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Dan Philpott is a rising star in international relations, and this book demonstrates why. It is rich in historic detail, conceptually rigorous, bold, and written with felicity. The reader puts down Revolutions in Sovereignty with a keener sense of why ideas matter to the world of international politics, an arena often construed as a field of force in which ideas play an inconsequent role.
    --Jean Bethke Elshtain
Not only is Mr. Philpott a star in geopolitics, but I can attest, from brief contact with him, that he's quite a gracious fellow too. Though this very book demonstrates that he has strong ideas of his own about the changes that sovereignty theory is undergoing, he was magnanimous enough to let us use one of his very lucid basic essays about classical sovereignty -- Sovereignty: an introduction and brief history (Daniel Philpott, 1995, Journal of International Affairs) -- as the introductory piece in our book, Redefining Sovereignty. So, what follows may not be entirely impartial, but this book is required reading for anyone who hopes to understand where the notion of national sovereignty came from and where it's headed. It's clearly written, tightly argued and, though I'm personally dubious about a couple of his conclusions, is one of those texts that serves to clarify previously obscure issues for the reader.

Mr. Philpott begins by noting that sovereignty "has suffered a troubled intellectual history" and that definitions of it and theories about it are confused and confusing. He offers a very useful definition of his own: "supreme authority within a territory." He then sets out to chart several revolutions in sovereignty: "[A] revolution in sovereignty is a major change in at least one of the three faces of authority--who the legitimate polities are, who may become one, and what their prerogatives are." The initial revolution -- at least for his and our purposes -- took place at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648:
A constitution that prescribes a system of sovereign states in its purest form is one that holds that the sovereign state is the sole legitimate form of polity within a society, and that prescribes basic criteria for a polity to be recognized as a sovereign state -- usually, that it possess a government that is in control of a people within a territory, and is capable of entering into international agreements. And it posits nonintervetion as the basic prerogative of sovereign states. I doubt that such a pure system has ever existed. But something roughly like it emerged at the Peace of Westphalia, then gradually spread outwards, finally becoming globally legitimized and practiced through the revolution of colonial independence in the decade surrounding 1960.
As he hints at the end there, Mr. Philpott argues that, while there were adjustments to the Westphalian scheme over the following 300 years, the next major revolution was that which: "permitted all colonies to become full sovereign states, [which] did not arrive until around 1960." This revolution essentially imposed a requirement of self-determination on sovereignty theory.

This is a point at which it seems fair to begin questioning Mr. Philpott's revolutions framework. A more sound argument would appear to be that the self-determination revolution--if it did not predate Westphalia because of Magna Carta--certainly began no later than the American Revolution and the principle is embodied most succinctly in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
It can obviously be objected, and often has been, that the Declaration only applied to propertied white Christian men in practice, but note that it enunciates a universal doctrine. While it may have taken a couple hundred years to extend its ideals universally, you'd really have to concede that it ushered in the revolutionary period, no?

Mr. Philpott returns to firmer ground when he writes that there are two on-going revolutions that threaten the further "circumscription of sovereignty:"
This movement has not returned us to the Middle Ages, for it has not replaced or eviscerated the state, but it evokes medieval Christendom in its limitation of state sovereignty on behalf of transnational ideals, here human rights and European unity. This movement has consisted of three major revolutions -- the rise of minority treaties in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; European integration...; and the rise of internationally sanctioned intervention following the Cold War. Of the three revolutions, minority treaties have disappeared, while the other two continue in full swing.
It appears inarguably the case that the two extant threats to traditional sovereignty are the institutional one, which seeks to bring all states (not just Europe) under the control of transnational authorities at the expense of the authority of those states' own regimes, and the ideological one, which seeks to obtain Judeo-Christian/Anglo-American standards of liberal democracy and human rights for all peoples, irrespective of the preferences of each state's current regime. The struggle between these two very different revolutions is the focus of Redefining Sovereignty, to which you can refer for more detail. For now let an example of each suffice: the institutional transnationalist movement is well-represented by something like the Kyoto Treaty, which would give unelected bureaucrats and distant bureaucracies some degree of control over American industrial policy, taking it away from the American electorate and its elected representatives. Meanwhile, Bosnia nicely illustrates the willingness of the British and the Americans, irrespective of political party, to intervene in the internal affairs of sovereign states when we disapprove of their treatment of their own citizens. Here it should be noted that, contrary to Mr. Philpott, the Anglosphere and its allies are perfectly happy to act without international/transnationalist sanction. Indeed, it's helpful to think of the transnationalists as successors to those who crafted Westphalia in the sense that their primary concern is peace and security, whereas the liberal democrats are unphased by the use of violence and the destabilizing of states in order to vindicate peoples' unalienable rights. Here too I would depart from Mr. Philpott who believes both of these revolutions to be movements of liberation. Transnationalism -- as John Fonte masterfully argues in the essay, Liberal Democracy vs. Transnational Progressivism, which is included in Redefining Sovereignty -- transnationalism is more a movement of oppression. Seen in this context there are not just two revolutions going on but a war between the partisans of the two.

