Abstracts

Professor V. Arena, UCL
‘Actiones populares, the Commonwealth, and the Right of the Individual’?

This paper will focus on the actiones populares, that is on legal actions that could be brought by an individual member of the civic community for the benefit of the people, in defence of a collective good, be it water, rivers, roads, or public buildings. (Dig. 47.23).

Although, according to a scholarly interpretation (Kaser), they should be understood, in the technical sense, as private actions in which any individual could plead only once in the interest of the community, they resembled, in many respects (including language), iudicia publica, to which, some scholars argue (Crawford), they should be rather identified. Interestingly, they included multam dicere by a magistrate and multam petere by qui volet as well as the other way round, showing their flexible structure (see, for example, the lex Coloniae Genitivae and the lex proviciis praetoris).

It seems clear, however, that at the heart of the actiones populares was an action brought forward by an individual, not the community, where the individual, who implicitly perceived himself as wronged, acted in the interest of people, as its representative. Since, in an actio popularis, the privatus, who brought the actio forward, was at the same time acting in defence of his own right as well as of the collective right of the community, this paper will analyse these legal procedures as exemplification of the relation between the commonwealth and the individual and the underlying notion of popular sovereignty. It aims at shedding light on the conception of the commonwealth and the notion of the rights of the individual, understood in this case not so much as political rights, but rather as the rights of the person.


Professor D. Hammer, Franklin and Marshall College
Thinking about Sovereignty: Is there a Fictional State in the Roman Republic?

In this paper I focus on an argument that is made by Quentin Skinner and others that associates sovereignty with particular characteristics of the modern state. These characteristics are seen as fundamentally different from ancient political systems. In particular, I want to revisit the extent to which we can identify aspects of an abstract or fictional notion of a state in the res publica. My argument is that maiestas, which shows up frequently in the language of the Roman republic, contains within its religious meaning a regulative notion that endows the corporate aspects of the populus Romanus with inviolability. Maiestas populi Romani combines law with reverence in a fictional entity that derives from the power of the people (in their sheer numbers) but whose existence is abstracted from any particular assembly of the people. My goal is not to suggest that the ancient res publica is just like modern state; rather, it is to blur that distinction.


Dr A. Russell, Durham
People and populus in the genealogy of popular sovereignty

Sovereignty of any kind is a constructed abstraction, and the relationships between abstract popular sovereignty, an idealized People, and actual (unpredictable, bodily, diverse) people are at the heart of theoretical discussions of popular sovereignty in all periods. The maiestas imperii which is Bodin’s keyword for sovereignty was originally the maiestas populi Romani: the majesty of the Roman People. This paper takes the People, rather than their maiestas, as its starting point.

The populus Romanus, the Roman People in organised institutional form, was already an abstraction, and cannot be reduced to a term for the populace as a whole. Yet the way Romans appealed to the populus suggests a concept that is substantially more concrete than, for example, Rousseau’s ‘body politic’. This paper explores how the duality of the populus, both as an institution and as a group of real people, was part of the creation and functioning of Roman concepts analogous to popular sovereignty, and what lessons it may have for popular sovereignty today.


Professor C. Lundgreen, Dresden University
Sovereignty – a concept to be avoided at all costs for the pre-Bodin world?

The vast majority of scholarly literature unanimously agrees that the concept of „sovereignty“ cannot and should not be applied to the ancient world. Following current debates on „shared sovereignty“ and „degrees of sovereignty“ in recent studies on „governance“ and in particular the work of Stephen Krasner, my paper will re-examine this approach. Which notions and layers of sovereignty can be distinguished? Are they really all as foreign to the ancient world as generally thought? If so, what does this tell us about both the pre-modern and our modern world so heavily shaped sovereign states and nations?


