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Article

Matthew Weinert

Literature concentrated on sovereignty’s location laid the groundwork for the distinctive sort of ethical detachment that has characterized sovereignty in international relations (IR). While it is customary to refer to sovereign absolutism as linking a logic of prerogative with sovereignty, mainstream IR theory has reproduced its own variation on the theme and done little until recently to decouple the two. Yet beginning in the late 1970s, the literature began to entertain the idea that interdependence and globalization impede, constrain, corrode, or diminish the core assumptions of sovereignty: the centralization of power and authority, the supremacy of the state, the state’s capabilities to achieve its objectives, and the degree of permissiveness afforded by an anarchical system. Put differently, the space within which sovereignty could operate unencumbered rapidly diminished in size and scope, and the sovereign state, by losing control over various functions, was becoming incoherent at minimum, and irrelevant at maximum. If these arguments focused on a narrow question, then a new literature emerged in the mid to late 1990s that focused on, and questioned, sovereignty as authority. Moreover, the debates about globalization underscored sovereignty’s disjunctive nature. Yet by linking it so closely with material structures and factors, the literature generally elided consideration of the constitutive effect of international norms on sovereignty and the ways the institution of sovereignty has changed over time.

Article

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.

Article

The social contract tradition derives its ethical force from the hypothetical agreement that parties would reach in an initial choice situation. This initial choice situation brings together a description of the circumstances of justice, various extra-contractarian moral assumptions, and an instrumental theory of rational choice. The circumstances of justice refer to the conditions that require principles of justice. These conditions include the existence of social cooperation along with moderate scarcity. In the absence of such conditions, principles of justice are either unnecessary or impossible to sustain. Social cooperation generates both benefits and burdens, and it is the allocation of those components of social cooperation that requires principles of justice. The application of the social contract to the domestic context dates back to the ancient Greeks, though their version of the contract was somewhat crude and rather one-sided in favor of state authority. Later versions of the social contract would oblige the state to provide much more to citizens in return for their allegiance. John Rawls is widely credited with resurrecting the social contract tradition in the twentieth century. His thought holds special significance for the international social contract, as he extends the contractual approach ethics into the international system where his predecessors declined to do so.

Article

Muslim views on the polity represent the paradigmatic understandings of how Muslims relate citizenry, authority, territoriality, and sovereignty to the overarching influence of the Western nation-state system. For instance, the meaning of citizenry in the modern state system was adopted by several Muslim societies during the decolonization period. Faith or submission to the will of God was the main criterion to become part of the group (usually referred to as the ummah). However, orientalists regarded ummah as a synonym for tribe, while Arab linguists insisted on a religious connotation. Authority, on the other hand, is ultimately enshrined in the personhood of the Prophet who is the spiritual leader, executor, legislator, and judicial interpreter of God’s message. Since in reality the Prophet is no longer existing, leadership is bestowed on the subsequent followers, and sometimes the ummah may possess leadership status through a social contract between the ruler and the ruled. The manifestation of operationalized authority needs a political space, domain, or place, which is attainable via the notion of territoriality. This is loosely conceptualized as an ummah that has geographical aspects, cultural traits, and a lingua franca. In the 8th century, jurists divided Muslim territoriality into two analytical terms, the abode of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the abode of war/the enemy (dar al-Harb), while the Shia version of abodes rests in the Qur’anic dichotomy of “oppressed–oppressor.” The last concept pertains to sovereignty (hakimiyyah), commonly understood as “the will of God” and advanced by Islamists in the 20th century. In medieval times, it was understood as the promotion of public welfare envisaged in Shari’ah, while in modern times, Islamic modernists argued that Islamists wrongfully understood sovereignty and that the root word used in the Qur’an meant “to govern.” Nowadays, the assertion that symbolizes God’s sovereignty can be found in some modern Muslim states.