Regardless of these few quarrels, Mr. Philpott's book is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to understand the theory of sovereignty and I can't recommend it highly enough.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Daniel Philpott Links:
br>    -Dan Philpott (Kroc Institute, Associate Professor of Political Science)
    -Daniel Philpott (Erasmus Institute - University of Notre Dame)
    -Daniel Philpott (Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics : People)
    -BOOK SITE: Revolutions in Sovereignty: How Ideas Shaped Modern International Relations by Daniel Philpott (Princeton University Press)
    -EXCERPT: Chapter One of Revolutions in Sovereignty
    -BOOK SITE: The Politics of Past Evil: Religion, Reconciliation, and the Dilemmas of Transitional Justice, Edited by Daniel Philpott (Notre Dame Press)
    -BOOK SITE: Redefining Sovereignty, edited by Orrin C. Judd (S&K Global)
    -ESSAY: Sovereignty (Daniel Philpott, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
    -ESSAY: Along with trials, Iraq needs truth (Daniel Philpott, December 8, 2005, Boston Globe)
-ESSAY: Iraq's Urgent Need for A Reconciliation Ethic (Daniel Philpott, April 4, 2005, America)
    -ESSAY: Intervention Compromises National Sovereignty (DANIEL PHILPOTT, June 11, 2001)
    -ESSAY: Defending the Faiths - religious persecution (Allen D. Hertzke and Daniel Philpott, Fall 2000, National Interest)
-ESSAY: Sovereignty: an introduction and brief history (Daniel Philpott, 1995, Journal of International Affairs)
    -ESSAY: The Religious Roots of Modern International Relations (Daniel Philpott, January 2000, World Politics)
    -ESSAY: Usurping the Sovereignty of Sovereignty? (Daniel Philpott, January 2001, World Politics)
    -ESSAY: Head Work at Harvard (Daniel Philpott, January 1, 1996, Regeneration Quarterly)
    -ESSAY: Meeting Him in St. Louis: A Papal Postcard (Daniel Philpott, April 1, 1999, Regeneration Quarterly)
-ARCHIVES: "Daniel Philpott" (Find Articles) -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Self-Determination and the International System: with Erez Manela—Assistant Professor of History, Harvard University & Daniel Philpott—Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame (Odyssey—January 27, 2005)
    -ARTICLE: Diplomacy is a constructed effort to bring peace and justice to the people of Kashmir: US Expert (Kashar World News)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutions in Sovereignty: How Ideas Shaped Modern International Relations by Daniel Philpott (Mark F.N. Franke, Ethics & International Affairs)
    -REVIEW: of Revolutions in Sovereignty (Jack Snyder, November/December 2004, Foreign Policy)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: Popular Sovereignty (John F. Knutsen, 7/02/04)
    -ESSAY: Violating 'Sovereignty': Questioning a Concept's Long Reign (CARLIN ROMANO, September 10, 2004, The Chronicle Review)
    -ESSAY: State sovereignty and the protection of fundamental human rights: an international law perspective (Alain Pellet, Feb. 2000, Pugwash Occasional Papers)
    -ESSAY: It is national sovereignty that has given China and India their edge: The defeat of colonial rule will come to be seen as the defining event of the 20th century (Martin Jacques, September 17, 2005, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Understanding Sovereignty: Bringing Ethics Back In (Nathan van Dusen)
    -ESSAY: Towards a New Understanding of National Sovereignty, and the Utility of the UN (Caerdroia, 8/10/05)
    -ESSAY: Sovereignty (Eric Brahm, September 2004, Beyond Intractability)
    -ESSAY: State Responsibility, Sovereignty & Failed States (Donald W. Potter) -ESSAY: American Diplomacy And the New Shape of the World: Critics who accuse the United States of a strident new unilateralism often have an agenda of their own: to keep America's power in check. (Clive Crook, 12/31/03, Atlantic Monthly)