Journal of Civil Law Studies


The ideas of centralized political power and monarchy that emerged from the Mediterranean world are among the most important philosophical bases for the concept of sovereignty. My thesis is that the normative idea of an absolute, independent, and exclusive center of power originates in a complex case of philosophical hybridity. It is the outcome of the alternation between the conception of the Sovereign as representing the supreme power (the indirect theory) and the conception of the Sovereign as directly containing that power (the direct theory). The former conception is usually associated with the history of Western political culture and the passage from Greek to Roman ideas of public authority. The latter conception is typically associated with the understanding of supreme political power found in Eastern culture, as exemplified in Persian kingship and the Byzantine theocracy.

My intention is to show how the modern concept of sovereignty has emerged from a mixture of these two conceptions. In fact, the early philosophical structure of sovereignty in both its monarchical and its democratic versions can be summed up in the notion of secularized transcendence. The sovereign benefits simultaneously from both the conceptual model of subjectivity (the indirect theory) as a mask that represents a center of attribution (le Roi est mort, vive le Roi), and the conceptual model of a material supreme subject (the direct theory) who embodies the primacy of an authority that is beyond actual social relationships (l’État c’est moi).

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