Pluralism of pluralisms [Post 24]

Contexts and Realms

Sovereignty and cosmopolitanism may take place in different contexts and realms where agents such as individuals, communities and states interact in their different capacities as players (hosts, participants, attendees and viewers). 

While sovereignty seems to give prominence to the local context because there must be a single sovereign power over the same population and territory in order to have a sovereign state, cosmopolitanism appears to bring a polar opposite view with its claims to universality and generality. These assumptions are as simplistic as erroneous.

Both sovereignty and cosmopolitanism have a role to play in the domestic, regional and international contexts. The local context characterizes for its centralization of power because sovereign states often concentrate their authorities in central governments. However, even the local context includes cosmopolitanism by means of plural civil societies. That is because the state defines itself locally by reference to their population territory and government, its three basic components. It is increasingly evident that civil societies around the world are cosmopolitan in their composition and at the regional level sovereignty becomes more decentralized.

There are regional attempts to keep a certain degree of cohesion by organizations such as the European Union (EU), the Organization of American States (OAS), the African Union (AU), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) the Arab League (AL) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In terms of sovereignty, these attempts are in an embryo stage in most cases. They are generally limited in law and politics, in particular centered on free movement of goods.  Conversely, cosmopolitanism gains a more central role regionally by reference to population, territory and government. The same region may include similarities in relation to these three elements (population, territory and government) and it is also possible to accommodate very different states in the same region. Consider Mexico, the United States and Canada or the Middle East with clear differences between their regional neighbors, including a variety of legal systems, from democracy to authoritarian regimes, and different levels of financial development and diverse ethnic descent.

The international context presents sovereignty with single sovereign states. In that sense, sovereignty seems to be indivisible because a population and territory can only have one superior government. This is often the case but not a rule. Consider international legal and political arrangements such as condominiums, the Åland Islands and the Antarctic treaty. In turn, it is at the international level where cosmopolitanism cannot be questioned.

Although it is more evident to accept cosmopolitanism in the international context, it is nonetheless reasonable to acknowledge its presence locally and regionally. Regardless of the relevance in the local, regional or international contexts, sovereignty and cosmopolitanism are always present to a different degree. Whether they are more concentrated or dispersed, centralized or des-centralized, it is a matter of degree, but not of lacking. 

In addition to contexts, sovereignty and cosmopolitanism may “exist” in different realms. A subject or an object may have ideal, natural, cultural or metaphysical existence. Ideal subjects or objects are unreal. That is, they simply “are” but do not properly exist.  They are not in the experience (not apprehensible through the senses). For example, the triangle as an object in geometry simply consists of pure space closed on three sides, but it does not exist anywhere, it is not in the experience and finally it is neutral to value judgments. In turn, natural subjects or objects are for their part real, they have existence, they are in the experience, they are in time and they are neutral to value judgments. Consider a stone or a bird and it is possible to verify in both cases all these characteristics by our senses. To claim there is beauty in flowers and birds is not logical because it is not, for example, a botanical or zoological property. The landscape, for example, does not exist by itself but integrated by the viewer as a portion of qualified nature. Finally, cultural subjects or objects created in some way by humans acting according to their volition are real, they are in the experience, they are in time and they are valuable with a positive or negative sign.

To acknowledge the existence of these different realms is of utmost importance to fully comprehend sovereignty and cosmopolitanism. For instance, any definition of sovereignty includes the concept of the highest, supreme, absolute authority in a territory and over a population. Within a territory, it means that lawmakers—i.e. the government—have the exclusive prerogative to create laws for these people. Externally, any other agent has the obligation not to interfere. From this very brief characterization, it is self-evident that sovereignty refers to normative elements such as national legal order and international legal agreements as well as factual ones such as territory and population. To a similar extent cosmopolitanism, for example, may be moral or legal.

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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 24th May 2021

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World

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