From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

See also: Human Sovereignty


Sarah and Ben Manksi:

"The word ‘sovereign’ originally meant ‘reigns’ from ‘above’. To be sovereign was to wield ‘supreme, irresistible, absolute, uncontrolled authority’ (Blackstone 1976; Lubert 2010) and to be free of responsibility for one’s acts (Bodin 1962; Derrida 2011). The word came into wider use in the course of the democratic and republican revolutions of the eighteenth century. These claimed to supplant the divine right of the monarch to rule with the popular sovereignty principle of ‘Vox Populi, Vox Dei’ displayed on the banners of the American Sons of Lib-erty, among many others (Young 2006), and were substantially built out of the religious disciplinary practices of common people (Gorski 2003). As part of that revolutionary process, the concept of sovereignty functioned to legitimate a par-ticular form of territorial rule and to discourage challenges to that rule (Morris 2000). It thereby became available as a historical force establishing, among other things, a basis for claims of national sovereignty.Whether sovereignty has always functioned in a very similar way is debated and alternative descriptions of sovereign power have been introduced to describe the functioning of a global system (Arrighi et al. 1989; Robinson 2014), empire (Hardt and Negri 2001; Adams and Steinmetz 2015), societal institutions (Sci-ulli 1992, Teubner 2012), discursive fields (Steinmetz 2016; Blokker 2017) and domination and daily life (Agamben 1998; Steinberg 2016); yet sovereignty’s continued relevance seems obvious. We find sovereignty appearing in contempo-rary discourse in alternative forms as an idealized legal concept with legitimat-ing effect, or an emergent quality of structural power, or as a terrain of struggle raised up by challenging claims. We are informed by each of these in constructing our definition: by sovereignty we mean the receiving of a general recognition of exclusive domain and consequent possession of the capacity to establish the rules of conduct within a particular field of action." (


Jurgen Brauer and Robert Haywood:

"The modern concept of a sovereign state rests on at least three fundamental attributes. First, the sovereign has legitimate authority. This refers to socially acknowledged and accepted power, not just to the potential arbitrary and monopoly use of coercive force. Ultimately, authority derives from some legitimizing source, both internal (acknowledgment and general acceptance by the people ruled) and external (recognition by other sovereigns). Second, the sovereign has supremacy. There is no authority above a sovereign. All authority within a sovereign's realm is inferior to it, and external authority exists only to the degree that a sovereign state conditionally accepts it by agreement with other sovereign states. And third, the sovereign has defined territory over which it exercises its supreme rule.

Today, sovereignty is understood as self-rule of a people over a given territory, however that rule is culturally sanctioned and operationally exercised. The central purpose of sovereignty is to facilitate governance within the realm, that is, to promulgate laws, issue regulations, establish rules, and devise enforcement mechanisms. Sovereigns operate as de jure equals to each other. The international system then consists of an assemblage of such self-ruling, territorially defined, mutually exclusive sovereignties. They protect their internal realms from each other by what amounts to a collusive cartel of sovereigns. No institutions exist above them to exercise legitimate, binding authority. All agreements among them are made as equals, are voluntary, and are revocable." (


Economic Sovereignty

"That aspect of individual sovereignty requiring that each human being, as an entity with inalienable rights, be given full and equal access to the institutions of the economic common good as a matter of right. Economic sovereignty also refers to the exercise of the ability to function in the economy as a financially independent person. This is often misstated as the right to a living wage, but is more properly construed as the right of access to all means to acquire income through contributions to the economic process, whether through ownership of one's labor, or the ownership of one's capital, or preferably both. Economic sovereignty may thus be briefly stated as the right to private property, and is thus the moral foundation of both a sound economic order and social order as a whole.

Political Sovereignty

That aspect of individual sovereignty which regulates the role of the state and the individual's interaction with the state. Just as private property is essential for one's economic sovereignty, access to the political ballot by economically sovereign citizens is essential to safeguard one's political sovereignty against the potential abuses of the coercive powers that reside in government. The ultimate check on government power is to make government economically dependent on the people, not vice versa. The state does not possess political sovereignty intrinsically, but only by delegation from the members of society. This delegation may be revoked for just cause and under certain conditions, but must then be vested in a more just form of government." (


Sovereignty and Technology

Josu Jon Imaz:

“The concepts of nation and sovereignty seem to have always existed. However, they were born within a specific context that was determined by two technological advances that took place in the 16th and 17th centuries: the press and the steam engine.