Professor L. Habberstad, Oregon
Forms and Memories of Sovereignty in Early Imperial China: Beyond Heaven’s Mandate, All-Under-Heaven, and So Forth 

The Mandate of Heaven [a Heaven-endowed right to rule] and its relative, “All-Under-Heaven,” remain fixtures in introductory Chinese history courses, popular press accounts, and discussions of contemporary Chinese politics.  As terms promising insight into highly normative ideals of Chinese political culture (explicitly moral rule, meritocratic government, multi-ethnic harmony, etc), their relevance, not to mention convenience, are undeniable, and this talk makes no attempt to jettison them.  At the same time, such ideals stand in tension with the messy contradictions evident in early imperial sources, which at times express complete bafflement at the relationship between divine or cosmic powers and political order.   Moreover, historical texts and tracts of political philosophy from the Western and Eastern Han eras (202 BCE-220 CE), China’s first sustained period of unified empire, demonstrate frequent shifts in favored notions of rulership, even while all emphasized in different ways gift-giving and material means of maintaining imperial cohesion.  These observations do not just call into question the penetration of a sovereignty understood in purely cosmic terms, but more importantly highlight the coexistence of multiple forms of sovereignty, which often sought support from competing genealogies.  In a manner that recalls contemporary politics, then, claims of sovereignty entailed the invocation of memories, which could and often did contradict each other.


Dr Ben Holland, University of Nottingham
Pufendorf on Sovereignty in the Composite Moral Person of the State

In this paper, I will be speaking to chapter 2 of my recent book The Moral Person of the State. The book is a study of the theory of the state of the Saxon philosopher, lawyer and historian Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-94), one of the major theorists of the state in the modern period, and one of its most influential. Pufendorf described the state as a moral person. The description enabled him to draw an analogy between human persons and states, on the basis of which he argued that states bring themselves to act in much the same way that free and rational individuals bring themselves to act on according to a particular account of liberty that Pufendorf held in common with other German Lutherans. He thereby developed a constitutionalist account of sovereignty and its limitations based on the division of the powers of intellect and will in generating human free action, what I call facultative sovereignty. Pufendorf stressed the composite character of sovereignty as a kind of joint exercise of intellect and will so that he could expound a theory of the composite polity as a feasible political arrangement, for one of his purposes was to bring intellectual order to the Holy Roman Empire. Pufendorf’s main concern when theorising the state was to show how a particular kind of state – the composite polity, which is to say one self-identifying political community which is itself a union of other self-identifying political communities, exemplified by the German Empire – can still be a sovereign actor in its own right. I will point to some basic contrasts between Pufendorf’s theory of the state and that of the most famous of early modernity, Hobbes’s; and I will point briefly to some of the connections between Pufendorf and Scottish Enlightenment writers who in turn influenced the men who founded a new composite polity on the other side of the Atlantic.


Dr. M. Somos, Heidelberg
Company-states, sanctions and secession: expansive and divisible sovereignty in law and history

This paper discusses three trends intensifying since 2017. Legal practitioners and scholars increasingly regard Amazon, private security firms and Google as challenging the current notion and hallmarks of state sovereignty in original ways. WTO members and officers rue the US, Gulf, Russian and other invocations of Art. XXI national security exceptions, because they undermine the WTO’s raison d’être as a not primarily political forum for economic coordination. Quebec, New Caledonia, Catalonia, Kurdistan, the Biafra and others try to secede because local leaders convinced voters that they would economically benefit, while legal practitioners and scholars working on these initiatives struggle to find a unified framework to address secession, self-determination and economic populism.

These are new problems, but old phenomena. Largely due to resolutions of seventeenth-century contests around sovereignty, none of these trends would have stunned eighteenth-century lawyers and commentators. A juxtaposition of new problems with old solutions can expand our current legal toolkit and imagination.


