National sovereignty

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Detail of the monument in Cádiz to the Spanish Constitution of 1812, Spain's first written constitution, which established the principle of national sovereignty.

National sovereignty is the doctrine that sovereignty belongs to and derives from the nation, an abstract entity normally linked to a physical territory and its past, present, and future citizens. It is an ideological concept or doctrine derived from liberal political theory. It traces back to John Locke in late 17th century England and to Montesquieu in 18th century France, the latter especially via Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès pamphlet What Is the Third Estate?.

Under the concept of national sovereignty, the nation is superior to the individuals of which it is composed. National sovereignty can be contrasted, on the one hand, to absolutism and to other doctrines that see sovereignty as residing solely in a monarch, aristocracy, theocracy or other small elite, and on the other hand to popular sovereignty, which has more egalitarian implications.

The relationship between the concepts of national sovereignty and citizenship is mutual. Citizens—who are not necessarily the entire populace of a territory—possess rights and have a relationship of equality to one another under the law. They are not mere subjects or vassals whose rights are delegated by a higher authority, nor are they passive objects of a political entity. In classical political theory, national sovereignty translates into a representative constitutional system, because a nation cannot be governed by direct democracy, given the impossibility of direct representation of its past and future citizens. The simple majority of the residents of the territory of a nation, or even of its citizens, is not necessarily considered identical to the will of the nation.

The first clear application of the doctrine of national sovereignty was in the constitutions of the French Revolution (1789–1799); the United States, founded in 1776 had relied more on the theory of popular sovereignty and had been first a confederation and later a federation of the states that retained certain aspects of sovereignty vis a vis the nation. National sovereignty is conceived as indivisible and inalienable, not simply parceled out among individuals or any other units who form the nation. The French Revolution was explicitly national, based on the concept of a nation state whose interests took precedence over those of individuals, even while guaranteeing rights to individuals. Article 3 of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen declared explicitly that "all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation".

Thus, under this doctrine, each individual is part of the nation, but it is a whole based on something more than direct representation. National sovereignty does not necessarily imply universal suffrage or electoral equality, both of which are usually considered to be inherent in the logic of popular sovereignty. Under national sovereignty, the vote is not an individual right, but a means to the end of determining the national will. The franchise may be restricted by some system of census suffrage; in practice, this restriction has most often been on the basis of personal wealth.

See also


This article incorporates information from the revision as of 2010-02-25 of the equivalent article on the español Wikipedia.ca:Sobirania nacional

es:Soberanía nacional fr:Souveraineté nationale gl:Soberanía nacional