On the Nature of Sovereignty
The Tenth day of June, 603 of the Common Year
In my travels this past year and a half away from my homeland of Quentari, I have spent a great deal of time within the land of Avendale. In recent weeks, I have read of individuals who have taken up titles such as "King", or been called to a title from an adoring populace for a great act of bravery, or been given the designation of "Robber Baron," for the simple fact that that individual holds more military and economic resources than anyone in the region who would rule according to the precepts of chivalry and nobility. These incidents have caused a number of people, both titled and not, to become troubled and debate what is a "true" claim of sovereignty and when can a person legitimately claim a title.
Rather than address each of these matters separately, I offer the following treatise on the nature of Sovereignty. The nature of sovereignty is such that one's station is never assured completely, for political influence is dependant upon many factors. It is the wise leader who recognizes how power is acquired and maintained, and in doing so adds legitimacy and authority to his or her position. It is my hope that individuals who would lay sovereign claim to a land and people may understand the ways that such declarations must be more than just self-glorification in order for there to be any significance to others and to history.
All societies organize themselves into hierarchies: individuals give deference to other individuals based on the ability to see to the safety and well-being of the group. Some societies view age as a quality that determines who makes the best leaders, other societies view physical strength as the key feature of a good leader. In any group, other than the smallest of households, the leaders are usually designated through a special word. For example, the leaders of a family of Quentari Elves are called "Elders," which in the Common Tongue has connotations that they are given leadership because they are older and wiser than the rest of the family. Some societies have "Chieftains," which speaks more of military prowess and experience. Each of these designations may be considered "titles" in that it makes clear to all members of the society what position an individual holds and of what responsibilities she has in the leadership and protection of her land and people. These titles are largely a matter of tradition.
The kingdom of Evendarr, being a very large society, organizes its protection with the political system of feudalism. In this system, Knights are sworn to obey Barons, of Barons are sworn to obey Counts or Dukes, Dukes obey Princes, and Princes and Princesses are sworn to obey a single primary authority in all military and economic matters, that of the King. Each title comes with it certain responsibilities and privileges that are generally understood by the populace as a whole. To be a "king" implies that one has claim to a large amount of territory and one has Barons, Knights, armies, and a complex political structure supporting one's claim to kingliness.
As long as most members of the leadership hierarchy exercise their power and successfully meet their responsibilities within the confines that are established by tradition and by dictate of one's leader, there is order and peace within the leadership structure. Also, if the populace one governs is in turmoil through disease, famine, invasion, and so forth, the leadership structure is also thrown into turmoil as the leaders have failed to provide to the basic safety and well-being of the people. If a leader cannot meet with that essential responsibility, any title becomes empty and meaningless.
However, as any nation is bound to go through periods of trial, where safety and order are tenuous at best, the task of the leader becomes not only to protect his people from immediate threat, but to convince others that he is a person worthy to be a leader and to continue to be a leader in times of hardship. It becomes not a matter of who may be suited for the task, but who is best suited for leadership and who has the 'right' to lead. Sovereignty is assured through many different avenues, many of which I shall discuss here.
The first mark of a good leader in the eyes of her subjects and others is her ability to defend the very lives of her people. For this, she needs to have at her command individuals trained in combat who pose a significant defense to any armed invaders who wish to claim her lands and her people's lives and/or property for their own. Also, the leader may also use the military for protecting the people and asserting the common laws within her own territory. Bandits must be dispatched, criminals must be caught and put on trial, and the general safety of the populace must be maintained.
Those leaders who do not have a command of a military force large enough to defend ones claim to land and resources or to see to the everyday order of the larger populace are considered to be weak and ineffectual. True sovereignty cannot be claimed unless one has the means to enforce it. The sovereign should do everything necessary to ensure the loyalty of his own military commanders, else he be seen as nothing but a figurehead.
When war and armed conflict occur, it is because sovereignty is called into question. In war, a leader or leaders seek to force one's right of rulership and claim to land and resources currently controlled by another. The victor proves through force-of-arms that he is the rightful sovereign of the territory he claims, as he has methods to destroy those that oppose his will. The larger a territory a sovereign claims, the larger military force and defensive structures he will need to have at his command, and the greater necessity to delegate authority to others.
Unfortunately, war puts a heavy toll on resources and lives, and therefore a sovereign should be careful that he does not garner the ill-will of his people and the people he hopes to rule by resorting to force too often. If one threatens the life and livelihood of one's subjects repeatedly in order to enforce one's will, one becomes known as a tyrant. A leader then may find rebellion brewing among his own people should he rule with a fist and not with a steady and careful hand.
Recognition by Other Sovereign Nations
One's own sovereign claim is strengthened when the leaders of other nations of similar or greater power recognize a leader as having rightful rulership. With the recognition and respect of leadership comes diplomatic benefits. Trade agreements may be established and nations may come to each other's aid in time of conflict. At the least, national borders are respected and military forces and settlements will not extend onto another nation's land without permission from the recognized authority. When one nation recognizes the legitimate sovereignty of another, citizens are extended basic protection and rights within each other's lands.
Recognition of sovereignty may become forfeit, however, when one society has customs that another society cannot understand or condone. This is most often seen when leaders condone the casting of necromancy, the ownership of slaves, or collude with and give assistance to Undead. It is more subtly seen in different understandings of "honor" and "civilization" between peoples.
When a foreign leader has been known to commit or condone crimes anathema to another nations laws and morality, his claim of sovereignty is often ignored. When one society has customs and traditions foreign or distasteful to another nation, the conquering of his land and people becomes justified as the eradication of evil or at least of savage, monstrous, and "uncivilized" practices. Whenever one being labels another as one of a "monster race," he is justifying the eradication or at least the subjugation of that individual and her people.
In order to
strengthen a claim of sovereignty, the careful leader seeks recognition through
diplomatic means from other nations' leaders. Greater recognition increases the
chances that one's land will not be invaded and one's people not be subjugated
by another. Some nations, rather than be eradicated, have sought to adopt some
of the markers of "civilization" from the societies of powerful neighboring
countries, such as similar laws or a written language or an agricultural
economy. Some may even try to adopt or mimic a leadership structure more
familiar to powerful foreign nations in order to be recognized, where Chieftains
take up the title of Baron and secondary war leaders become referred to as
Generals or Knights.
Designation by Higher Authorities
One of the clearest ways for an individual to have rightful claim to sovereignty is for an individual of greater authority to designate her as a legitimate leader within the governing body of her society. When an individual is elevated to a position of leadership under a proven sovereign, that individual shares in the power and responsibilities held by his liege. Usually, the candidate has proven himself as being worthy of such a position to both the liege and the people he will govern. The more rigorous the training and testing the individual undergoes for the express purpose of becoming a leader, the greater others faith in the individual's ability to rule effectively. The sovereign should take care to appoint worthy individuals to her service, as their actions are a reflection upon her.
Traditions and Ceremonial Actions
Many societies have their own traditions that guide the leader in his or her actions; the Evendarrian Code of Chivalry is but one example. The leader that upholds the traditions of her people is seen as an exemplary leader, as he follows in the same footsteps as generations of leaders before her. A sovereign should be aware of this, and therefore seek to publicly re-enforce her status through the continuance of cultural traditions and the spectacle of ceremony.
benefits the ruler to have symbolic representations of the strength of his
rulership crafted for public display, such as a suitable display of heraldic
colors, statuary, or other works that impart a sense of strength and stability.
Also, the manner of one's dress and armaments should reflect a certain amount of
station and dignity, as the leader is a symbolic reflection of the health and
prosperity of the people and the land.
Length of Leadership
The longer a ruler has been in power the easier it becomes to justify a sovereign claim. This is also extended to lineages where title and lands are inherited from one generation to the next. If one family has lead a people successfully for several hundreds of years, it is generally accepted that their family members have a greater claim to leadership than someone who has only lead for several months. Also, the longer a leader has been a leader, even if it has not been within lands she currently resides in, it is easier to respect them in their current role, even if it is fairly new. In the minds of the people, if something has always been that is how it should continue to be.
It is necessary that a strong ruler should make provisions to pass down his power through his line, so as to secure successive sovereignty for the next generation. Often human rulers will name their first son after the father, so that there will be a continuity of sovereignty under the same name from father to son and down through the ages. To not provide a viable heir weakens the leadership structure, as others will seek to gain control of the nation through claim to a lineage of leaders themselves, and will take power either through negotiation or through military action.
Stability of Rulership
Stability in the leadership structure gives the people a sense of security and confidence in their sovereign. When there is a great deal of turnover in the ranks a leader's ability to inspire loyalty is also in question. When there are vast changes in the laws, the people may come to question the leader's judgment . A sovereign should therefore make decisions that affect the governance structure carefully, as sweeping changes in a short period of time leads to confusion and uncertainty among the populace, even if such changes are justified. Often changes in the law or an official edict will affect the everyday livelihood of the common man, and therefore should be weighed carefully, and the repercussions of such actions thought through to conclusion. The ruler who enacts changes with careful planning and the necessary support of his vassals shall strengthen his position of leadership.
Amount of Territory and Resources Controlled
The more natural resources and territory a sovereign is able to control, the greater deference she is given by others. In a desert, the family who controls access to an oasis has power where they would not in a land of a thousand lakes. An individual who claims to be the "King of the Western Ocean," in fact has very little respect unless he can demonstrate easy access to all the fish within. The same can be said for such resources such as gold, silver, and precious metals and gems, iron, wood, water, and food. Some rulers have even turned slave labor into its own resource. Resource-rich lands are more contested than resource-poor lands, and the person who maintains a great degree of control over valuable resources shores up his own claim to sovereignty over the land and people within it. Thus a sovereign should seek to expand her territory and lay claim to as much natural resources as possible in order to garner more respect.
The Regard of the Populace
Sovereignty not simply a matter of imposing one's will upon others, but largely comes from the voluntary recognition of numbers of people each choosing to follow the directions of a leader. The greater number of people who respect and follow the requests, edicts and orders of another, the stronger that individual's claim to leadership. A person who governs a hundred people is considered less powerful than a person who governs ten thousand. Even though these two individuals may both lay claim to the same title and their populace may recognize them as having rightful use of the title, the leader of ten thousand is most often acknowledged to have a stronger claim to sovereignty. To attempt to inflate one's position and title out of proportion to the size of the population would threaten an otherwise legitimate claim of leadership.
In this treatise, I have outlined many significant ways in which claims of sovereignty may be strengthened and respected. These are not all the ways in which a person may seek to strengthen his political influence, but these are readily understood by most.
I would give notice to the fact that I have not made reference to nobles or nobility, as this treatise was written with an objectivity to it that does not argue for ideals of justice or goodness within leadership, but argues instead for political acumen. My personal decision to address a leader by her title, to genuflect, to offer my assistance, to respect her requests, and to obey her orders is largely based upon how legitimate I judge their claim of sovereignty to be. I do not think I am alone in using the criteria I have given to base my decision.
I would hope that individuals who find themselves on the frontier, with little law, tradition, or opposing interests to negate their claims of sovereignty will think carefully on the enormous task they have given themselves in establishing nations that will bring genuine pride to those who live and die within them.