Competition year: 2001
About Ph.D. John O. Sutter
We offer a utopist concept of sovereignty and, derived therefrom, views on self-determination, self-government, and ultimately a democratic, federal system for governing the world. This reflects a Weltanschauung quite different from one with a concept of sovereignty and its consequences still found in many circles.
BREAKDOWN OF THE CONCEPT OF THE OMNIPOTENT SOVEREIGN
For three centuries after the treaties of Westphalia, as the concept of the absolute monarch was gradually eroded, the focus of sovereignty-the authority to rule and powers that proceed therefrom-gradually passed from the ruling "sovereign" to the government of his territory or even to the territory itself, especially to the nation-state. Nevertheless, while the post-Westphalian state-centered concept of sovereignty persisted in most circles, two paradigm changes were gradually being felt. First, the Reformation had broken the totalitarian control asserted by the Papacy and its clergy, who had intervened not only in the affairs of faith but also in the affairs of state and demanded absolute fealty, claiming to be agents of a sovereign deity. Later, although the Protestant clergy claimed to inherit the powers of their Catholic predecessors in the secular realm, after the Renaissance restored knowledge of Greek democratic government and the Roman Republic, the Enlightenment led to the gradual separation of the clergy from secular affairs and helped break down the monopoly or oligopoly in the sphere of government asserted by families of the monarchy and aristocracies.
DEMOCRATIZATION OF SOVEREIGNTY
These socio-cultural developments contributed to the two major revolutions of the 18th Century, which resulted in the United States of America and the French Republic-secular republics that discarded hereditary rulers and established religions. In them, the authority to rule-to establish governments and make laws-passed from persons at the centers of the polities to their individual members, the citizens, namely, the People. At the same time, a new political entity was created in America-the federation-to unify and accommodate the people of a large and diverse territory, instead of either a weak league or confederation of states (as previously in America) or a highly centralized unitary state (as in France). The concept of First Principles-the sovereign authority and the legislative power of citizens to create and alter governments, constitutions, charters and laws(1) -- was widespread during the American Revolution. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, largely drafted by George Mason and adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention on 12 June 1776, asserted that: "[A]ll power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people..." and "[W]hen any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to [the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community], a majority of the community has an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it..."(2) Three weeks later, the Declaration of Independence by thirteen of the American colonies, drafted by the Virginian Thomas Jefferson, proclaimed not only that "all men are created equal" (a universal principle of equal rights), but also:
"[G]overnments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..." and "[I]t is the right of the people to alter or abolish [a destructive government] and to institute new government." Since the weak American Confederacy under the League of Friendship and Articles of Confederation wasn't viable, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton promoted a new federal constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. In seeking to have the sovereignty of the people reflected in this basic document, Madison was supported by two other delegates who promoted democracy, Mason and the Scottish-Pennsylvanian James Wilson. In covering letters to Jefferson, Virginia Governor Edmund Randolph, and General George Washington in April 1787, Madison called his working paper (which became known as the Virginia Plan) perhaps the earliest draft of "a Constitutional Govt for the Union...to be sanctioned by the people of the States, acting in their original & sovereign character." In the Constitutional Convention, he and Wilson proposed that the authority of the "first branch" of the legislature (eventually the House of Representatives) flow from the legitimate source of all authority-the People. Madison also insisted that the Constitution be ratified "by the supreme authority of the people themselves," not by the legislatures of the member states. And when a delegate questioned on what authority could a recently independent state accede to the new federation when that state's constitution had no provision therefor, he responded: "The People were in fact, the fountain of all power... They could alter constitutions as they pleased. It was a principle in the Bills of rights, that first principles might be resorted to."(3) When assuming the task of drafting the first amendments to the Federal Constitution as a Representative in the 1st Congress in 1789, Madison sought to have the above-cited words from the Virginia Declaration of Rights inserted at the beginning of the Constitution. However, conservative legislators watered down the reference to the powers and rights of the People to what became the 9th and 10th Amendments.
Barely two months after Madison's drafting, as the French populace revolted against their perceived domestic oppressors-the monarchy, the aristocracy, and the clergy-the new National Assembly promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which proclaimed: "The law is the expression of the will of the community. All citizens have a right to play a role, either personally, or by their representatives, in its formation."
In both instances, exercising their sovereign authority, the People delegated powers to governments of their communities, including their (member) republics and the federal republican union, in the case of the U.S.A., or to their unitary republic, as in France. A century and a half later, in 1948, these principles were recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was approved by the United Nations General Assembly. Article 21 states: "The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government... "Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives..."
APPLICATION OF SOVEREIGNTY TO GOVERNING THE WORLD
The notion that nation-states are sovereign continued to dominate thought throughout the 20th Century. Consequently, at the San Francisco Conference in 1945, the Charter of the United Nations Organization perpetuated the example of its doomed predecessor, the League of Nations, by basing the U.N.O. on "the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members."(4) The drafters of the Charter's Preamble did give a nod to the Preamble of the United States Constitution by opening with the words "We the Peoples of the United Nations" (reportedly made at the insistence of an American citizens organization rather than by delegates of governments). Yet, in practice, by perpetuating the obsolescing concept of sovereignty, the Preamble might just as well have retained the traditional form of introducing treaties, as in the opening words of the League's Covenant, namely: "the High Contracting Parties." The Charter was not a democratic, nor potentially democratic, constitution by the people(s) of the world, and it effectively lacked the means of being transformed into one.
Another significant event was a publication at the end of the devastating Second World War by Emery Reves, the Hungarian-born news entrepreneur. He declared in The Anatomy of Peace that it was time for another revolutionary concept, a new paradigm shift in thinking, to be realized. If the people could delegate powers to make, execute and adjudicate laws to governments of their local communities, provinces, and nation-states, they had the same authority to transfer some powers to a government of their global community-the world.(5)