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Legal Theory and the Media of Law

Thomas Vesting

As many disciplines in the humanities have experienced a focus on culture’s impact in recent decades, questions surrounding the significance of media such as writing, print and computer networks have become increasingly relevant. This book seeks to demonstrate that a media and cultural theory perspective can also be highly productive for legal theory.
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Chapter 13: “Incarnation” of sovereignty

Thomas Vesting


Sovereignty – as an expression of absolute and perpetual power1 – involves the law whose legitimacy stems from a monarch. As Jean Bodin explains in Book I, Chapter X of his Six Books of the Commonwealth, the first attribute of the sovereign prince is the right of legislation, “the power to make law binding on all his subjects in general and on each in particular,” and as Bodin adds, “he does so without the consent of any superior, equal, or inferior being necessary.”2 Whereas in the Middle Ages the law was understood to be rooted in local legal customs inextricably bound to divine justice, Bodin distinguishes between the monarch’s right of legislation and the laws of Christian civil society by asserting that the latter “proceed simply from [the monarch’s] own free will” and thus are bound to the event of their formal (verbal as well as written) articulation. The law thus becomes “the rightful command of the sovereign touching all his subjects in general, or matters of general application.”3 The idea of removing the law from the Christian-Aristotelian order and transferring it to the monarch is new, and thus it is correct to view Bodin’s conception of sovereignty (despite his conservatism, and despite his acknowledgement of tradition as “virtuous” and “just”) as a kind of rupture in the historical process of the “revolution of modernity,” a “reversal” of “traditional civil society’s conception of law” in all its major points.4

In any case, Bodin’s understanding...

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