IX
SOVEREIGNTY RESTATED, OR THE
SUPREMACY OF THE CONSTITUTION

Sovereignty and the Absolutist State

THE doctrine of sovereignty, as we have already seen, is a modern doctrine which took its rise in the sixteenth century. It is the characteristic doctrine of the new secular state. It was a protest against various limitations which that state found in its way -- a protest against the claims of the Empire, the claims of the Papacy, and all the limitations of custom, common law, and standing within the state which restrained its actions. As we saw in Chapter III the more rapid tempo of social change which was so marked a feature of that time and has continued ever since, demanded of the state wider and more decisive powers if it was to do its job.

The theory, as it was first formulated, was an admirable account of the absolutist states of that time. The new states were based on the authority of the monarch, not on the authority of law. Law now took a secondary place. It was regarded as essentially a command. Law, says Hobbes, is the word of him who by right beareth command over others. The social or psychological fact on which law and the state are based is reverence for the monarch. The subjects obey -- are 'in a habit of obedience', as it was to be afterwards expressed. The essential juristic fact was now that law was what the sovereign commanded. Customary and common law are explained by the rubric, 'What the sovereign permits, he commands'.

This is a straightforward theory. Its simplicity depended on the fact that the object of men's reverence, Henry or Charles, by the Grace of God, King, was the author of definite commands which could be known and obeyed. Certain important consequences followed inevitably from it. If all authority is personal no one can delimit the authorities of two or more persons but another person and he must then be sovereign.

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