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Austins Theory of Sovereignty

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Submitted By Hruaia
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John Austin, in his Lectures on Jurisprudence writes : The notion of sovereignty and independent political society may be expressed concisely thus : ‘If a determinate human superior not in a habit of obedience to a like superior, receives habitual obedience from the bulk of a given society, that determinate superior is sovereign in that society: and the society (including the superior) is a society political and independent’. Laws are defined simply as the command of a superior to an inferior. In Austin’s words : ‘Law is the aggregate of rules set by men as politically superior, or sovereign, to men as political subject’. The chief reason for the bulk of a given society rendering habitual obedience to a determinate human superior is the power it possesses ‘to put compulsion without limit on subjects or fellow subjects’.

As to what is the core nature of law, Austin's answer is that laws (“properly so called”) are commands of a sovereign. He clarifies the concept of positive law (that is, man-made law) by analyzing the constituent concepts of his definition, and by distinguishing law from other concepts that are similar:

• “Commands” involve an expressed wish that something be done, combined with a willingness and ability to impose “an evil” if that wish is not complied with.

• Rules are general commands (applying generally to a class), as contrasted with specific or individual commands (“drink wine today” or “John Major must drink wine”).

• Positive law consists of those commands laid down by a sovereign (or its agents), to be contrasted to other law-givers, like God's general commands, and the general commands of an employer to an employee.

• The “sovereign” is defined as a person (or determinate body of persons) who receives habitual obedience from the bulk of the population, but who does not habitually obey any other (earthly) person...

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