The standardisation of linguistic and cultural spaces generated by the press spread the perception of belonging in broader spaces than those which human beings had previously been used to. In turn, the steam engine and the industrial revolution joined the latter phenomenon to form economic domains that merged with constituted cultural spaces, giving rise to the nation-State, the dominant political structure for two centuries. The response by the cultural and linguistic spaces which were not articulated by that economic and political reality was to promote 19th- and 20th-century European nationalisms, which finally constituted statal entities in some cases (Italy, Germany, Norway, Finland, Czech Republic, etc.), whereas other ones were left as cultural or national spaces lacking a state structure, or in some cases as unstable or unsolved problems.” (

Identity and Sovereignty

David de Ugarte et al.:

“The central thesis of this book is that the passage from a society with a decentralised economy and communications – the world of nations – to the world of distributed networks which arose from the internet and globalisation, makes it increasingly difficult for people to define their identities in national terms. That's why new identities and new values are appearing, which in the long run will surpass and subsume the national and statalist view of the world.

Identity springs from the need to materialise or at least imagine the community in which our life is developed and produced. Nations appeared and spread precisely because the old local collective identities linked to religion and agrarian and artisan production no longer adequately represented the social network that produced the bulk of the economic, social and political activity which determined people's environment.

In the same way, for a growing number of people, national markets are becoming an increasingly inadequate expression of all the social relationships that shape their daily lives. The products they consume are not national, nor are the news contexts which determined the great collective movements, or, necessarily, most of those with whom they discuss the news and whose opinions interest them. National identities are becoming both too small and too large. They are becoming alien.

It's not a rapid collapse. We must not forget that nations arose from real need, and, despite that, their universalisation took almost two centuries and was quite difficult to say the least, as it met with all kinds of resistances. The abandonment of real communities where everyone knew everyone else's faces and names in order to embrace a homeland, an abstract community where the others were not personally known, was a costly and difficult process.

And in fact it's quite likely that the national State and nationalities will stay with us for a long time, in the same way as Christianity still exists and some royal houses still reign, even though nowadays national identities are politically dominant and determining, and the world is politically organised into national States, not on the basis of dynastic relationships or faith communities.

Many historians, politologists and sociologists nowadays foresee and even advocate a privatisation of national identity, a process which would be similar to the passage of religion into the personal and private domain that characterised the rise of the national State. But the issue is that such a privatisation, such a surpassing, can only take place from a set of alternative collective identities. And what's really interesting is that identitarian communities and virtual networks that seem capable of bringing about such a process are not only defined by their being trans-national, but they also display a nature that is very different from the respective natures of the great imagined identities of Modernity, such as nation, race, or the Marxist historical class. Their members know each other even if they have never physically met. They are in a certain sense real communities, or, more precisely, imagined communities that fall into reality.” …

The nation is still presented as a "natural" fact that we unconsciously seek in every "complete" political unit: a unified language, a unitary map/territory, a media-defined public sphere, and ideologically defined political subjects.

The nation, as a form of political organisation and identity, was much more powerful, encompassing and massive than any of its predecessors because its symbols linked institutions and power to everyone's identity, to the extent of sustaining the configurative and determining power of the nation.

In the end, what is essential about the nation is its exclusive claim over its identity as configurative, as generating co-nationals. It is the nation that makes the nationals, not the nationals that make the nation. People belong to the nation; they are a construct, a product of the "national reality", not the other way round. The nation reinterprets the past looking back on its own historiography, which goes far beyond the time when it was first imagined. In fact, it is the nation that gives rise to History as a supposedly scientific and detached narrative, with the explicit aim of conferring unity through time to the units that emerged from contemporary maps.

