On Sovereignty (II)

Detail of the fresco «The Bronze Age», by Pietro de la Cortona (1641)

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

We publish the second article on sovereignty, originally from the end of 1854, in which biting remarks are made about the distinction between radical, original sovereignty and actual sovereignty, typical of the political thinking of the time.


We would gladly concede that it resides in the people, provided that it is satisfactorily explained to us how it is exercised. How do the defenders of this so-called principle respond? Let us tell you. There are two species of sovereignty: one radical and the other present; the first is found in the nation as a whole, but this sovereignty acts as an entity, an abstract being, and therefore it is not exercised by anyone. The second is exercised by those the Constitution allows and in the manner it provides. This, strictly speaking, means that the first of these sovereignties is a mere abstraction, or rather a nominal and fantastic sovereignty: a sovereignty that does not give any rights or power. So then, what does it give and to what end does it serve? And what sovereignty is this that has nothing real and positive about it? We leave that to the resolution of the new Spanish publicists.

Is it by chance that what they call present sovereignty is so null and indefinable? Let us look at it, examining first who these present sovereigns are. No one can point them out with any precision, because the Constitutions of the States vary in this respect. Those that most widely extend the right to exercise such sovereignty exclude women and minors, domestic servants, the accused, and those who lack the use of reason and the privileges of citizenship; so that, if the account is properly adjusted, the number of present sovereigns hardly reaches one-fifth of the individuals of the nation. From this fifth part it is necessary to make further deductions: first, those who at the time of exercising sovereignty are unable to do so, such as those in prison, the absent, the sick, the very old, and some others; and second, those who abstain from exercising it, who are very numerous, as has been seen in all elections. We see, then, that we are not out of line if we subtract a fourth from the aforementioned fifth part, and if after this subtraction, we draw these two conclusions: first, that of the fifteen million inhabitants, as a conservative estimate of the population of Spain, only three million can exercise the present sovereignty; and secondly, that in reality, only two million two hundred and fifty thousand will exercise it. Moreover, how many will have to be subtracted from this number, if a certain income is specified in order to be able to exercise it?

Let us go even further into the matter. Let us ask the patrons of the sophism which we are combating, to what the exercise of present sovereignty is reduced. We suppose that they will answer that it is to create the laws that will govern the State. We congratulate them, but they will not want such a considerable number of individuals to take part in this act. This is indeed the case, and for this reason, they judge it indispensable that the present sovereigns should confer their authority on certain representatives who, either by themselves or through the mediation of others, should designate those who are to create these laws, thereby reducing the number of sovereigns to scarcely more than three hundred.

We have not yet examined the account rigorously. What these sovereigns do does not deserve to be called laws, because it is subject to a sanction with an absolute or temporary veto; a sanction that gives it obligatory force, and without the requirement of which all that is done is wasted work. Thus, this matter being hastened as much as it should be, it will ultimately turn out that this sovereignty will be condensed into such a small number of individuals who will elect an incomparably smaller number, so that at certain times they will meet in a very elegant hall of the Cortes in order to make beautiful speeches in which many things are promised, none of which will be fulfilled; to examine proceedings full of protests that reveal the innumerable vices of the elections; to talk a lot about what the ministers did or did not do while the Cortes were closed, with the result that what was done, remains done, and that the ministers always come away unscathed; to constantly question these gentlemen on whatever the questioner pleases, whether it is of interest to the nation or not; to draft a multitude of bills which serve as the subject of endless perorations; to create parliamentary tempests which scandalize and distress the listeners and readers; to… but why continue the enumeration? Do they not already know all the works of such sovereigns? Do they not know that in the long period of twenty-three years during which they have been exercising what they call their present sovereignty, they have done nothing worthy of the praise of history?

We will conclude this article by summarizing what we have said about the sovereignty of our philosopher-publicists; that is, by reducing it to what it really is, to no more than three things: to gather, on certain days in a designated place, a few neighbors from each town, in order to write on a piece of paper two, four, eight or ten names that have been recommended to them, and to meet in Madrid, for four to six months each year in order to discuss the subjects written in this document. Doesn’t this seem to our readers to be a good sovereignty! Do you believe, in your conscience, that such a right is worth the trouble of upsetting the civilized world, and that, in order to support it, so much blood has been shed, so many widows and orphans have been made, and so many fortunes have been lost? Is it possible that for such a chimera as this Spain should live in turmoil, and that untold evils should be caused? Posterity will find it hard to believe that, in a century that is called enlightened and positive, there have been wars, insurrections, riots and other calamities, all in the defense of purely imaginary rights, from which we have suffered and are still suffering.




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