Dizionario di Politica

Authors: Bobbio, Matteucci, Pasquino
Summary: This entry analyzes the concept of sovereignty as it has been articulated in traditional political thought as well as in the modern state; particular attention is paid to the contemporary "crisis" of sovereignty. The juridical-political concept of sovereignty denotes the power of command in a polity. Sovereignty represents the juridical rationalization of power-that is, the transformation of force into legitimate power.
In its modern meaning, the term appears at the end of the 16th century, indicating the power of the state as the exclusive political actor. In this sense the concept was the legal basis for the modern state to supersede a medieval political order based, on the one hand, on guilds and on the other on the Pope and the Holy Roman Empire.
The main part of the entry considers several perspectives on the nature of sovereignty. Bodin identified sovereignty with the power of making and revoking laws. According to him sovereignty was absolute, indivisible, perpetual, and inalienable. Other theorists of modern sovereignty are Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke. Sovereignty can be limited (law as a right order), absolute (law as a technical, rational order serving some end), or arbitrary (law as the will of the strongest).
The entry concludes by suggesting that the present juridical-political concept of sovereignty is in crisis, due to the rise of constitutionalism and pluralism. Pluralist theory directly challenges sovereignty: while sovereignty emphasizes unity and monism, pluralism denies the unity of the state and in its place envisages a variety of groups and associations competing for political power.