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Blame it on Ulpian

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on August 5, 2018 09:25

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We need to re-examine the concept of sovereignty. Does it lie with the individual, who transfers it through a social contract to the Head of State, or is it derived from a divine authorization? And how does that address our view of the world and of citizens of the world?

Ulpian was a noted Roman jurist whose writing, in one form or another, underlies most modern concepts of law. He saw the authority of the State as based on the transfer of the people’s imperiumor political power to the Emperor, in return for protection, services and political benefits. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, famous for his political thinking and influence on the French Revolution, developed this concept into the idea of a social contract. Opposing this was the idea of the divine right of kings to rule as they wish, based on the thesis that people owed allegiance to God, who appointed Kings and Popes. This found an echo in later developments of fascism, where the justification of a ruler like Hitler and Mussolini was ascribed to the fact of leadership, of der Führer, of il Duce.

Ulpian, bust in Brussels. Wikipedia/Pontes

The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 guaranteed that no sovereign nation would interfere in the internal affairs of another. This concept of sovereignty ensured relative political stability, but indirect support for terrorist groups in each other’s territory, economic warfare and secret treaties ensured war in one form or another, culminating in the two World Wars of the previous century.
 
People like Jan Smuts saw that a greater construct was called for, and enacted first the League of Nations and, when this had failed, the United Nations. The Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations, signed in San Francisco, echoed the United States Constitution, referring to “we, the peoples of the United Nations.” This echoes Ulpian, drawing on the political authority of the people to legitimize a structure that would prevent war and would guarantee development, prosperity and equality among nations.
 
This concept of sovereignty is, to a large extent, also apparent in the concept of the European Union, where the union is considered to be more than the sum of its parts, as Smuts and Churchill had noted.

King Willem-Alexander, Sovereign of the Netherlands, and often pilot of KLM passenger planes, at his first official address to the European Parliament in 2016 pointed out that his was the first generation in the history of Europe not to have experienced war. This he attributed to the solidarity within the European Union and the international system, despite the love and attachment one may feel for one’s own country.

King Willem=Alexander at the European Parliament. 



However, we live in a time where the pendulum swings back, where people seek to “take back control” which they had not lost, only delegated. This ‘delusion’ would take us back to a time where the national boundaries again become barriers, where trade wars create barriers favoring robber barons, where irregular forces destabilize neighbors, as happened in Ukraine. That paves the way for strong leaders to ignore international obligations, support destabilization and bring back war.

How far back will the pendulum against a common, global sovereignty swing?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on August 5, 2018 09:25

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Source: ESPN

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