JSI Seminar Series: The Evolution of Authority

18 July 2017


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Speaker: Professor Alan Brudner, University of Toronto

This paper sets out a perfectionist view of political authority and explores its implications for a state's external sovereignty vis-Ă -vis foreign states. It begins from the idea that internal sovereignty is a relational concept in that a claim of authority must be capable of a validating recognition by a free subject. Validation, however, comes in different grades depending on how independent of the putative sovereign the subject is. The voluntary recognition of an unlimited despot by a servile subject does not confer the same quality of validation as the recognition of a constitutional ruler by an independent and equal subject. We can thus speak of sovereign authority as evolving through a series of developmental stages. Authority's evolution begins with someone's claiming a right to rule, climbs several plateaus at which the claim is progressively validated through its recognition by a subject whose freedom (in some sense) is reciprocally recognized by the ruler, and ends with its perfect validation by a fully independent subject equal to the ruler.

This theory of internal sovereignty has international law implications. It says that absolute authority is restricted to perfect authorities—those recognized by subjects whose full independence is reciprocally recognized. Rulers at pre-constitutional stages have but a relative internal authority (limited by a permission to resist for the sole purpose of advancing to a higher stage) and, correspondingly, a qualified external sovereignty. Only sovereigns whose internal authority is perfect can have an external sovereignty that is unqualified; for what other sovereigns must recognize is just the internal sovereignty, such as it is. Thus, innovations such as the International Criminal Court's compulsory jurisdiction and the doctrine of humanitarian intervention are not necessarily inconsistent with state sovereignty.

About the Speaker

Alan Brudner is Professor Emeritus of Law and Political Science at the University of Toronto. He has previously published three books elaborating a Hegelian interpretation of public and private law. They are: The Unity of the Common Law: Studies in Hegelian Jurisprudence (1995, rev. ed. with Jennifer Nadler, 2013), Constitutional Goods (2004), and Punishment and Freedom (2009). A book on Hegel's political philosophy titled The Owl and the Rooster: Hegel's Transformative Political Science is forthcoming from CUP. Professor Brudner has held visiting fellowships at Oxford University and the University of Cambridge. In 2011, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

CPD Points: 2

Time: 6-8pm

Location: Common Room, Level 4, New Law Building (F10), Eastern Avenue, Camperdown, University of Sydney

Cost: Complimentary, however registration is essential.

Contact: Professional Learning & Community Engagement

Phone: 02 9351 0429

Email: 3930417b0222092231110517375d57221f6d4a28017f5941