Professor S. Legg, Nottingham
Scalar, Spectacular and Subaltern Sovereignty: Negotiating Colonial Autocracy and Democracy at the India Round Table Conference, 1930-32

This paper will open by introducing three recurring characteristics of contemporary debates regarding sovereignty in colonial India. The first concerns scale; the way in which the sovereignty of the Government of India was positioned between that of the Indian village and the imperial capital in London. The second concerns spectacle; the accentuated role of the visual and of display in the Raj. The third debate emerges from subaltern studies and regards the popular sovereignty of the Indian non-elite. These three types of sovereignty will be shown to have been renegotiated and to have interacted in vital ways at a crucial moment in twentieth century imperial history. In 1930 the British Government announced that it would invite Indian leaders to London to negotiate the next stage of India’s constitutional advance. The Round Table Conference sat in three sessions between 1930-32 and is widely presumed to have been a failure. This is due to the deadlocks produced between “Die Hard” Conservatives and Indian nationalists, and due to the failure to reconcile the visions of the directly administered and indirectly administered (“Princely”) states of India. This paper will argue, however, that the conference also marked a series of successful innovations in terms of sovereignty. These included: the use of the form of the international conference to create a new imperial hybrid of autocracy and democracy; the emergence of a new spectacle of interwar colonial sovereignty; and the disrupting of the conventions of sovereignty by the demands and representatives of the Indian subaltern.


Professor E. Isayev, Exeter
Hosts and Higher Powers: Asylum as Discourse on Sovereignty and Responsibility

Asylum appeals, by their nature, constitute the host by pointing to the existence of bodies that are positioned external to it. The request for refuge and negotiations that follow expose the ambiguity of who the host actually is. Ancient literature’s exploration of such contexts, especially at key moments such as 5th century polis democracy, shows a deep interest in the tensions resulting for political representatives seeking to balance their responsibility and obligation to the people, the asylum seekers, and higher powers such as the gods (not dissimilar to today’s UN). Hospitality decision-making marks the boundary between civic society and the international community, confronting the space between civil and human rights. It is here that the perplexities of sovereignty are revealed, not only for the host, but for those – citizen-strangers, the stateless or people with non-effective citizenship – whose existence lies seemingly beyond possibilities of sovereign action. Using ancient appeals for asylum as a starting point this paper considers the way in which these allow for different understandings of sovereignty and the conflict between its ideal and the pressures on it in practice. It goes on to question what the role of asylum requests is within current sovereignty discourse – in a world of nation-states and of groups living in severely protracted conditions of displacement, of what has been termed permanent temporariness.


Professor L. Stonebridge, Birmingham
Hannah Arendt in Baddawi ‘The definite is the shadow and not the owner’ (Yousif M. Qasmiyeh)

In the final paragraph of her bitter and beautiful 1943 essay, ‘We Refugees’, Hannah Arendt writes: ‘Refugees driven from country to country represent the vanguard of their peoples – if they keep their identity.’ It is an oddly affirmative ending to an essay otherwise concerned to demonstrate how Arendt’s generation of Jewish refugees had tumbled into a historically new kind of political, legal, and existential black hole – a place devoid of sovereignty. How can we read this claim to identity without sovereignty 75 years after Arendt first wrote her essay?

In this paper I connect Arendt’s critique of sovereignty to refugee history, her own, and to the wider history that unfolded in the late twentieth century and that continues to our own day. Well placed to understand sovereignty’s failures, acutely sensitive to its violence, on the one hand Arendt gives an account of how refugees came to be pushed beyond the political pale. At the same time, her concerns with ‘pre-political’ sociality, co-suffering, natality, and beginnings, gesture to the possibility of a different political life.

A people with an identity, but as yet only limited, fractured, and contested, sovereignty, 75 years after ‘We Refugees’ the politics of refugee living are nowhere more eloquently expressed than in the enforced endurance of the Palestinian people. In the final part of the paper, I draw a line from Arendt to Baddawi camp in Northern Lebanon, and the poetry of Yousif M. Qasmiyeh.  Established in 1955, just as Arendt was writing The Human Condition (1958), the people of Baddawi have long lived in the parallel world of the ‘humanitarian condition’ (Ilana Feldman, Life Lived in Relief, 2018).  Yet many of the terms for political community present in Arendt’s thinking are being critically re-written in the camp today, through multiple and shared histories of displacement. Neither the sovereignty that created –and creates — refugees nor simply a non-sovereignty in Baddawi, ‘the plurality of lives has traversed the place itself to become its own time’ (Qasmiyeh).


