigorous debate among scholars. Sovereignty presents the discipline of international law with a host of theoretical and material problems regarding what it, as a concept, signifies; how it relates to the power of the state; questions about its origins; and whether sovereignty is declining, being strengthened, or being reconfigured. The troublesome aspects of sovereignty can be analyzed in relation to constructivist, feminist, critical theory, and postmodern approaches to the concept. The most problematic aspects of sovereignty have to do with its relationship to the rise and power of the modern state, and how to link the state’s material reality to philosophical discussions about the concept of sovereignty. The paradoxical quandary located at the heart of sovereignty arises from the question of what establishes law as constitutive of sovereign authority absent the presumption or exercise of sovereign power. Philosophical debates over sovereignty have attempted to account for the evolving structures of the state while also attempting to legitimate these emergent forms of rule as represented in the writings of Hugo Grotius, Samuel von Pufendorf, Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. These writers document attempts to grapple with the problem of legitimacy and the so-called “structural and ideological contradictions of the modern state.” International law finds itself grappling with ever more nuanced and contradictory views of sovereignty’s continued conceptual relevance, which are partially reflective and partially constitutive of an ever more complex and paradoxical world.

Keywords: sovereignty, international law, state, constructivism, feminism, critical theory, postmodernism, sovereign authority, sovereign power, legitimacy

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