On Sovereignty (I)

Detail of the cover of the book «Leviathan» by Hobbes. Commons

***La versión original en español del artículo se puede encontrar en este enlace. La traducción al inglés la ha realizado por uno de los miembros del Círculo Camino Real de Tejas con la supervisión de los traductores del Gremio San Jerónimo***

Between the end of 1854 and the beginning of 1855 LA ESPERANZA published a series of sixteen articles on the principle of sovereignty which, although they could not then reach the doctrinal heights that the great traditionalist thinkers have reached later, have the undoubted merit of clarifying, with a polemical «vision» towards the progressives and moderates of their time, the essence of this political principle, refuting the obscure concepts of «popular sovereignty» and «national sovereignty». The articles were published without signature, although by date and style it is probable that their author is the same Pedro de la Hoz (1800-1865), founder and director of this newspaper. LA ESPERANZA now recovers and transcribes these articles and republishes them in series.


We are amazed that the present epoch should be called one of progress, when, strictly speaking, the name that fits it is one of regression, extravagance, or madness. Some sixty years ago in France a solemn publication was made of certain political principles, which were received by the masses with frenzied enthusiasm, and when put into practice they brought about the collapse of the monarchy, causing in that State one of the greatest upheavals in the annals of the world. A chastisement of this magnitude was necessary in order to persuade the sectarians of such disastrous theories, that the States that were to follow them would never enjoy peace, nor would they ever have a lasting government. The experience of other countries confirmed this truth. And when no one doubted this any longer, the authors and auxiliaries of the July Revolution emerged saying that all that this long series of years has taught us is pure hogwash; that the true and incontrovertible public constitutional law is none other than that which was taught by the pseudo-philosophers of the eighteenth century, and that the strict observance of such a law, which produced the ruin of the French monarchy, would consolidate the Spanish people and make them happy. Well then, these men, who strive to resurrect antiquities and reproduce absurdities that sixteen centuries of practice have made evident, call themselves progressives!

One of their favorite doctrines, one which they venerate as an article of political faith, is that sovereignty resides in the people, or, to put it another way, that the people are sovereign. It is shameful, in view of the state in which this science now finds itself, to have to stop and combat an error so antiquated, so discredited, and which so debases the knowledge of those who follow it. But since it is repeated incessantly, both in Parliament and in the writings published daily in the periodical press, perhaps it would be thought that we approved of it, or at least that we gave it our assent, if we did not take up our pen in order to refute it. This is all the more appropriate now, since a commission has already been appointed to form another Constitutional Code, in which the matter will naturally be dealt with, as has always been the case.

The expression sovereignty of the people is an empty phrase that has disturbed society and made not a few nations ungovernable: it is an illusion, a farce, with which the revolutionaries have bewildered the vulgar, causing them to revolt against their crowned monarchs. Before saying that sovereignty resides in the people, or that the people are sovereign, it would have been appropriate for them to express what is understood by the people and by sovereign. We suppose that by the people they mean the entire mass of the nation; that is, the set of all the individuals; and by sovereign (term derived from the Latin super omnes) the one who is or happens to be above all. Under this assumption we will ask: if the whole nation, that is, the totality of the rational beings that constitute it, is the sovereign, who will be the subject? To this no one is able to answer. However, some say: «the nation is sovereign with respect to itself»; others, on the contrary, maintain that «the nation is not sovereign with respect to itself, considered in its totality, but with respect to each of its individuals», which is equivalent to saying that it is the mistress and the individuals are its subjects. Let us analyze these Scotistic distinctions.

Is the nation sovereign over itself? It can hardly be believed that there is any man of common sense who would say such a thing, for he does not know what it means. The word sovereign enunciates an idea of relationship, neither more nor less than that of father and lord; and just as no one has ever been heard to say that one is the father or servant of oneself, so too no one has ever been able, rationally speaking, to say that a nation is sovereign over itself. It is true that, in referring to the Romans, some have said, without any lack of propriety of language, sovereign nation or sovereign people; but this they said in relation to other States which were really vassals of theirs, not in relation to themselves, because it would be incomprehensible nonsense.

In substance, this chatter about sovereignty of the people vs. sovereign people is reduced to a tumult by which our ears are tormented at all hours. This was the Discovery of that dreamer from Geneva at such great cost to the world. And this, finally, is the sophistry which, conclusively combatted, and buried many years ago under the slab of oblivion, has had the good grace to be unearthed, to be set up and dressed in fine fashion by men who give themselves the title of progressives.



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