Professor J. Fontein, Johannesburg
Water, power and sovereignty: Case studies from Zimbabwe and Kenya

Power is always some combination of or nexus between sovereignty as in demonstrable capacity, coercion and violence, on the one hand, and legitimacy (as in responding to people’s needs, ideas, ideology) on the other.  This is true across scales from the state to local politics traversing a tension between necropolitics (the power to make dead) and biopolitics (the power to provide life).  The case study for this paper is around water – which in all its material forms and qualities (from drought/rainmaking, flooding to dams, to sanitation and other water based services) captures this tension. Water  therefore often acts as an index of power (i.e. an index of this tension between biopolitics and necropolitics)), so that rainmakers and dam builders look very similar (both demonstrate their powerful capacity to deliver water, but are also responsive to human needs), for example, and often state bodies are in competition with other groups who do what looks very much like what a state would do (e.g. urban gangs controlling water services in slums in Nairobi, for example).


Dr. R. Alcaro, Istituto Affari Internazionali
The fraying transatlantic order and Europe’s struggle in a multipolar world

Abstract: For seventy years, the United States has guaranteed the European order, while Europe’s international influence has derived from America’s willingness to commit to a rulesbased and Western-dominated multilateral order. On surface, the Europeans’ role conception and performance as transatlantic allies have dovetailed. In reality, their performance has rather been that of secondary players, when not subdued or restive followers, constantly struggling to reconcile their foreign policy priorities with those of their patron across the Ocean. The ‘populist revolution’, and especially the advent of Donald Trump to the US presidency, may stretch that delicate balancing act to the point it becomes impossible. Europe’s recently stated ambition to pursue strategic autonomy has thus turned into a matter of necessity. Autonomy does not mean detachment from the United States. It involves an ability to leverage diplomatic, economic, military and societal assets in Europe’s global interactions to seek a more balanced transatlantic relationship.


Dr. C. Jones, St Andrews
Chinese World Order, Sovereignty, and International Practice

In the traditional Chinese World Order, the term sovereignty is an irrelevant term and concept. Relations between the middle kingdom and its tributaries were variously based on trade and deference rather than respect for legitimate governance over a given population and territory. In seeking to provide clear answers as to ‘what China wants’ there is an emerging trend to develop a Chinese School of IR that draws on these traditional relationships. Taking this further, there have been a growing number of assessments of Xi Jinping’s foreign policy highlighting the congruence of his leadership and interpretations of the traditional Chinese world order.

Yet, China’s international foreign policy practice seeks to affirm a traditional view of sovereignty and confirm the importance of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states.  Ostensibly, this presents a puzzling relationship between the development of a Chinese school of IR and China’s international practice. The use and application of sovereignty is at the heart of this puzzle. This paper then asks the question: what is the relationship between China’s emerging theory and its practice in relation to the concept of sovereignty?


Dr. F. Costa Buranelli, St Andrews
The institution of sovereignty in Central Asia

Drawing on recent developments within scholarship on the regionalisation of international society, this paper studies the interpretation and the practice of ‘sovereignty’ in the Central Asian region. By relying on primary and secondary research material, the paper intends to achieve three main objectives: 1) to discuss the extent to which ‘sovereignty’ in Central Asia is interpreted and practiced along the lines of Western legal traditions, or rather presents indigenous traits; 2) to understand how authoritarianism impacts on the interpretation and the practice of sovereignty; 3) to assess the presence of a postcolonial narrative of sovereignty in the region, or the lack thereof. These objectives are meant to contribute to the regional agenda of the English School by exploring the polysemy of sovereignty, to a better understanding of how authoritarianism interacts with international society, and to the identification of postcolonial discourses in processes of regionalisation and interaction with global international society.


