SMNR: Aspects of Sovereignty

Few words are more loaded, and fundamentally unclear, than "sovereignty." This seminar will be devoted to examining a variety of uses of the notion of sovereignty in world history and, more particularly, law. The first session, for example, will begin with an examination of materials drawn from the "Abrahamic faiths" of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which focus on the notion of "divine sovereignty" as exemplified in the duty to obey (or accept) divine commandments (or assertions of will) without question. Among the readings, for example, will be materials from the Book of Job. We will go on to look at one central "aspect of sovereignty," which is control over subjects' bodies, most dramatically exemplified in torture and capital punishment. We will also be addressing the rise of "state sovereignty," including that instantiated in monarchs who claim to rule by divine right. Monarchical sovereignty is, of course, ultimately succeeded, at the time of the American and French revolutions, by theories of "popular sovereignty," and we will examine some implications of that notion. We will spend several weeks on how the idea of sovereignty plays out in American constitutional thought, including decisions of the Supreme Court. As to the former, we will pay special attention to the claim that "sovereign states" can nullify what they believe to be unconstitutional federal laws or that the "sovereign people" of these states can exercise their right to secede from the Union. We shall, though, also look at some uses of "sovereignty" arguments elsewhere in the world, including, for example, Brexit and other contemporary secessionist movements. We will conclude by looking at "humanitarian intervention" or the "responsibility to protect" as ideas within contemporary international law and their implications for traditional notions of state sovereignty. Everyone in the seminar will be expected to write a substantial paper of at least 5000 words, in addition to doing the reading and participating in discussions. Each student will be asked to write at least one "response paper" of roughly 750 words to the readings assigned in a particular week. It is possible that the seminar will actually meet for three hours/week instead of two hours.

Class Details

Meeting Days Time Location
Wednesday 3:45 - 5:35 pm TNH 3.114

Examination information not available

Additional Information

Course Type
Grading Method
Pass/Fail Not Allowed

Textbooks

  • Nullificvation and Secession in Modern Constitutional Thought - Sanford Levinson, ed.
      University Press of Kansas , edition: pb
      ISBN: 978-0-7006-229903   (required)
  • Sovereignty: The Origin and Future of a Political and Legal Concept - Dieter Grimm
      Columbia University Press , edition: pb
      ISBN: 9780231164252   (required)
  • Sovereignty: God, State, and Self - Jean Bethke Elshtain
      Basic Books , edition: pb
        (required)