BOOK PREVIEW (Chapter 2): “Cosmopolitanism, State Sovereignty and International Law and Politics: A Theory” [Forthcoming 2023]

Cosmopolitanism, State Sovereignty and International Law and Politics:
A Theory


Jorge E. Núñez

Chapter 2


Sovereignty, or more precisely for the purpose of this monograph, state sovereignty, has many meanings. However, all definitions have some elements in common including highest, absolute authority.


This chapter attempts to briefly introduce the concept of sovereignty and argue that the different views, understandings and notions of the concept are simply based on different points of reference, e.g. historically conditioned, and not the concept itself. Therein, from a conceptual and substantial point of view, sovereignty enables different agents, e.g. individuals, communities and states, to have interrelations of various natures if the acknowledgment in both fact and law concerns limited sovereignty. More accurately, the aim is to show that both in fact and law any claim to absolute sovereignty, whether in law or politics, is futile because sovereignty has factual, normative and axiological limitations. Although these limitations may lead to exclusionary singularities and domination, they may as well accommodate cosmopolitanism and inclusive pluralities of authorities, powers, rules and local, regional and international arrangements.

Indeed, sovereignty is complex both conceptually and in substance, regardless of the complexity, sovereignty is limited. This is of crucial importance to cosmopolitanism because an absolute understanding of sovereignty jeopardizes the coexistence of different agents─international interactions and agreements would be impossible or impractical. Sovereign states would not be able to commit themselves to obligations, i.e. it would be a contradiction that a state with absolute power accepted obligations, and even if they did, absolute sovereign states would not be obligated to honor those commitments. More importantly, in what is central to cosmopolitanism, sovereign states would be able to do as they wished in fact and law with units of concern, i.e. individuals in their individuality or as part of communities.


Domestically, sovereignty may be indivisible or concentrated, for example, in the hands of one person or dispersed in the social body or set of authorities. In that sense, sovereignty’s indivisibility has been present since Bodin’s time. Regionally and internationally, however, there is a multiplicity of agents including different sovereign states and hence limitations are reciprocal among them.


Unquestionably, the initial claim here that sovereignty is understood as absolute is arguable. In political science and international relations, it is commonplace that while sovereignty as a status is binary—traditionally meaning a state either is or is not sovereign—as a political concept, it is universally understood to incorporate degrees of sovereignty. In this sense, sovereignty consists of a set of capabilities that can be distributed among different actors. An understanding of the European Union would be impossible without such an assumption. Mitrany’s theory of functionalism relies on precisely this point.

Although scholars in political science and international relations make a valid argument, these views do not capture the complexity embedded in sovereignty because of their unidimensional approach. The crucial point is not to confuse sovereignty as a legal status and sovereignty as a political notion. A multidimensional view accepts that sovereignty plays a role in political science and international relations as well as other disciplines such as law. Consider, for example, much of the debate over Brexit. In that context, it is true that sovereignty is not always understood as absolute, and theorists of cosmopolitanism are generally aware of this. However, it is also true that in law, any legal entity that has a superior is not fully sovereign.


In order to demonstrate that absoluteness is not an ontological property of sovereignty, neither in fact nor in law, this chapter presents the notion of sovereignty, distinguish between its absoluteness and limitedness and highlight the fact that different disciplines may refer to the same concept but may apply different understandings and, therefore, arrive at different conclusions. While there may be a case for absolute sovereignty, this would only be possible as an epistemological decision and can only apply to normative sovereignty.





Chapter 1: Sovereignty and cosmopolitanism: pluralism of pluralisms and a multidimensional analysis


Chapter 3: Cosmopolitanism

Friday 26th May 2023

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World

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