An uneven illumination of statehood struggles (Global Asia review of Palestine, Taiwan, and Western Sahara)

The following review appeared in the December 2023 issue of Global Asia.

QUESTIONS OF STATE sovereignty, in the modern sense, begin in the late 16th century with the French political philosopher Jean Bodin’s masterpiece Six Books of the Commonwealth. In the following century, the English thinker Thomas Hobbes produced perhaps the defining work on sovereign power, Leviathan.

Both works were influenced by the sociopolitical tumult of the times and places in which they were written: The Six Livres was informed by Bodin’s horror at the violence and chaos of the French Wars of Religion; Hobbes composed Leviathan during the English Civil War (although, because many of the central views he expressed were in line with his earlier works, the effect of the war on his thinking is disputed). Bodin and Hobbes came to similar conclusions: Rebellion and anarchy could be avoided only through the rule of an absolute sovereign. Finally, while Bodin’s approach has traditionally been seen as eschewing the need for consent, both men emphasized contractual elements in their theories, in order to legitimate sovereign authority.

It is unsurprising, then, that these seminal works have frequently served as reference points for discussions of the nature of statehood and sovereignty. In Chapter Two of this stimulating and timely collection, for example, Gbensuglo Alidu Bukari invokes both Bodin and Hobbes in seeking to distinguish between “nations” and “states.

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