The Hermeneutics of Sovereignty: The Written Word, State Sovereignty, and Freedom of Religion in the Late Antiquity Roman Empire
The Journal Jurisprudence, vol. 34 (Hilary Term: December 2017): 311-332.
22 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2018
Date Written: December 1, 2017
Words are important. We order our lives around words. States and international bodies, themselves, are set forth as being based on what amount to collections of words in constitutions, charters, and codes. But these written legal instruments all refer to more basic philosophical principles and notions of justice, and those are the basis and justification for the laws themselves. But that they are written is important, and it gives us a starting point for trying to determine just what those principles are on which our society is based. We can also look back at the laws of earlier times to see just what principles guided their justifications, and very likely see reflections of our own choices on principles in theirs. The various states of the world constitute themselves based on documents which refer to these principles, as noted. What makes them a state, and one that can be thought of and recognized as a state vis-à-vis other states, is based on another principle laden idea, that of state sovereignty. But state sovereignty is not a thing, it does not really have an existence, instead it describes things, groups of people who order their lives around words. State sovereignty, in a real sense, is just words; what is far more important is what it signifies, and that is fairness and functional order in a defined societal unit.
Words have been essential to the creation of sovereign states since at least, referring to the history of the Western world, the seventh century B.C.E; and for most of the intervening twenty-seven centuries, the belief in a single deity has set the parameters for what the Constitutions of the various Western states in our common history were based on. It is only in the last five centuries, perhaps, that Religion began to lose its sin qua non status in the organization and delivery of social services and justice in the Western experience. If historical context means everything, then historical context is everything when it comes to interpreting historical events. Like historian John Lukacs noted: “…the history of everything amounts to the thing itself.” Constantine and other emperors of Rome made laws they believed would encourage the stabilizing of their societies; we make laws for the same reason. We use the same means, legislation, but we justify it not on the pleasure of the gods, but on principles we believe in just as strongly. But these principles are in flux, and just as religion was jettisoned as a justification, so some of our ideas about justice have had to change.
Keywords: sovereignty, jurisprudence, constantine, religion, words, society, law, politics, government, international law, state
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