Essay about Sovereignty Revisited Jens

Submitted By kaddison123
Words: 6205
Pages: 25

The European Journal of International Law Vol. 17 no.2 © EJIL 2006; all rights reserved

...........................................................................................

The Concept of Sovereignty
Revisited
Jens Bartelson*

Beaulac, Stéphane. The Power of Language in the Making of International Law. The
Word Sovereignty in Bodin and Vattel and the Myth of Westphalia. Leiden: Martinus
Nijhoff, 2004. Pp. 200. €90. ISBN 9004136983.
Ilgen, Thomas L. (ed.). Reconfigured Sovereignty. Multi-Layered Governance in the Global
Age. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003. Pp. xii + 224. $99.95 £52.50. ISBN 0754635341.
Walker, Neil (ed.). Sovereignty in Transition. Oxford: Hart, 2003. Pp. 556. £53.
ISBN 184113337X.

Abstract
This essay, in discussing some recent contributions to the contemporary debate on sovereignty, focuses on what is at stake in this debate. While most authors today agree that the meaning of the concept of sovereignty is open to change across time and space, students of international law and international relations disagree about the causes and consequences of this conceptual change. While some scholars take such changes to be indicative of a corresponding transformation of global institutions, others regard them as evidence of the remarkable endurance of the Westphalian order. In this essay, I argue that this disagreement depends less on divergent accounts of the world, and more on the ontological status implicitly accorded to concepts by these authors. I conclude by pointing out that the very emphasis on the changing meaning of sovereignty makes normative problems intrinsically hard to settle, and that dealing with this impasse will be a major challenge to legal and political theory in the years to come.

The concept of sovereignty, once relatively uncontested, has recently become a major bone of contention within international law and international relations theory. Rather than presupposing that the concept of sovereignty has a timeless or universal meaning, more recent scholarship has focused on the changing meanings of this concept across a variety

*

Professor of International Relations, University of Copenhagen. Email: JEB@ifs.ku.dk.

........................................................................................................................................................
EJIL (2006), Vol. 17 No. 2, 463–474 doi: 10.1093/ejil/chl006

464

EJIL 17 (2006), 463–474

of historical and political contexts.1 Much of this contestation and subsequent historical exploration has been undertaken as a result of an earlier linguistic reorientation within the social and legal sciences. One main upshot of this reorientation has been to claim that language, rather than being a neutral medium of representation, is actively involved in the constitution of legal and political reality. Yet, contrary to initial expectations, the linguistic turn has increased rather than diminished the staying power of the concept of sovereignty within legal and political discourse. The very moment that scholars decided that the meaning of sovereignty lies very much in what we make of it through our linguistic conventions and rhetorical practices, they also opened up a new field of inquiry within which this concept could survive and thrive, albeit now as an object of inquiry rather than as its uncontested foundation. What then became the subject of great interest was the question of why the meaning of this concept changes across time and space, and under what conditions these changes in turn spill over into institutional change on a grand scale.2
Another outcome of this reorientation is that the previously distinct concerns of academic international relations and international law have tended to converge. The very focus on the concept of sovereignty brought about by this linguistic reorientation – rather than on the facts or norms of sovereign statehood – has provided a common ground where the concerns of lawyers and political scientists…