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What is Sovereignty? - Definition & Meaning

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  • 0:00 What is Sovereignty?
  • 0:55 De Jure Sovereignty
  • 1:28 De Facto Sovereignty
  • 2:27 Independence and Sovereignty
  • 3:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will learn about the meaning of sovereignty. We will take a closer look at what it takes to become recognized as a sovereign nation by a government's own citizenry and by the world as a whole.

What Is Sovereignty

Sovereignty has a variety of definitions inclusive of both legal and layman's explanations. In fact, each region or country of the world has its own way of defining sovereignty. Despite this, sovereignty of a country is generally defined and determined with a hard look at a country internally and externally. In this lesson, we will discuss these different outlooks and their impact on the term as a whole.

The Strouds Judicial Dictionary defines sovereignty as, 'A government which exercises de facto administrative control over a country and is not subordinate to any other government in that country or a foreign sovereign state.' This definition requires breaking down its parts in order to fully explain.

We'll begin by dividing sovereignty into two key terms: de jure sovereignty and de facto sovereignty.

De Jure Sovereignty

De jure sovereignty is defined as having independent legal rule over one's own country. This is a government's belief that they have the right to control their own territory, military, finances and people. The government of that particular country has the ability to work for its own citizens. This can include handling financial decisions, making laws and managing all of the other facets of governing a country's citizenry. This could also be called legal sovereignty. De jure sovereignty is simply determined by looking at the government internally and its relationship with its citizenry.

De Facto Sovereignty

De facto sovereignty is whether or not the legal authority, or de jure sovereignty, actually exists. Countries usually judge whether another country has de facto sovereignty in a number of ways. First, they look at whether the leadership was placed in power by the citizenry and has the public's respect. They also look at whether the leadership can trade and control markets. Finally, de facto sovereignty is determined by whether the national leadership can enforce its laws and carry out all the duties of a functioning state.

You might be wondering how a government can have de jure sovereignty but not de facto sovereignty. Even if a government claims to be sovereign, other nations may not recognize their claim for a number of reasons. Usually, this is because the leadership of the country is not recognized as the legitimate ruling body of its people. For example, governments that are established by military coups are not necessarily recognized by other nations as having de facto sovereignty. Generally, if a country has both de jure and de facto sovereignty, then its claims of sovereignty will be recognized.

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