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Sovereignty is one of the most basic but perhaps most contested concepts in politics. A sovereign (state or person) is the unsurpassed ruler of a territory. Fundamentally the concept of sovereignty relates to property rights. Except in certain rare circumstances - like Antarctica? - every square inch of terrain on earth is claimed to belong to at least one sovereign government. Except perhaps for the radical fringe of the green movement? few seem to question the right (based in many religious traditions) that the human governments are the defacto "owners" of all the land and everything on it, including the people, are at best, leaseholders. Perhaps surprisingly there is almost no precedent for shared sovereignty over any piece of land, although various proposals for sovereignty association? have been debated in Canada.

sovereignty and international relations

Membership in the United Nations is reserved only for nations who have recognized sovereignty. You can't be a nation unless you own real estate. This stipulation which leads to a fair number of warfare?. Nations under occupation (like Palestine) or separatist? movements who have not been fully recognized (like Taiwan).

sovereignty and the social contract

Sovereignty as ownership is an ancient concept, and only recently (very recently in some places) has there been any formalization of limits to the internal powers of a sovereign. Historically individuals have "belonged" to the state and the interests of the sovereign have always trumped any individual rights, even to life. Only in the later twentieth century was the right of the state to kill its citizens questioned. The Magna Carta? is perhaps the earliest legal precedent limiting the power of the sovereign. The UN declaration of Human Rights? is the first legal document that recognized rights to individuals universally.

In theory a democracy sovereignty rests with the population via the constitution, though in practice the government establishes the laws, and enforces them.

Freedoms, democracy, government, rights, self determination?.


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