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International Political Theory on Sovereignty - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 292
Sovereignty/International Political Theory/Brown: (...) the 'sovereignty' norms associated with the so-called Westphalia system, (...) endorse notions such as national self-determination and non-intervention and focus on the rights of states and/or political communities (...).Richard Tuck (1999)(1) has traced the way in which humanist, Roman and republican notions of politics contested with medieval, scholastic universalism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As Friedrich Kratochwil (1995)(2) has argued, the origin of the Westphalian notion of sovereignty is best understood in terms of the successful assertion by seventeenth-century rulers of the Roman notion of dominium with respect to their territories. Originally, sovereigns were - with one or two minor exceptions - actual individuals, but with the coming of nationalism in the nineteenth century, the system adapted to accommodate the idea of popular sovereignty, with the same rights and privileges assigned to the sovereign people as has been claimed by kings and princes. Self-determination/non-intervention: more, the doctrine of popular sovereignty became associated with the right to national self-determination, which, although initially subversive of multinational empires, ultimately strengthened the norm of non-intervention, by assigning a moral status to national autonomy. Thus were set in place the Westphalian norms that were challenged by the development of a human rights regime post-1945 (...).
Westphalian order/Brown: why should states as opposed to individuals be assumed to be the normative focus of the system? Theorists of 'international society' offer two, conflicting rationales: a) that Westphalian norms allow for pluralism, the coexistence of competing conceptions of the good; and,
b) conversely and from a solidarist viewpoint, that states are, in Hedley Bull's phrase, 'local agents of the common good' (1984(3): 14; Wheeler, 1992(4)).
Ad a) The first of these ideas is best represented today by Terry Nardin's (1983)(5) Oakeshottian account of international society as a 'practical association', the international equivalent of Oakeshott's (1975)(6) 'civic association'. States are committed to the practices of conventional international law and diplomacy because they have no common projects; they simply desire to coexist under conditions of peace and (procedural) justice.
Non-intervention: the norm of non- intervention protects the ability of states to be different, to develop their own sense of the good. This position is not, strictly speaking, anti-universalist,
because it applies to all states, but it clearly stands in opposition to the substantive universalism of the international human rights regime. Partly for this reason Nardin (1989)(7) has recently somewhat distanced himself from his earlier work, but the latter still stands as the best defence of the conventional Westphalian norms currently available. >International political theory/Brown.
Utilitarianism: the notion that states are local agents of the common good can be expressed in simple, utilitarian terms: a common good can be identified, but the world is simply too big and complex to allow for global government, and the interests of all are served by a plurality of governments.
Vs: however, such a position does not require that states be sovereign, as opposed, for example, to being members of a global federation.
Sovereignty/Hegel: a better defence of state sovereignty on these lines might be Hegelian: the
rights of individuals are actually established by the state and therefore the sovereignty of the latter is not in conflict with the rights of the former. Mervyn Frost (1996)(8) provides a modern version of this argument. >Sovereignty/Walzer, >International law/International political theory.


1. Tuck, R. (1999) The Rights ofWar and Peace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2. Kratochwil, F. (1995) 'Sovereignty as dominion: is there a right of humanitarian intervention?' In G. Lyons and M. Mastanduno, eds, Beyond Westphalia? Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 21-42.
3. Bull, H. (1984) Justice in International Relations: The Hagey Lectures. Waterloo, ON: University of
Waterloo.
4. Wheeler, N. J. (1992) 'Pluralist and solidarist conceptions of international society: Bull and Vincent on humanltarian intervention'. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 21: 463-87.
5. Nardin, T. (1983) Law, Morality and the Relations of States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
6. Oakeshott, M. (1975) On Human Conduct. Oxford: Clarendon.
7. Nardin, T. (1989) 'The problem of relativism in international ethics'. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 18: 140-61.
8. Frost, M. (1996) Ethics in International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, Chris 2004. „Political Theory and International Relations“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
International Political Theory
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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