How Sovereignty is Gained and Lost

Gaining Sovereignty

So how does a power acquire sovereignty? Conquest is the most entertaining for us. Other times, one power cedes land to another via a treaty, or grants the other the right to control a territory. If no state exists in that territory, a power can just take the territory, which explains the attitude of Europe on discovering North America. With the Native Americans not having a state recognized by the Europeans, British, French, and Spanish conquerors just took the land. Each declared sovereignty over different regions; overlaps between these areas led to wars. Then the soon-to-be United States declared its own sovereignty and threw everyone out. Other powers eventually recognized this sovereignty.

The Divine Right of Kings

You may have heard of the “divine right of kings,” which on Earth means that someone is sovereign by the will of God and answers to no one but God. Tyrants tend to like this idea, which suggests any attempt to thwart them is treason. If our invented world is polytheistic (many gods), we can still do this by having someone claim a single god they worship has given this right. Someone from a different religion could make the same claim. Conflict is good. This also gives our protagonists someone to destroy.

This divine right can be expressed differently, both here on Earth and in ways we invent. For example, in some parts of Asia, such a sovereign is only considered legitimate if he is just; unjust behavior will have him stripped of sovereignty, which is then given to someone else—or taken by someone else claiming they’ve got it due to the tyrant’s abuses. It’s easy to imagine the tyrant seeking retribution on his replacement. This concept of the divine right justified rebellion against a tyrant.

Opposition to the divine right helped lead to modern ideas of democracy. Those questioning it can be philosophers or those who can write influential papers. We can have similar people in our invented world. We can have a monarch execute someone who has suggested that this divine right:

  1. Is unjust,
  2. Doesn’t really exist, or
  3. Should be abolished

Sometimes such rulers instigate mass executions like burning people at the stake as heretics. Such actions inevitably lead to more rebellion. Other monarchs are more benevolent toward individual freedom or have limits placed on their divine rights.

Losing Sovereignty

The section on gaining sovereignty also implies various ways to lose it. This includes being conquered, but a sovereign power can be overthrown from within, as evidenced by the French and American Revolutions. The concept of freedom and equality for all people led to rebellion that violently ended the rule of sovereign powers. A new government must take its place. If a weak one does or if the transfer of power doesn’t happen fast enough, sometimes the military leaders seize control, resulting in a military junta or dictatorship.