Blogs > Liberty and Power > Sovereignty is about sovereigns

Jun 29, 2004 1:19 pm

Sovereignty is about sovereigns

First of all, let me say that I’m happy to have been invited to guest-blog here. I am in august company. I’d been contemplating starting a blog, but between summer teaching and non-wired (gasp!) vacation plans, I decided to put that off until the new semester begins. But I’m delighted to try it out as a guest. (In case anyone’s curious, my first name is pronounced as if it were “Ian.”)

On to an actual topic: Roderick Long writes (below) “Now don't get me wrong; I'm no great enthusiast for international law per se. It's mostly a bunch of agreements among criminal gangs, and as such has no inherent authority. But it does have some utility as a check on especially bad behaviour [sic] by such gangs, and it keeps alive the idea that there are standards of justice higher than the State.” Not really. International law uses a conception of state sovereignty which is monarchist both in its origins and in its application. Saddam Hussein’s “legitimacy” as a ruler amounted to no more than the mere fact of his ruling, yet for international law this is sufficient to establish sovereignty. So the “standard of justice” invoked here just is the State – whatever institutions of authority exist are presumptively legitimate, whether liberal or tyrannical. It is precisely the realist model of international relations which eschews the higher standard of justice Roderick mentions.

Now this is partly a good thing, since people with extravagant but mistaken visions of “higher standards of justice” sometimes seek to conquer the world in an attempt to realize them. But a human-rights-based or individual-liberty-based “higher standard of justice” is actually contrary to the notion of sovereignty in international law. So while international law sometimes is a check on state abuses as Roderick notes, it also enshrines state power, in effect giving the strongest protection to the states that deserve it least.

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