The Dialectics of Sovereignty and Property

Sergio Dellavalle


Respectively in the public and in the private spheres, both sovereignty and property are expressions of the turn to the primacy of the interests of the individual at the beginning of the Modern Ages: in the first case this primacy is related to the individual state, in the second to the individual economic actor. The centrality of individuality, as the most distinguishing feature of modern thinking, thus lies at the basis of the interconnection between the two concepts. This is developed according to three distinct patterns. In the light of the first pattern, sovereignty degenerates into a mere means in the service of defending private interests, thereby eluding its fundamental public function. On the other hand, from the perspective of the second pattern, individual property leaves the private domain, claiming absoluteness and presuming to replace the public dimension. Both these patterns reflect one-sided relations in which the two terms — sovereignty and property — merge in opposite ways, but always losing their specific content and rationale in the context of the social order. The third pattern is the only one in which sovereignty and property maintain their respective functions, with the two elements synergistically contributing to a social order in which public sphere and private dimension are both recognized as essential components. Here, public sovereignty and private property are co-essential insofar as sovereignty derives from individual will, private property is fundamental for the individual to pursue the personal self-realization that lies at the basis of his/her legitimation of sovereignty, and — finally — public power is at the service of defending the rights and interests of all individuals.

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