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Thoughts on Sovereignty

Thoughts on Sovereignty

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Published by Cody Valdes
Written also for professor Cruz's Political Violence in State and Society seminar.
Written also for professor Cruz's Political Violence in State and Society seminar.

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Published by: Cody Valdes on Feb 20, 2011
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04/25/2013

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Understanding Collective Violence With a Cynical View of SovereigntyCody ValdesPolitical Violence in State and SocietyConsuelo CruzSpring 2010
 
 Valdes 1
It is an astounding fact that anywhere one looks
,
it is possible to find individuals withextremely disproportionate power to exact extreme violence on large populations
.
Theseindividuals constitute a society of global elites who
,
whether by democratic or autocraticmeans
,
have gained access to the one of humankind
s most powerful inventions
:
the sovereignstate
.
The production and incitement of violence on a mass scale is rarely their dominionalone
,
however 
,
for they are perpetually and unfailingly contested by a truculent collection of guerillas
,
terrorists
,
revolutionaries
,
mobs
,
and more
,
all of whom routinely turn to variousforms of collective violence to achieve their political objectives
.
Whether these organizedsubversives direct their violence towards the state or each other 
,
their mere existence blemishes the clean ideal of sovereignty on which these elites base their claims to authority
.
 The process by which states
,
ethnic groups
,
and civil society groups attempt to obtainor abolish sovereignty ± a process that is closely linked to the formation of the territoriallyinclusive
,
politically exclusive
,
and force
-
monopolizing state
1
 ± the Vaberian state ± is both animpetus and an outcome of collective violence
.
Moreover 
,
the over 
-
consolidation of sovereignty
,
normally because particular groups and their leaders view it as a necessity for their political survival
,
often produces counter outbursts of violence by excluded groups
,
 contradicting endemic wisdom among ruling elites thata firm grip makes a stable grip on power 
.
2
Whether revolution
,
terrorism
,
civil war 
,
ethnic clashes
,
or popular rebellion againststate expansion
,
the concept of sovereignty is central to afull understanding of collectiveviolent struggles
.
Clearly
,
there are more claims to the right to use violence to achieve some political objective than the modern state is willing to grant patents for 
.
To set parameters for 
1
Charles Tilly defines ³force´ as the legitimate infliction of ³short-run damage and seizure,´ contrasting it withviolence, which is its illegal cousin. Charles Tilly,
The Politics of Collective Violence
(Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2003), 27.
2
This is not unlike Newton¶s Third Law of Motion, which states that every action produces an equal andopposite reaction
 
 
 Valdes 2
this paper 
,
we will use Charles Tilly
s capacious definition of collective violence as
³
episodicsocial interaction that immediately inflicts physical damage on persons and/or objects«involves at least two perpetrators« and results at least in part from coordination among persons who perform the damaging acts
.
´
3
Collective violence resides within contentious politics
,
and Tilly claims that relational mechanisms ± interactions among and within groupsthat are colored by ideational and behavioral impulses ± activate collective violence tovarying degrees that also correlate with regime type and state capacity
.
4
Hidden in hisdefinition is the role of sovereignty.Since the modern notion of the sovereign state was laid down in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1608
,
sovereignty has come to be understood as the supreme and non
-
negotiableauthority ± vis
-
à
-
vis other states and internal competitors
-
to govern a given territory and its people
.
While this understanding of sovereignty has become rigidified and globally acceptedover the past four centuries
,
a coeval process of industrialization and modernization has madethe means of violence exponentially more effective and concentrated in the hands of a few
.
 Defining sovereignty as having achieved supreme authority over a finite territory and population must still allow for some degree of flexibility
,
as when anarchist
,
terrorist
,
 criminal
,
or external actors create islands of subversive resistance
,
privately
-
motivatedviolence
,
or minor forms of incursions into the state
.
Nevertheless
,
as long as the private rightto wage war is surrendered to the state by a majority of a population so great as to render non
-
aligners inconsequential
,
we can consider that state a territorial and political sovereign
.
Thus
,
 to claim sovereignty is to merely claim consummate control over the legitimate use of 
3
While this definition excludes important forms of systemic deprivation sometimes described as µstructuralviolence,¶ Tilly notes as well that ³nongovernmental inequality´ in the form of ³exploitation and opportunityhoarding´ plays a central role in the deployment of state force, as it often explains the frequent collusion between governments and elites during periods of collective struggle. Tilly,
 Politics of Collective Violence,
3-11.
4
Ibid., 7-9 & 41-50.

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