Dr. T. St John, St Andrews
Renegotiating Sovereignty: Governments and the Incremental Adjustment of International Investment Law

In the 20th century, individuals were endowed with standing under international law; a growing number of treaties provide individuals the right to initiate cases against states in international fora. This development tends to be associated with human rights, but similar dynamics occurred in international investment law. In the last 60 years, nearly every government around the world has given investors – either individual people or corporations – the right to bring cases against them in arbitration.

The cases that investors bring often generate controversy. For instance, tobacco company Philip Morris challenged Australia’s anti-tobacco legislation, while the Swedish firm Vattenfall challenged Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear power after the Fukushima accident. Cases like these create an impression that wealthy foreigners can punish states for legislation created through democratic processes, which generates backlash from civil society groups and citizens. To many observers, the rights given to individuals in investment treaties have gone too far in constraining states’ sovereignty.

Yet, contemporary investment law is not defined by national governments “losing control” – instead, governments are remaking investment law, adjusting their commitments to give themselves greater autonomy and better align with their domestic priorities. This paper develops a typology of actions that states can take, as treaty parties, to adjust investment law. This typology includes exit strategies, such as terminating treaties or withdrawing from institutions, as well as voice strategies, such as renegotiating treaties or issuing interpretive statements to guide arbitral tribunals, as well as strategies of institutional creation. This typology provides a systematic way to understand state actions and emphasizes the diversity of ways in which states are reshaping investment law. No single response has become dominant; instead, investment law bubbles with a variety of incremental changes today. Collectively, these changes illustrate how national governments – even in a field of law known for unduly constraining their sovereignty – can reassert themselves as masters of their treaties and become central actors in remaking global governance.


Dr Kanad Bagchi, MPIL Heidelberg
Monetary sovereignty and international Monetary Coordination: Never the Twain Shall Meet?

This paper argues that monetary sovereignty cannot be understood without carefully analysing both the sources and exercises of monetary power by states and international institutions. If there exists a dissonance between monetary sovereignty and monetary coordination, it is precisely because the existence of monetary power within certain states allows them to operate in manner whereby the need for coordination and adjustment is substantially diminished, if not altogether eliminated. Therefore, the capacity to exercise monetary power translates into a particular understanding of monetary sovereignty. Secondly, I argue that since monetary sovereignty remains dispersed and should not be viewed as residing solely within the state, monetary coordination becomes an imperative especially as a means to regain sovereign control over money. Crucially, coordination in the monetary field ought to acknowledge underlying power equations through interpreting monetary sovereignty in a manner that takes into consideration the externalities arising out of the same.


Professor H. Rosa, Erfurt
Resonant Sovereignty? The Challenge of Social Acceleration – and the Prospect of an Alternative Conception

 Traditional conceptions of sovereignty are based on, and dependent on, the capacity to synchronize political decision making with both the internal dynamics of social and economic life and the external speeds of global markets and technologies as well as environmental concerns. Yet, modern societies continue to operate in a mode of dynamic stabilization, which means that they are persistently forced to grow, accelerate and innovate in order to reproduce their structure and preserve their institutional status quo. This leads to a form of social acceleration which threatens or even destroys this very capacity for synchronization; it leads to serious forms of desynchronization on all levels of social and political life (i.e. between citizens, between markets and politics, between states as well as between social life and environmental temporalities). Hence, the paper argues, what is needed is a different conception of ‘soft sovereignty’ which is not based on autonomy and instrumental control, but on responsivity on all those levels: This form of sovereignty, or of the common good, is realized when a body politic establishes ‘axes of resonance’ a) between citizens b) towards the (natural) environment c) towards history and d) towards other political bodies beyond its borders. Resonance is a form of relationship that consists of four elements: 1) Affectivity, i.e. the capacity to listen to the ‘other’ 2) Responsivity, i.e. the capacity to answer (with a firm voice), 3) Transformativity, i.e. the capacity to be perpetually transformed without losing the ability for 1 or 2, and 4) Unpredictability, i.e. the capacity to accept the loss of autonomous control over outcomes without losing the sense of self-determination. In this sense, the paper argues, the core idea of sovereignty can be re-interpreted as centred around 2), Responsivity, but to involve all four elements.