The Ins and Outs of Sovereignty

  • Jeremy T. Paltiel


Against those who regard sovereignty as inherently problematic and unstable—hence, useless as a heuristic device2—and others who reject its normative significance,3 I take a position of pragmatic constructivism,4 arguing that sovereignty is an evolving institution whose constraining power depends on the action of great powers. The structure of sovereignty established in the early modern era allows great powers to enforce a framework of legitimacy by sanctioning specific behavior and elaborating norms to justify intervention and the use of force. This structure informs the scope of international law and the procedures for collective action. Rather than cover a fixed domain, these norms vary in relation to the tendency of great powers to enforce their will directly and the propensity of smaller state actors, within a general framework of legitimacy, to coordinate and harmonize state activities in line with the norms that the leading power(s) espouse. Great powers calculate the utility of diplomatic reciprocity in preference to deploying force, whereas secondary powers consider the enforcement prospect of reciprocal concessions. This calculus involves weighing the relative capacity of state institutions, the permeability of institutions in the states with whom one engages in reciprocal claims and the significance of transborder claims.


Moral Obligation Qing Dynasty Legal Order Sovereign State Moral Order 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Cynthia Weber, Simulating Sovereignty: The State, Intervention and Symbolic Exchange (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Stephen D. Krasner, Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    Peter M. Haas and Ernst B. Haas, “Pragmatic Constructivism and the Study of International Institutions,” Millenium 31, no. 3 (2002): 573–601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    See F. H. Hinsley, Sovereignty, 2d ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    See Hendrik Spruyt, The Sovereign State and Its Competitors: An Analysis of Systems Change (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 9.
    Daniel Philpott, Revolutions in Sovereignty: How Ideas Shaped Modern International Relations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 13.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Thomas J. Biersteker and Cynthia Weber, “The Social Construction of State Sovereignty,” in Thomas J. Biersteker and Cynthia Weber, eds., State Sovereignty as a Social Construct (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 11.
    Martin Wight, System of States (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1977), 23.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Jens Bartelson, A Genealogy of Sovereignty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 53–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 16.
    Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), 202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 18.
    Chris Brown, Sovereignty, Rights and Justice: International Political Theory Today (Cambridge Polity Press, 2002), 36.Google Scholar
  13. 22.
    See G. John Ikenberry, After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 32.Google Scholar
  14. 56.
    Etienne Balazs, Chinese Civilization and Bureaucracy: Variations on a Theme (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965).Google Scholar
  15. 62.
    Huang Zongxi, Waiting for the Dawn, trans. Wm. Theodore De Bary (New York: Columbia, 1998), 97.Google Scholar
  16. 108.
    George Sansom, The Western World and Japan (New York: Knopf, 1948).Google Scholar
  17. 109.
    See Marius B. Jansen, ed., The Cambridge History of Japan, vol 4: The Ninenteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 31–33.Google Scholar
  18. 114.
    Jianfu Chen, Chinese Law: Towards an Understanding of Its Nature and Development (The Hague: Kluwer, 1999), 21.Google Scholar
  19. 115.
    Joseph Levenson, Liang Ch’I-ch’ao and the Mind of Modern China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 116.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jeremy T. Paltiel 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeremy T. Paltiel

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations