Characteristics of Sovereignty:

Advocates of classical theory of sovereignty point out the following characteristics of sovereignty :

1. Absoluteness:

Sovereignty is defined as absolute, supreme and unlimited power. There is no other power higher than the state that can issue commands to it. The sovereign is the source of all laws and rights. It is above law. Austin was the greatest champion of this theory.


It is pointed out that this feature of sovereignty is very vital. Because if a state submits to the authority of any other sovereign, it ceases to be a state. Sovereignty of the state must be absolute and the sovereign power should not brook any interference internal or external.


However this characteristic of sovereignty has been criticized from various view-points.

(1) Customs, religion and principles of morality are a limitation upon state. No sovereign dare challenge these. Neither he can create nor destroy them.


(2) In modern states, constitutions are written. They determine the powers and duties of state.

Citizens are given fundamental rights, which become a limitation on the state and its sovereignty.

(3) No state or sovereign possess powers without duties. This theory speaks of powers of the sovereign but not of his duties.

State has a purpose, whatever it be and to the extent of that purpose, the state and its sovereignty is limited.


(4) Externally, a state is equal to other states. This equality of states is a limitation on one another.

International law imposes duties on states which they must perform. If they violate it, they are guilty of its breach.

(5) Even the physical capacity of a state is its limitation.

It is pointed out that legally too sovereignty is not absolute. State cannot make a law irrespective of its content and acceptability of it by the people.


Laws are made not because the sovereign has power to make them but because they are needed to serve the purpose for which state exists.

2. Indivisibility of Sovereignty:

Sovereignty, it is said, is indivis­ible and cannot be divided into parts. According to Calhoun, “Sover­eignty is an entire thing; to divide it is to destroy it.

It is the supreme power in a state and we might just as well speak of half a square or half a triangle or half a sovereignty.” Sovereignty, it is pointed out, represents the supreme Will. Once it is divided, it no more remains a will.



However, this characteristic has its own limitations. There are federations where sovereignty gets divided between the centre and the states. Different parties might be ruling at the same time in the states and the centre with different and some times opposite wills.

As Lowell observes, “There can exist within the same territory two sover­eigns issuing commands to same subjects touching different matters”. According to pluralists, sovereignty is divided between the state and other associations. According to them the state is not at all absolute and cannot represent the will of the community in all aspects of life.



It means that there can be only one sovereign in a state. This feature is identical with indivisibility of sovereignty.

2. Universality or all-comprehensiveness:

The sovereign has jurisdiction over all persons, things, associations and groups within the state territory. No person or association can claim exemption from its laws. Its laws are universal.

It controls the external behavior of each person and association and thereby brings about social order.

It is pointed out that there are certain persons like diplomatic agents of other states or ships of other states that claim immunity from jurisdic­tion of the state of their resident. This is a mutual courtesy that states show to one another on a reciprocal basis.

3. Permanence:

So long as a state lasts, its sovereignty also lasts. Changes in government do not affect its continuity and permanence.

A king or a sovereign or a dictator may die or be overthrown, sovereignty does not become extinct. Therein lies the significance of the phrase: “The king is dead, long live the king”.

4. Inalienability:

This means that the state cannot transfer its sovereignty without its own death. Sovereignty being the vital element of the state, its alienability is tantamount to committing suicide on its part.

As observed by Lieber, “sovereignty can no more be alienated than a tree can alienate its right to sprout or man can transfer his life and personality without self-destruction.

” No state can alienate or part with its essential element of sovereignty and yet remain a state.

Points to Remember

Sovereignty is an essential feature of the state. It is both internal and external. It has the following characteristics :

1. It is absolute, unlimited and unrestrained. There is no power higher and greater than the sovereign.

2. It is indivisible. Division of sovereignty is tantamount to its death.

3. It is exclusive. There is only one sovereign in the state.

4. It is all comprehensive. A11 individuals and associations are under it.