Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Question for our Readers:

Is it possible to have a sovereign power that is not absolute?


August said...

Well, sovereigns have realms and the realms are bounded, so the sovereign power can only extend to the boundary therefore it is not absolute.

The great mistake of our 'democratic' debacle- universal jurisdiction. This results in near-universal dissipation.

I also believe in subsidiarity, so one's sovereign power should be limited in physical territory but social as well. Monarchs do well to respect their subject's marriages, property, and the like. Otherwise they are very likely to be destroyed, and they transgress the very principles via which their own sovereignty can be justified.

A. M. said...

August, divine rights theorists hold that kings are absolute within their realms, not outside them. So, classical absolutism is consistent with geographic limits, at least.

I believe in subsidiarity too, just relative subsidiarity. Whoever polices the border between the king's *proper* sphere and other spheres is the sovereign decision-maker, i.e., he who decides the exception.

There seems to be four main options within western Christianity: Ultramontanism, holding that the Pope alone should make these judgments. Anglicanism, that kings should. The Reformers, that lesser magistrates should. Popular sovereigntists, that every individual may. I’m doubtful that the symphony of emperor and patriarch in the East actually solves anything.

The fourth seems reducible to anarchy. The third seems to destroy sovereignty itself. The second seems reducible to tyranny. The first seems most able to maintain sovereignty (and social order) together with a check on tyranny.

In Catholicism, the king may stand above civil law, but remains subject to canon law. If he falls under the interdict, he risks the dissolution of all oaths of fealty made him by his subjects. This is the price of maintaining temporal dominions in the Christian commonwealth. The Pope is above all human law, but remains answerable to divine law. The Pope qua Pope cannot maintain temporal domains (I think I am correct about this). Also, the Pope is subject to the severest divine punishments. This is the price he pays to be the spiritual head of Christendom.

In the Catholic system the temporal sovereign power is subordinated to the spiritual sovereign power as the body is (or ought to be) ruled by the spirit.

August said...

Well, a while ago I wrote this:

anarchy breeds tradition

I am a Catholic, but I don't think it has worked particularly well. Of course, I'm increasingly doubtful that anything works, but back in my more positive days I noticed the vital importance of boundaries. If the realm is small enough people can walk out if it gets bad.

The pope still holds Vatican city and they've had more extensive landholdings in the past.

A. M. said...

"Boundaries." An important concept for pop-psychology and politics.

The question is, who draws the lines and who makes the call when they have been crossed?

Good point about the Vatican & the papal states. The Pope may be head of state of these domains, but he isn't their property owner. They belong to the Church and thus cannot be passed on to a physical heir.

I wonder if that is a difference of real significance. Perhaps...

August said...

Perhaps I should say limitations.
There is only so much land and so many people one person can handle. The number is pretty low, according to the science we have available. Dunbar's number is 150 (explanation at wikipedia), which doesn't mean we are condemned to tribalism, but does mean any hierarchy needs to take it into account.

To be on the really safe side, we should insist the monarch be able to walk from end of his realm to the other in one day. I don't have any science for that, but it would make me feel safer.