From Thiers to Stalin, the first form of nationalist imperialism was exerted over the past, as a way of grounding the conversion of people's identities – people who had ceased to be the subjects of History in order to be considered the products of the recently discovered national History. Culture was redefined by the nation and from the coffee house: ceasing to be a personal symbolic sediment in order to become a supposedly constituent political phenomenon. “

In conclusion:

“In this brief biography of the national imaginary, we have seen how it emerged from a real need to imagine the new production and socialisation community generated by the market, as well as from the increase in labour division that became more evident and spread practically all over the planet between the 17th and 20th centuries. We have seen how that imagination took shape and reached its materialisation in the form of the national State born in the French Revolution and the American wars of independence. And finally, how its conversion into a culture state, constituting personal identities and the framework for all conflicts, established it practically into our day.” (

Wikileaks as a threat to Sovereignty

"Sovereignty, in its strictest definition is the supreme authority within a territory. The three components of sovereignty: being supreme, having authority and territoriality have all been transformed by the rapid rise of supranational, supra-governmental political, economic, legal institutions, the formation and the consolidation of global networks of information, telecommunications, finance, logistics, extraterritorial corporations, and (private) justice systems. Since such external authorities limit or determine state actions in the fields of finance, economics, social policy, foreign and internal politics, military, or human rights, globalization was seen as a threat to the traditional concept of post-Westphalian sovereignty. Such external authorities made state sovereignty to be less and less absolute. But as Saskia Sassen argues, the interplay between sovereignty and globalization is more complex than that. “The strategic spaces where many global processes take place are often national; the mechanisms through which the new legal forms necessary for globalization are implemented are often part of state institutions; the infrastructure that makes possible the hyper-mobility of financial capital at the global scale is situated in various national territories. Sovereignty remains a feature of the system, but it is now located in a multiplicity of institutional arenas: the new emergent transnational private legal regimes, new supranational organizations (such as the WTO and the institutions of the European Union), and the various international human rights codes”(Sassen 1996). The institutions that override sovereignty build upon the land and the institutions of nation-states. But Sassen’s observations about the transformation, rather than the diminishment of national sovereignty only hold true because the supranational frameworks are always legitimized and authorized in one way or another by the sovereign states[6], and some key elements of sovereignty are kept intact.

Wikileaks poses a new, so far unprecedented threat to sovereignty. Its power rests on three pillars: on the immunity to intervention, on the authority its supporters vest in it, and on its ability to interfere with the internal affairs of others.

As the ineffective actions against its infrastructures have shown, Wikileaks is immune from technological, financial, infrastructural, and legal interventions. There have been several attempts to cut Wikileaks of the financial network, weaken its physical infrastructure or curtail its accessibility. None of these efforts could render Wikileaks inaccessible, and there is no sign of a more effective method to erase a service from the web other than those already used. States and governments, just like corporations, are as defenseless and exposed to Wikileakistan as much the entertainment industry is exposed to Kazaastan and Torrentia. I do not wish to underestimate the intellectual power behind the Wikileaks infrastructure, but from a government perspective one of the most frightening aspects of the whole Wikileaks affair is that it is so easy to set up a network that is so difficult to take down or to engage with. At the moment it seems Wikileaks cannot be woven into the complex web of institutional inter-dependencies. „In light of this redistribution of power, what would the solution for conventional/”atomic” power’s reassertion of hegemony? This would be to contain the rise of informatic power by containing its means of distribution. This would be by the means of national firewalling, and trunk-line disconnection or limited Internet disabling, disrupting infopower, but also crippling the flow of digitized material capital as well. This is problematic at best, as conventional power and informatic power are in symbiotic, the latter being more nimble and a step ahead of the former, and to attack a symbiote always means to cripple its partner as well. The logical result of such actions would be the elimination of net neutrality (the free and open flow of data across the Internet) or even the severance of typologies and flows of information across the networks. The symbiotic effect is that conventional power/capital is also hobbled, as the physical is dependent on the same flows of information across the distributed nets, disabling itself in the process. It is for this reason that it cannot engage in this means of retaliation, as it would be the digital suicide of the First World nation-state.” (Lichty 2010) As long as Wikileaks exists on thousands of mirrors and in thousands of copies circulating on p2p networks, the debate on whether Wikileaks is a terrorist organization[8] or a group of freedom fighters, and whether such a quest for total transparency is misguided[9] or a necessary step in the development of information society remains academic. Until the point where it can be proved that Wikileaks can be controlled – and if that happens, it ceases to exist altogether – Wikileaks is free to follow its own agenda and as a consequence is the utmost authority of the information era.

