Sovereignty and the Separation of Powers in John Locke

The European Legacy 15 (3):323-339 (2010)
Locke's conceptualization of sovereignty and its uses, combining theological, social, and political perspectives, testifies to his intellectual profundity that was spurred by his endeavour to re-traditionalize a changing world. First, by relying on the traditional, personalistic notion of polity, Locke developed a concept of sovereignty that bore the same sense of authority as the “right of commanding” attributable only to real persons. Second, he managed to reconcile the unitary nature of sovereignty with the plurality of its uses, mainly through a conception of the dual, vertical separation of functions, which implied degrees rather than kinds of sovereignty. While absolute sovereignty belongs to God, Locke argued, relative sovereignty, separated into “potential” and “actual” sovereignty, is vested in the community on the grounds of the Edenic testament with God. The community, established by a fundamental, single contract, is divided into “society”—to fulfil the function of legislation, which signifies the potential sovereignty of the community, so as to cultivate common law , and into “government”—to undertake the execution, which signifies the actual sovereignty of the king, of common law so as to procure common wealth
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