In This Review

Sovereignty: The Origin and Future of a Political and Legal Concept
Sovereignty: The Origin and Future of a Political and Legal Concept
By Dieter Grimm, Translated by Belinda Cooper
Columbia University Press, 2015, 192 pp

Grimm provides a learned but accessible history of the concept of sovereignty, framing it as a story of centuries of contestation over who or what possesses the right to rule. He is particularly good at situating the great theorists of sovereignty—Bodin, Grotius, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Vattel, and Hegel—in their historical contexts. Along the way, Grimm illuminates the three great “revolutions” that brought the concept of sovereignty into the twentieth century: the rise of the state as an abstract entity, independent of religion or a specific monarch; the idea of popular sovereignty, manifest in the constitutional rule of law; and the globalization of sovereign territorial rule based on state formation. Like most other histories of sovereignty, Grimm’s is deeply Eurocentric. He only hints at the political explosiveness of the idea of sovereignty representing the “legal independence of states,” which was enshrined in the Westphalian settlement of 1648 and created a political logic in which the relationship between states was based on coordination rather than subordination. That subversive idea set the stage for the crumbling of empires and the spread of the Westphalian state system during the twentieth century.