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Global Social Process and the Evolving Character of Sovereignty

By Winston P. Nagan & Craig Hammer

The world’s most daunting challenges are outcomes of the current configuration of sovereign institutions. Below, Winston P. Nagan and Craig Hammer consider whether current understandings of authority and power justify this configuration, and suggest that the challenge is to evolve a constitutive process that more accurately reflects the prevailing distribution of power in the world.

Sovereignty is a wooly concept; centuries of analysis, debate, dissensus, exasperation and conflict have borne out that it means different things to different people. Despite or perhaps due to this lack of definitional clarity, the concept enjoys continuing vitality and invites continuing effort to lessen the ambiguity.

There is a universe of disputation on the theory of sovereignty, which we will not repeat here. Rather, our objective is to reflect on emerging understandings of the theory’s two primary pillars, ‘power’ and ‘authority’, and what they mean in the complex exercise of contemporary governing competences in the global social process. These understandings are relevant to the current dynamism, instability and asymmetry inherent in the global economy, world politics, and their myriad intersections, as well as in the cultural, psychological, and other emblematic dimensions of the human condition which actuate social behaviors. These understandings are likewise central to continuing efforts by a range of actors using political and legal skills to establish a framework both to improve the quality of authoritative decision-making in the name of the public good and to elevate world politics beyond the reach of sovereign absolutism.

The State and the Constitutive Process
The State is currently the foremost territorially organised body politic that triggers sovereign claims, and is often defined by its essential characteristics. This includes, for example, control of a territorial base with determinable boundaries; control of a population connected by notions of group affiliation and identity; controlling internal power and related competencies; and the power of international representation. These characteristics were elaborated in a corpus of legal theory exemplified by the scholarship of jurists Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Jeremy Bentham and John Austin, which essentially identified the State and law as one and the same. Such theories have often diminished the role of authority and enhanced the role of power in the function of the sovereign.

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