A Genealogy of State Sovereignty

Lorenzo Zucca


A genealogical account of state sovereignty explores the ways in which the concept has emerged, evolved, and is in decline today. Sovereignty has a theological foundation, and is deeply bound up with the idea of God, in particular a voluntarist God, presented as being capable of intervening directly in the world. Religious conflicts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries forced the separation between religion and politics, and opened the space for the emergence of a national state endowed with sovereignty which has dominated the world until now. Today’s rise of international and transnational obligations challenges the conventional understanding of state sovereignty, which cannot account for the normative density of the global order and the corresponding decline of state-based political authority. In order to explain that, I contrast two competing understandings of state sovereignty: a static one and a dynamic one. The static understanding regards sovereignty as absolute within the state territory. The dynamic understanding regards sovereignty as evolutionary: according to this account, the state is just one possible form that sovereignty can take. I conclude by suggesting that the dynamic understanding of state sovereignty is better suited to explaining the decline of state sovereignty. 

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