The second source of Wikileaks’ power is the authority its supporters vest in it. States do not enjoy the supreme and ultimate authority over their territory anymore, because their citizens as the source of that authority now enjoy multiple citizenships — one being that of Wikileakistan –, and have the potential to act upon multiple loyalties.[10] If citizens and corporate employees decide to break the laws of the land and follow the laws of their conscience and leak the secrets entrusted upon them to Wikileaks, it means that in the given situation they deny the supreme authority from the state and subscribe to the abstract ideals of Wikileakistan in order to preserve what loyalty they feel towards the ‘nation’, the ‘country’, the ‘constitution’, the ‘democratic ideals’ or any other notion which they think Wikileaks represents and which they hope to regain by turning to it. If Wikileaks would be Wikileakistan, another territory-bound sovereign, there would not be any problems: it could be bombarded or sanctioned into submission. But that lawless fringe, that barbaric kingdom, that pirate utopia is not somewhere else. It is exactly where we are. Confrontational, non-conciliatory action against such idealists hardly yields anything else but more disenchantment, alienation and ultimately disloyalty. By turning against such double citizens the state turns against, and ultimately eliminates itself.

Third, immunity and authority is now coupled with an unparalleled might to interfere with the internal affairs of states and corporations alike. External sovereignty is exercised “with respect to outsiders, who may not interfere with the sovereign’s governance.” (Philpott 2010) Wikileaks poses a different kind of threat to the external sovereignty than the internet, in general. (Boyle 1997) It seems possible to exercise authority with an aterritorial entity like the internet in place, but it does not seem possible to exercise any authority if the sovereign cannot control its internal processes, data and communication. Within the core of any sovereignty there is the ultimate capability to control the internal communications, information collection and interpretation processes. Assange describes the effects of exposing internal communications in his essay dating back to 2006: “The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.”(Assange 2006)

The ability to place the state under surveillance limits and ultimately renders present day sovereignty obsolete.

It can also be argued that it fosters the emergence of a new sovereign in itself. I believe that Wikileaks (or rather, the logic of it) is a new sovereign in the global political / economic sphere. If everyday citizens have an autonomous zone (Bey 1991), a safe haven, hiding in the discontinuities of cyberspace, from where they can oversee and control the state apparatus; if such an organization is safe from interventions and can continuously enjoy the ethical and ideological support if its “citizens”; if the information it distributes cannot be filtered by any country, then such an organization is a new sovereign, not in cyberspace but in the real world, even though it lacks the territorial dimension.

But as it stands now, Wikileakistan shares too much with the powers it wishes to counter. As The Economist’s commentator put it: „To get at the value of WikiLeaks, I think it’s important to distinguish between the government—the temporary, elected authors of national policy—and the state—the permanent bureaucratic and military apparatus superficially but not fully controlled by the reigning government. The careerists scattered about the world in America’s intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices largely operate behind a veil of secrecy executing policy which is itself largely secret. American citizens mostly have no idea what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is working out well. The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America’s unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it.”(W. 2010) This is against what Wikileaks has risen. But the hidden power structures and the inner workings of these states within the state are exposed by another imperium in imperio, a secretive organization, whose agenda is far from transparent, whose members, resources are unknown, holding back an indefinite amount of information both on itself and on its opponents. The mantra of Wikileaks supporters and the mantra of state and corporate executives are shockingly identical: “We share no information on ourselves; we gather information on everyone else. Only our secrets are valid secrets.” The Eye of Providence on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States, surrounded by the words Annuit Cœptis (He approves our undertakings), and Novus Ordo Seclorum, (New Order of the Ages) could very well be the seal of Wikileaks as well.

