Pluralism of pluralisms [Post 30]


Both sovereignty and cosmopolitanism are conceptual constructions. Like any concept they may refer to, for example, actual facts or ideal elements with or without empirical existence. What appears to be the same very basic concepts in legal and political sciences and international relations are still discussed globally. These discussions seem to be centred on and disagree about the same concepts, in actual terms they are centred on conceptions of these concepts and therein the disagreement in their hermeneutics.

There are many definitions, views, and conceptions of sovereignty.[1] The differences between these definitions or conceptions have to do with the frame of reference. For example, depending on the legal or political perspective, “sovereignty” may mean power or imply authority. Similarly, sovereignty can be viewed as internal or external, and as an attribute of a person, a body, a state or a supranational entity.

Bodin and Hobbes coined in the early Modern Age the current scholarly understanding of the concept of sovereignty. To illustrate the evolution of the term, a classical and a current definition of “sovereignty” follow:

Aieltie or Sovereignty is the most high, absolute, and perpetual power over the citizens and subjects in a Commonwealth…[2]

A Supreme authority in a state. In any state sovereignty is vested in the institution, person, or body having the ultimate authority to impose law on everyone else in the state and the power to alter any pre-existing law…In international law, it is an essential aspect of sovereignty that all states should have supreme control over their internal affairs…[3]

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.

In the same vein, unsurprisingly, scholarly literature uses the word “cosmopolitanism” very loosely.[4] Claimed to start in Ancient Greece with Diogenes labeling himself as “citizen of the world” but, according to the Stoics, without giving up identifying local roots, the term suggests identification with different groups (such as family, neighborhood, city, state, region, world).[5] Arguably, it is Kant who fathers the concept in modern times. In his Perpetual Peace scholars from different disciplines find epistemological, economic or commercial, legal, moral, ethico-theological, political and cultural cosmopolitanism.[6]

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Rationalism and empiricism.

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).

Wednesday 09th June 2021

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World

[1] For an extensive analysis on different views, conceptions and historical evaluations of “sovereignty” see Jorge E. Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty: International Law and Politics (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2020), chapter 3 and Jorge E. Núñez, Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017), chapter 2. For the latest on “sovereignty” see Christian Volk, “The Problem of Sovereignty in Globalized Times,” in Law, Culture and the Humanities (February 2019); Neil Walker, ed. Relocating Sovereignty (London and New York: Routledge, 2018); Kirby Brown. “Sovereignty,” in Western American Literature 53, no. 1 (2018): 81-89; G. Picker, Sovereignty Beyond the State: Exception and Informality in a Western European City (Int. J. Urban Reg. Res, 2019); and others.

[2] Jean Bodin, The Six Bookes of Commonweale (Impenfis G. Bishop 1903), 84.

[3] Elizabeth A. Martin and Jonathan Law, A Dictionary of Law (Oxford University Press 2006).

[4] Cali goes as far as characterizing cosmopolitanism as an umbrella of ideas. See Basak Cali, “On Legal Cosmopolitanism: Divergences in Political Theory and International Law,” Leiden Journal of International Law 19:4 (2006): 1149-1164, 1150.

[5] Martha C. Nussbaum, “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism,” in Joshua Cohen, ed., For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 2-17; Thomas Kemple, “Mannheim’s Pendulum: Refiguring Legal Cosmopolitanism,” University of California Irvine Law Review 4:1 (2014): 273-296, 275.

[6] Georg Cavallar, “Cosmopolitanisms in Kant’s Philosophy,” Ethics and Global Politics, 5:2 (2012): 95-118, 98.

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