Sovereignty by Francis Hinsley

On 23rd June 2016 the British electorate voted for the country to leave the European Union,_2016. Votes for ‘Brexit’ were concentrated in certain regions and in certain social classes. Scotland largely voted to remain. The day was the culmination of about 12 weeks of saturation debate, claim, counter claim, lies, distortion, exaggeration, scaremongering, passionate pleading, and deal making. Many believed that the question of European Union membership was a boil that needed to be lanced. Whether it has been remains to be seen. The result is we’re out and the Brexiteers have won.

One of the many topics that the whole referendum debate brought forward was that of sovereignty. Brexiteers argued that Britain has given away too much sovereignty, that too many of our laws are either made in Brussels or that British law gets over-ruled in European courts. Pausing for breath, it’s worth considering just what ‘sovereignty’ means. The idea has a long and rich history, and definitely isn’t as simple as saying who is the current monarch, or who ultimately wields power in the state. Whether a supporter of the ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ options, how about looking into the history of the concept?

To assist, turn to Cambridge historian Francis Harry Hinsley’s book Sovereignty. Hinsley does a fine job of describing the changing social, political and economic frameworks in which the idea has developed. The book spans and connects the different intellectual aspects of the concept of sovereignty: philosophical, legal, historical and political. It’s a topic that’s not going to disappear, and may well affect your circumstances in future.

Enquire at your local library or consult  for full bibliographic detail.

Also listen to the BBC Radio 4 podcast of the ‘In Our Time‘ edition on sovereignty available at

272 pages in Cambridge University Press

First published 1966, revised edition 1986

ISBN 978-0521327909

Image result for f h hinsley

F.H. Hinsley

Should you be interested enough in the subject, follow up with these titles:

Jean Bodin (ed. Julian H. Franklin), On Sovereignty (Cambridge University Press, 1992)

Richard Bourke and Quentin Skinner (eds.), Popular Sovereignty in Historical Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Sovereignty: God, State and Self (Basic Books, 2008)

Thomas Hobbes (ed. Richard Tuck), Leviathan (Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Bertrand de Jouvenel, Sovereignty: An Inquiry into the Political Good (University of Chicago Press, 1957)

Carl Schmitt (ed. George Schwab), Political Theology: Four chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (University of Chicago Press, 2006)

Richard Tuck, The Sleeping Sovereign: The Invention of Modern Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

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