Liebniz's Theory of Relative Sovereignty and International Legal Personality: Justice and Stability or the Last Great Defence of the Holy Roman Empire
IILJ Working Paper No. 2004/2
58 Pages Posted: 19 May 2005
Date Written: 2004
In the late 17th century, several decades after the Westphalian Peace of 1648 which is often misleadingly presented as the instant starting point of the modern European order of absolutely sovereign states, the political structures of the Holy Roman Empire headed by the Emperor and Pope were still in place, although weakening. German princes sought increased power, independence, and acceptance as part of the highest levels of European political order. The problem of how to manage (imperial) political change without stimulating instability and injustice was at the centre of European politics. Seeking to stretch the political order to include rising and new actors without it breaking down altogether, G. W. Leibniz (1646-1716) developed a theory of the law of nature and nations or, as he preferred to call it, a universal jurisprudence, that was both politically realistic and highly normative. He introduced two pragmatic concepts - relative sovereignty and international legal personality - embedded in a theory of (universal) justice. With these conceptions, Leibniz made a fundamental contribution to the theory and discursive practice of international law. This paper assesses Leibniz's contribution in the political context of the period and of his employment by the Duke of Brunswick-Lueneburg. It includes examination of Leibniz's relations to Grotius and Hobbes, and extended consideration of Leibniz's debates with Pufendorf. These contributions have additional contemporary interest in light of current transitional questions concerning adaptation of the international legal and political order to non-state actors seeking to participate.
JEL Classification: K29, K34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation