Sovereignty, Internal

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Sovereignty, in political theory, is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity. It is a basic principle underlying the dominant Westphalian model of state foundation.


Internal sovereignty is the relationship between a sovereign power and its own subjects. A central concern is legitimacy: by what right does a government exercise authority? Claims of legitimacy might refer to the divine right of kings or to a social contract (i.e. popular sovereignty).

With Sovereignty meaning holding supreme, independent authority over a region or state, Internal Sovereignty refers to the internal affairs of the state and the location of supreme power within it. A state that has internal sovereignty is one with a government that has been elected by the people and has the popular legitimacy. Internal sovereignty examines the internal affairs of a state and how it operates. It is important to have strong internal sovereignty in relation to keeping order and peace. When you have weak internal sovereignty organization such as rebel groups will undermine the authority and disrupt the peace. The presence of a strong authority allows you to keep agreement and enforce sanctions for the violation of laws. The ability for leadership to prevent these violations is a key variable in determining internal sovereignty. The lack of internal sovereignty can cause war in one of two ways, first, undermining the value of agreement by allowing costly violations and second requiring such large subsidies for implementation that they render war cheaper than peace. Leadership needs to be able to promise members, especially those like armies, police forces, or paramilitaries will abide by agreements. The presence of strong internal sovereignty allows a state to deter opposition groups in exchange for bargaining. It has been said that a more decentralized authority would be more efficient in keeping peace because the deal must please not only the leadership but also the opposition group. While the operations and affairs within a state are relative to the level of sovereignty within that state, there is still an argument between who should hold the authority in a sovereign state.

This argument between who should hold the authority within a sovereign state is called the traditional doctrine of public sovereignty. This discussion is between an internal sovereign or an authority of public sovereignty. An internal sovereign is a political body that possesses ultimate, final and independent authority; one whose decisions are binding upon all citizens, groups and institutions in society. Early thinkers believe sovereignty should be vested in the hands of a single person, a monarch. They believed the overriding merit of vesting sovereignty in a single individual was that sovereignty would therefore be indivisible; it would be expressed in a single voice that could claim final authority. An example of an internal sovereign or monarch is Louis XIV of France during the seventeenth century; Louis XIV claimed that he was the state. Jean-Jacques Rousseau rejected monarchical rule in favor of the other type of authority within a sovereign state, public sovereignty. Public Sovereignty is the belief that ultimate authority is vested in the people themselves, expressed in the idea of the general will. This means that the power is elected and supported by its members, the authority has a central goal of the good of the people in mind. The idea of public sovereignty has often been the basis for modern democratic theory.

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