Some people deride national sovereignty as outdated and irrelevant in a "global village" world. Others cling to it obsessively. Why is national sovereignty important?
Sovereignty is a generic concept, not limited to nation states. And it involves obligation and authority -- both moral concepts. All authority, as both Jesus and Paul remind us, comes from God. There is no other author-ity than that which God, the Author, gives us. (See Defining 'Oughtness' and 'Love' in the Ethics Library. Also "How Many Governments Are There?" in Emmaus News, July 1998.)
There are many levels of sovereignty, all the way from God at the top, down to individuals at the bottom, all delegated by God. Sovereignty indicates a freedom to make decisions within a proper sphere. For God, the sphere is unlimited. But all delegated sovereignty is limited to a particular sphere.
There is nation state sovereignty, local government sovereignty, and personal sovereignty. As individual persons, we have been granted a small circle of sovereignty for decision-making. That realm of sovereignty is indicated by our "personal boundaries", the establishment of which is part of growing up. No one has the right to intrude on those boundaries without our permission. Members of a family enjoy freedom of participation within the family sovereignty, but neighbors must knock on the door to be admitted. The British tell us that "a man's home is his castle". Knowing those boundaries is a part of knowing our personal identity. The same is true of communities, all the way up to nation states.
Only God cannot be required to knock on the door. He has the right and the ability to enter whether or not we like it. But God, being a Gentleman, respects the sovereignty He has delegated to us -- because He is building a freewill covenant, the Kingdom of God, which requires mutual respect and acknowledgement. So generally He knocks on the door as well. That is the meaning of "grace". God grants us a freedom to "be ourselves" before Him and one another, living in the light, as St. John has it. Only so can a freewill covenant be also a covenant of love.
Respect for these levels of sovereignty is what the American Constitution is built on. America was founded as a federation of sovereign states, built on the principles of the Declaration of Independence, which asserts the God-given right of members of a federation (and, by implication, of any group at all) to secede from the group should it become oppressive. That was our justification for seceding from the British Empire. In internal American history, this has been called "states rights".
Only if these sovereignties are respected can the sovereignty of the individual itself be protected because the levels of sovereignty create buffer zones of protection against tyranny, the illegitimate intrusion of centralized power -- the primary evil which our American constitution was designed to prevent. I can survive as a free individual only if there are levels of local sovereignty which are mutually respected both up and down the ladder and laterally among equals.
The erosion of national and local sovereignty is always a sign that someone is aiming at control of all levels, the designs of a tyrant. Freedom is sacred to God, so tyranny is to be resisted with spiritual, political, and, if necessary, military, integrity -- the very meaning of a "just" war.
When we see such erosion soon enough, we need not approach the precipice of military action. But that requires our acknowledging eternal vigilance as the price of freedom. And such vigilance itself requires spiritual maturity, a closeness to the heart and mind of God.
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