Friday, September 5, 2008

My Logic in Sovereignty: A Brief Criticism

Humans need law, order, and structure to coexist ideally. The most important rights of every person are their rights to freedom, happiness, and life, and in many cases, the border-struggles betweeen sovereigns directly interfere with these innate liberties. Every American celebrates Independence Day in order to commemorate the founding of the United States of America, but in the end, the thirteen colonies were presented a very fortunate opportunity which was taken advantage of. On the other hand, China has held military control of the area known as Tibet for more than forty years. Tibet has never let down their struggle for independence, yet the relatively small area is no match for the Chinese insurgence. If the United States deserves or has the benefit of sovereignty, then it seems only fair that Tibet deserves it as well. The example presents the concept of sovereignty as inadequate in the order humans need to be endowed their most basic rights and the structure to keep these sovereigns in check within and outside their borders.

From the general view of it, the concept comes down to a basic power struggle. In terms of internationality, every country is equal in its sovereignty, but obviously not in power; therefore, the fight for independence or the expansion of borders is just a macrocosmic pecking-order. America overpowered Imperial Britain to become its own entity, while China overpowers Tibet to deprive them their freedom. No process is set into place for gaining independence because the implementation of such a system would directly contradict the idea of sovereignty itself. Is it truly alright to leave conflict up to tanks and guns? Internally, sovereignty abandons those who are oppressed by their sovereign leader. Saddam Hussein was allowed to reign for thirty-four years, depriving his citizens of education, embezzling needed money into his lavish lifestyle, and slaughtering thousands for merely stating a thought. Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe, and many other examples are left unchecked by the world at large. The United States has used its power to defeat Hussein, but what about the other millions that are left to their poverty, terror, and sorrow?


DOCTOR J said...

Ryan, this is an extrememly complex post!

As you point out in the case of the United States' "declaration of independence" from Imperial Britain, the concept of "sovereignty" can have tremendous liberatory or emancipatory effects. After all, what is the message of the Declaration of Independence if not "We cannot be ruled, for we are sovereign"? But, as you also point out, such "declarations" are often inadequate in the face of a power that does not recognize them (as is the case with China's refusal to recognize Tibet's sovereignty). In fact, it sometimes appears that one of the fundamental powers of a sovereign is the privilege of denying the sovereignty of others.

So who speaks for the unrecognized and powerless?

In this case, you do. But here things get even more complicated, because your appeal on behalf of Tibet only makes sense within the context of "sovereignty." Here's an analogous thought-experiment: Imagine you wanted to convince a slaveowner that his or her actions are wrong/immoral because his or her slaves are, in fact, "free." The only way to make this argument is if you already have some concept of "freedom" or of "the human." Of course, the slaveowner also has some conception of "freedom" and of "the human," only it differs from yours inasmuch as those concepts do not apply to the people being enslaved. Now, you could argue that no person could ever be enslaved if we didn't have a concept of "freedom"... but, of course, you don't want to argue that because the problem is not the very idea of "freedom" but rather that it is being misunderstood or misapplied by the slaveowner. Hence, you need the concept of "freedom" in order to protest the fact that it is being denied to someone.

Okay...replace "freedom" with "sovereignty" in the above example. And replace "slaveowner" with "Chine." And replace "slaves" with "Tibet."

Now, I ask, is the real problem here "sovereignty"? Or, rather, is your post a "brief criticism" of the misunderstanding or misapplication of the "logic of sovereignty"?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Because we discuss the difference between authority and power in class and here Ryan pointed out that "In terms of internationality, every country is equal in its sovereignty, but obviously not in power; therefore, the fight for independence or the expansion of borders is just a macrocosmic pecking-order." I would appreciate if everyone pardon my ignorance and clarify the differences in these concepts. Does sovereignty imply power? You only possess sovereignty when you have power, and you have power because you are the sovereign one. I do agree that in terms of power, all nations are not equal; however, how can all nations be equal when it comes to sovereignty?

Ryan Carroll said...

In response to Dr. J:

I believe that the ability of the concept of sovereignty to be so misapplied in this world is evidence of its burden. This brings me to uphold that the problem is with sovereignty itself, not in regard to its value as a concept but its value as a way of ensuring people their innate rights. Ideally sovereignty is a wonderfully ordered and logical system for such a large population, just as communism or monarchy were ideally spectacular. You said the other day in class though, that you believed democracy to be the best type of government. Whether it was your way of presenting an example of rationally weighing multiple concepts and taking a side or not, I believe that the ability of communism and dictatorship to be so easily corrupted proves their inferiority to other forms and an inconvenience on the world. The democratic republic of the United States on the other hand, while it still has its small flaws and comparatively low corruption, is structured to evolve and avoid the centralization of power, keeping the powers in our trademarked "checks and balances." So, sovereignty, just as a dictatorship, presents a system which SHOULD work but has not implemented the most productive way of organizing the world.

I am not implying anarchy. Although I believe that everyone is free internally, interaction proves to need order. United States' government allowed us to evolve because of its structure, defeating the injustice of the slaveowner, while China's slavery ensues unchecked and relatively stagnant.