Monist and Pluralist View of Sovereignty

The political framework and the structure of the legal systems anywhere across the world depend on the concept of sovereignty. The idea owes its roots to the sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe and has existed since then and is ever expanding. Sovereignty is associated with authority which are embodied in organizations like nations and states which in turn are responsible for the territory under them and the people who live in these territories.

The idea of sovereignty was created not for academic discourses or philosophical purposes but for real world potent challenges. As mentioned earlier the idea owes its genesis to the political upheavals in Europe of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The increasing power of the Pope who was the theocratic head of the Christian world led the rulers of Europe to assert their sovereignty over their land and people to escape papal authority.

Now, having understood the concept, let us now look at the two prominent schools of thoughts regarding Sovereignty.

The Monist view asserts that the State is the supreme social institution and has a unique place in comparison to other institutes and organizations. The spear-head of this view was Jean Bodin, a French philosopher and jurist, also a member of the Parliament of Paris. The France in which Bodin lived and worked was struggling from the aftermath of Protestant reformation and religious conflicts. Though a catholic himself, Bodin criticized the papal authority of the government and favored the unrestrained authority of the emperor; calling him the supreme law maker. Thomas Hobbes of England and J.J. Rousseau of France echoed similar views.

The Plurist view emerged as an alternative to the unidirectional and traditional monist view. As the times changed and the relevance of social groups and institutions increased within states and nations, there was a felt need to revisit the monist view of sovereignty in the changing world. According to the Plurist, the state needs to compete with the churches, trade unions, friendly societies, political parties etc as they too meet the requirements of their members. The pre eminence of the State over any of these institutions should be decided solely on the basis of the superiority of its moral appeal and nothing else.

The Plurist view brings into consideration several factors overlooked by the dogmatic monist view of sovereignty. The interest of the State may not be aligned with the interest of its parts always; also, the state cannot ignore the importance and relevance of other institutes and organizations functioning within its purview.

The Guild system of the medieval times, where each section of the workforce whether they be traders, artisans, craftsmen, all had their separate guilds and enjoyed autonomy, the state should try to maintain a federal structure.

Harold Laski, did some remarkable work in the areas of defining and explaining the concept of sovereignty in the changing times. A Grammar of Politics published in 1925 present some rather compelling arguments regarding the Plurist view. In addition to some of the aspects mentioned above he said that, the state is only one of the social institutions and that the areas of state authorities need to be defined so that it does not encroach on the autonomy of other institutes and groups. He later gave up the Plurist view in favor of more rational Fabian Socialism, where the state should focus and divert its activities towards pursuing public interests.


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Political Science