What is sovereignty? It is perhaps the single most crucial aspect of a state. A sovereign state has supreme authority over its territory. Besides, the power of the state is exclusive. That means that another state cannot act on their territory. Every subject, domestic or foreign, must respect the laws of the state. Only diplomats have some exceptions.
A sovereign state has the full right to act on its behalf outwardly. No other can speak or operate in their name without permission. The international community (namely the United Nations) must recognize the state. Otherwise, it is not sovereign. Thus, laying the basic rules for international relations.
“supreme authority” is slightly an overstatement. That is because there are laws, which the state must respect. In a democracy, the citizens hold sovereignty. That means that all elected representatives only act on the citizens’ behalf.
Many aspects define a sovereign state. For example, an emblem, flag, and anthem are the symbols of a state. Further, all the established institutions and organs – the structure -, or the borders of the state represent it.
History of the Concept
The view on this concept changes over time. One of the first to define it was the French political philosopher Jean Bodin. He said that it is the divine rights of the kings, hence, that the monarch obtains full authority from God. He said that the power is permanent. In summary, that it is the absolute authority.
Thomas Hobbes agreed that someone ought to have absolute authority. However, he proclaims that individuals make up society. The supreme leader of the state exchanges this power with the citizens, giving them safety in return. His approach to the social contract is the fundament for this thought. Both John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau base their concepts on the social contract too.
Another view surfaces from the revolutionary 1791 French constitution: “sovereignty is one, indivisible, inalienable, and imprescriptible. It belongs to the nation. No group can attribute sovereignty to itself nor can an individual arrogate it to himself.” This is much more alike to current views.
Nevertheless, many other definitions appeared during the 20th century, and new still do today.