Pluralism of pluralisms [Post 11]

Individuals and states, self-ownership and sovereignty

Although many sciences refer to cosmopolitanism and sovereignty—i.e. law, political science, international relations, only to name a few—these disciplines apply different methodological approaches, assumptions, views and conceptual basis resulting in, for example, incomplete views about the same territorial dispute.

There may be different ways to understand the relationship between an agent and itself, and consequently, its relationships with other agents. Arguably, both individuals and states have supreme authority over themselves. Furthermore, both individuals and states have relationships of different kinds with their respective peers and other agents. Possibly to subtle for the unaware eye, the paragraph includes a particular view, and therefore, an implicit assumption, in relation to individuals and states: self-ownership and sovereignty.

Self-ownership and sovereignty

One of the ways to understand the relationship between an individual and himself, other people and all that surrounds him is self-ownership (also called property in the person).[1] In self-ownership, each individual owns both morally and legally his person and natural talents and is free to use them and is morally obliged not to invade someone else’s sphere of freedom.

As in the case of sovereignty, self-ownership establishes a particular relationship between an agent and something: supreme authority. Unlike sovereignty, this supreme authority is present at the level of the individual. In other words, self-ownership defines the supreme authority an individual has over himself; sovereignty defines the supreme authority a State has over a territory and people. Thus, at first glance both self-ownership and sovereignty appear to be supreme, singular and hence not shareable. More explicitly, self-ownership has the same kind of relation to an individual that sovereignty has to a State: both self-ownership and sovereignty are essential characteristics in defining a free individual and a free State, respectively.

A state is sovereign—as an individual has self-ownership—if and only if its representatives are free to decide how the State acts or omits to act both internally and internationally. If a spectrum of options was to be considered in terms of and individual and self-ownership, one of the extremes would be given by the fully free being and the other one, by a slave: anyone bound to limit his actions or omissions upon someone else’s volition by way of following his orders, even arbitrary, or prohibitions without being able to disagree—without being able to exercise his free will and hence, there is domination.[2] In turn, if a state was not fully free to decide its way of action in relation to its internal or international affairs, its sovereignty—self-ownership—would be somehow affected—as it happens to pseudo-States, failed States, etc.

It is not that the understanding about an individual and his self-ownership or a state and its sovereignty are obsolete, somehow wrong or biased. The previous paragraphs intended to show that there may be different ways to understand what an “individual” and a “state” may imply depending several factors.

Despite the fact there are several theories[3] in the legal and political sciences that refer to the state and its nature, depending on which of the state’s element the theory focuses on, the theory will mainly refer to law, realpolitik, or the internal or external facets of the same entity: the state.[4] The same is true about individuals.[5]

In the particular case of individuals and communities, there is a further point that needs precision when understanding cosmopolitanism and sovereignty. In territorial disputes, we may refer broadly to people. However, cases such as the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, the Israel-Palestine difference, the Western Sahara and Moroccan settlers, Amazon region, Indonesia and East Timor, Cyprus and Iraq and Kirkuk clearly show the distinction between native and implanted populations. The following posts will refer to this aspect.

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Individuals, communities and states: native and implanted populations.

Author of:

Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2020).

Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017).

Monday 26th April 2021

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World

[1] The expression ‘property in the person’ is from Carole Pateman, “Self-ownership and Property in the Person: Democratization and a Tale of Two Concepts,” The Journal of Political Philosophy 10 (2002): 20-53. For a relation between self-ownership and property see Lloyd P. Gerson, “Who Owns What? Some Reflections on the Foundation of Political Philosophy,” Social Philosophy and Policy 29 (2012): 81-105; Alan Ryan, “Self-ownership, Autonomy, and Property Rights,” Social Philosophy and Policy 11 (1994): 241-258; Eric Mack, “Self-ownership and the Right of Property,” The Monist 73 (1990): 519-543.

[2] For a view on domination see Lovett, op. cit. For a detailed account about positive and negative liberty and domination, see in partic. pp. 152-154. For a conception of republican liberty defined as “the absence of domination”, see in partic. pp. 155-156.

[3] See, for example, A. Vincent, Theories of the State (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987) and Erika Cudworth et al, The Modern State: Theories and Ideologies (Edinburgh University Press, 2007).

[4] For a detailed account about different theories related to the state see Jorge E. Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty: International Law and Politics (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2020), chapter 2.

[5] For the authors views about individuals and communities refer to Jorge E. Núñez, Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017), chapter 4.

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