This leads to the question of who the parties in this conflict are. Is it the state against Wikileaks? Or maybe what we are seeing now is a battle between different secretive organizations for the control of the state and through it, the body politic? With Wikileaks the state has finally entered the Panopticon. But within, the freedom of those who are under surveillance is lost, whether they be individuals or states.

It is not more secretive, one sided transparency which will subvert and negate the control and discipline of secretive, one sided transparency, it is anonymity. The subject’s position of being “a multiplicity that can be numbered and supervised”, its state of living in a “sequestered and observed solitude” (Foucault 1979) can only be subverted if there is a place to hide from surveillance. There are two types of Anonymity, that of the observer, and that of the subject, both immensely empowering. The true potential of the cyberspace is not that it enables anonymous observation of the state power, but that it offers its citizens the chance to hide from observation. In other words the identity-protecting side of technology has more emancipatory power than its capability to obtain and expose secrets. Maybe less, and not more transparency is the path that leads to the aims of Wikileaks.

We have also seen how Anonymous can turn into a “stampede of coked-up lemmings”. But how to be truly free in the age of ubiquitous surveillance? Is it enough if we put the observers under surveillance? Maybe we need to leave the oppositional power relationships behind, and be what Anonymous really means: invisible. Invisible in its strictest sense: being beyond the determinations that define the identity and the discourse. Because, as Pozorov (2007) so aptly said: “freedom is not a guarantee for the fulfilment of any desire but rather the condition of possibility of its pursuit.” Wikileaks, the latest manifestation of cyberspace offers this freedom for individuals, but its proposition on how to act upon it is disturbingly similar to what it defined itself against in its Declaration of Independence. I salute Wikileaks as the first – and potentially only – truly independent sovereign of the information age. “May it be more humane and fair than the world […] governments have made before.” (Barlow 1996)" (

The State of Exception as the current form of Sovereignty]]

Paolo Virno:

" I believe that the concept of “institution” is also (and perhaps mainly) decisive to the politics of the multitude. Institutions constitute the way in which our species protects itself from uncertainty and with which it create rules to protect its own praxis. Therefore, an institution is also a collective, such as Chto delat/What is to be done?2 Institution is the mother tongue. Institutions are the rituals we use to heal and resolve the crisis of a community. The true debate should not be between institutional and anti-institutional forces; instead, it should identify the institutions that lay beyond the “monopoly of the political decision” incarnated by the State. It should single out the institutions that meet the “general intellect” referred by Marx, that “social brain” that is, at the same time, the main productive force and a principle of republican organization.

The modern central state is facing a radical crisis, but it has not ceased to reproduce itself through a series of disturbing metamorphoses. The “state of permanent exception” is surely one of the ways in which sovereignty survives itself, indefinitely postponing its decline. The same applies to what Marx said about joint-stock companies: these constituted “an overtaking of private property operated on the same basis of private property.” To put it differently, joint-stock companies allowed the overcoming of private property but, at the same time, articulated this possibility in such a way that they qualitatively reinforced and developed that same private property. In our case, we could say: the state of permanent exception indicates an overcoming of the form of the State on the same basis of its “statuality.” It is a perpetuation of the State, of sovereignty, but also the exhibition of its irreversible crisis, of the full maturity of a no longer statal republic.

So, I believe that the “state of exception” allows us to reflect on the institutions of the multitude, about their possible functioning and their rules. An example: in the “state of exception”, the difference between “matters of right” (de jure) and “matters of fact” (de facto) is so attenuated that it almost disappears. Once more, the rules become empirical data that can even acquire a normative power. Now, this relative distinction between norms and facts that nowadays produces special laws and such prisons as Guantanamo can suffer an alternative declension, becoming a “constitutional” principle of the public sphere of the multitude. The decisive point is that the norm should exhibit not only the possibility of returning into the ambit of facts, but also to its factual origin. In short, it should exhibit its revocability and its substitutability; each rule should present itself as both a unit of measure of the praxis and as something that should continuously be re-evaluated." (

More Information

  1. End of the Nation-State
  2. Human Sovereignty


  • Adams, Julia, and George Steinmetz. 2015. Sovereignty and sociology: From state theory to theories of empire. Political Power and Social Theory 28: 269–285.
  • Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life. Stanford: University of California Press