13th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Bashkina

Olga Bashkina

Leibniz’ Theory of Divided Sovereignty

In the paper I address Leibniz’ take on sovereignty. I raise the question of whether his approach to sovereignty boils down to establishing a proper way of dividing the competences, or his innovation consists also in reconceptualizing the idea of sovereignty itself, and challenging the logic of command. I point out that by claiming that a sovereign can be independent and at the same time subjected to a higher power, Leibniz contradicts the idea of absolute sovereignty. Although Leibniz himself does not seem to be very consistent in his account, I single out two possible solutions to this paradoxical claim. The first solutions pertains to Leibniz’ discussion of the relations between the Emperor and the princes of the Empire. Leibniz’ primary interest here is to defend the independence of princes. Princes are independent even to the extent that they possess the rights to declare war and to form alliances, which makes them equal to other European monarchs. This solution has several shortcomings and remains in the logic of absolute sovereignty, although the powers are somehow divided. The second solution presents another take on sovereignty. Here Leibniz is highly critical of arbitrary power and claims that no rule should be based on the ruler’s will. On the contrary, every ruler should be constrained by the law, which is common to everyone and which no one can voluntarily impose on anyone else. The paradox of being independent and subjected is solved differently than through the division of powers. Princes (as well as everyone else) are subjected to the rule of law, but at the same time independent, as the rule of law guarantees that no one abuses power. This second solution, however, does not address the question of the place of the Emperor at all. I discuss whether these two solutions are compatible within Leibniz’ theory and which understanding of sovereignty they both imply.