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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-T024-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

In legal and political philosophy sovereignty is the attribute by which a person or institution exercises ultimate authority over every other person or institution in its domain. Traditionally, the existence of a final arbiter or legislator is said to be essential if people are to live together in peace and security. The example brought most readily to mind by the word ’sovereign’ is the individual monarch, and the theory of sovereignty was at one time closely linked with the defence of monarchy. But leading theorists of sovereignty, like Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes, recognize that authority can be exercised by sovereign bodies of people; and later writers, like Rousseau and Austin, locate sovereignty in the people, to whom the officials of more democratic institutions are ultimately accountable.

Traditionally, too, it is deduced from the nature of the state or law that the sovereign’s authority must be absolute, not limited by conditions; perpetual, not merely delegated for a time; and indivisible, not distributed between different persons or institutions. It is further deduced that the sovereign must be independent from external domination as well as internally supreme. All these inferences have been subjected to criticism, not least because they can be difficult to reconcile with the actual practice of states and legal systems.

Citing this article:
Ford, J.D.. Sovereignty, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-T024-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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