Problematic Sovereignty: Contested Rules and Political Possibilities

By Stephen D. Krasner | Go to book overview

3
Sovereignty from a World Polity Perspective
JOHN BOLI

For several centuries, sovereignty has been considered an attribute of states. The state is the locus of ultimate authority in society, uniquely qualified to represent society as a whole in its relations with the external world. No body, no organization, no power stands higher than the state; the world is a basically feudal structure composed of lordly states all jealously guarding their respective domains. 1 As a result, conflict is structural and endemic; cooperation is strategic and fragile. International interaction and exchange constitute potential challenges to state sovereignty that must be regulated and managed.

This image of sovereignty is not simply that of “realist” or “neorealist” scholarly analysis. 2 It is also the image that has prevailed in the development of international law and in the practice of states with regard to trade, immigration, citizenship, war, and a host of other areas. It is a fundamental assumption about the nature of things in the state-organized world for the great majority of theorists and practitioners of national and world politics. Indeed, it is hardly too much to say that it constitutes a core element in the very definition of the state. If the state is not the ultimate locus of authority, it is not a state.

Oddly, one question that is crucial to the meaningfulness of sovereignty is not often raised in discussions of the concept: With respect to what is the state sovereign? What is the social unit over which the state rules? We tend to take that unit, the “nation” or national polity, very much for granted. The nation-state has been such a fundamental part of our con-

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