A Genealogy of State Sovereignty

Theoretical Inquiries in Law, 2015, Forthcoming

21 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2014 Last revised: 5 Mar 2015

See all articles by Lorenzo Zucca

Lorenzo Zucca

King's College London – The Dickson Poon School of Law

Date Written: March 5, 2015


A genealogical account of State Sovereignty explores the ways in which the concept has emerged, evolved and is in decline today. Sovereignty has a theological foundation, and is deeply bound up with the idea of God, and in particular with a voluntarist God, presented as being capable of intervening directly in the world. Religious conflicts in the 16th and 17th century forced the separation between religion and politics, and opened the space for the emergence of a national state endowed with sovereignty which has dominated the world until now. Today’s rise of international and transnational obligations challenges the conventional understanding of state sovereignty, which is not fit to explain the normative density of the global order and the corresponding decline of state based political authority. In order to explain that, I contrast two competing understandings of state sovereignty: a static one and a dynamic one. The static understanding regards sovereignty as absolute within the state territory. The dynamic understanding regards sovereignty as evolutionary: according to this account the state is just one possible form that sovereignty can take. I conclude by suggesting that the dynamic understanding of state sovereignty is better suited to explain the decline of state sovereignty.

Keywords: sovereignty, state, authority, prescriptive laws, descriptive laws, naturalism, political theology, Westphalian order, power, rights, rules, divine laws, human laws, God, God's will

Suggested Citation

Zucca, Lorenzo, A Genealogy of State Sovereignty (March 5, 2015). Theoretical Inquiries in Law, 2015, Forthcoming . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2518643 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2518643

Lorenzo Zucca (Contact Author)

King's College London – The Dickson Poon School of Law ( email )

Somerset House East Wing
London, WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

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