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Territorial rights

DOI: 10.4324/0123456789-S115-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved May 19, 2024, from

Article Summary

Inherent in the notion of territorial rights is the idea of exercising control over a geographically bounded area of land. The question of territorial rights as a philosophical, normative question arises in connection with the conception of the modern state as entailing a claim to exclusive control over its territory. Such control typically involves three different types of prerogatives: (i) making, enforcing, and adjudicating the laws that apply in its territory; (ii) regulating the flow of goods and people that can leave and enter its territory; and (iii) exploiting and managing the natural resources found in its territory. Territorial rights can therefore be divided into three conceptually distinct types of rights: (i) rights of jurisdiction over a territory; (ii) rights of control over the borders that circumscribe this territory; and (iii) rights of control over the natural resources that lie within this territory.

But what justifies the state’s territorial rights or exclusive control over its territory? Competing theories of territorial rights have advanced different justificatory criteria. Acquisition theories offer a Lockean criterion based on either individual property rights and consent, or the state’s labor and desert. Statist theories point to the state’s function and advance either a Hobbesian criterion of securing peace and order, or a Kantian criterion of meeting standards of justice and legitimacy. For non-statist theories, the state simply exercises territorial rights on behalf of either a cultural or a political group that has historically occupied the territory and developed a particular kind of attachment to it that is central to the group’s identity.

While territorial rights might seem to concern primarily a state’s internal affairs, they in fact raise many important issues of international or global justice that involve redrawing state jurisdictions, accessing natural resources, or crossing borders. Issues raised by territorial rights include colonialism, decolonization, annexation, secession, the just distribution of the earth’s resources, immigration, ecological refugees, and the rectification of historical injustice.

Citing this article:
Catala, Amandine. Territorial rights, 2017, doi:10.4324/0123456789-S115-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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