Characteristics of Sovereignty

The traditional distinctive attributes or characteristics of sovereignty are permanence, exclusiveness, all-comprehensiveness, inalienability, indivisibility, and absoluteness.

Permanence, Exclusiveness, Unity, All-Comprehensiveness:-

The distinctive attributes or characteristics of sovereignty are permanence, exclusiveness, all-comprehensiveness, unity, inalienability, impress scriptability, indivisibility, and absoluteness or illimitability. By the quality of permanence or perpetuity, we mean that quality in virtue of which the state’s sovereignty continues without interruption so long as the state itself exists.

It does not cease with the death or temporary dispossession of a particular bearer or the state’s reorganization. Still, it shifts immediately to a new bearer, as the center of gravity shifts from one part of a physical body to another when it undergoes external change.

By exclusiveness, we mean that quality in virtue of which there can be the but-one supreme power in the state, legally entitled to the inhabitants’ obedience. To hold otherwise would be to deny the principle of the unity of the state and to admit the possibility of an imperium in imperio.

By all comprehensiveness is meant the universality of sovereignty within the state’s territorial limits; that is, sovereign power extends over all persons, associations, and things within such territorial limits except those over which the state has voluntarily consented to Waive the exercise of its jurisdiction.


By the quality of inalienability, we mean that the state’s attribute under which it cannot cede away any of its essential elements without self-destruction. Sovereignty can no more be alienated, said Lieber, than a tree can alienate its right to sprout, or a man can transfer his life or personality to another without self-destruction. Rousseau held the same view, though he admitted that power could be transferred.

Sovereignty is inalienable because it is the very essence of the state’s personality, and its alienation would entail the disappearance of that personality. Sovereignty is the supreme power of the state; it is the vital element of its being, and to alienate, it would be tantamount to committing suicide.

A few writers, however, adopted the contrary view. Professor Ritchie, for example,dec1ares that. The facts of history belie the doctrine of inalienability.

Of course, it does not mean that where a state parts with a portion of its territory, it retains its sovereignty over the territory alienated. History abounds in examples of territorial cessions involving the alienation of the sovereignty of the state over the territory ceded, but that is a different thing from saying that the state may cede away its sovereignty independently of a territorial cession and remain a state, that is, part with a constituent element.

Nor does the principle of inalienability mean that the person or persons in whom the sovereignty for the time reposes may-not abdicate. The British Parliament, for example, might dissolve itself without making any provision for calling another Parliament, so the Czar of Russia could have voluntarily relinquished his rights of sovereignty in favor of a Duma. Still, there would not be in either case an alienation of sovereignty by the state but only a transfer from one bearer to another.

Whether sovereignty can be alienated was much discussed by the jurists and political writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The protagonists of royal supremacy admitted that the people might have originally been sovereign, but, if they were, they had lost their sovereignty by alienation to the king, and it was therefore irrecoverable.

This view was maintained, among others, by Suarez, Grotius, Wolff, and Hobbes. The Themonarchomach writers, however, affirming that the people were originally sovereign, asserted that they had not only never surrendered their sovereignty to any ruler, whether emperor, king, or pope, but that they could not do so because of sovereignty is by its nature inalienable. Whatever may have been the controversy’s merits, it is now generally taught by jurists that sovereignty is inalienable.

Imprescriptibility of Sovereignty:-

In the controversy referred to above, the question was also discussed whether sovereignty could be lost by prescription, that is, in consequence of non-assertion or non-exercise through a long period of time, somewhat as the title to land may be lost by prescription at private law.

On the one side, it was contended that if the people were ever originally sovereign, they lost their sovereignty, either by alienation, as stated above, or through prescription. Thus in France, it was argued that kings had used long possession and exercise acquired by prescription a virtual property right in sovereignty.

On the other side, it was maintained that the doctrine of prescription was a principle exclusively of private law that did not run against the people’s rights and could. Therefore, it is not invoked in support of an argument that the people had lost their sovereignty through the operation of such a principle. This view is that now generally held by the jurists.