The Biography of a Claim

By (author) Peter H. Russell
Categories: International relations, Politics and government, Society and Social Sciences
Series: UTP Insights
Publisher: University of Toronto Press
Hardcover : 9781487509095, 192 pages, March 2021

Table of contents

1. Introduction: Confronting the Claim to Sovereignty
2. Cannosa:  Emperor and Pope Fight for It
3. Westphalia: The State Gets It
4. We the People Become Sovereign
5. Sovereignty as the Instrument of European Imperialism
6. Federalism Paves the Way for Removing Sovereignty’s Sting
7. Sovereignty Challenged Beyond and Within the State
8. Conclusion: Sharing Power Instead of Claiming Sovereignty


To be effective, sovereignty must be secured through force or consent by those living in a territory, and accepted externally by other sovereign states. To be legitimate, the sovereignty claim must have the consent of its people and accord with international human rights.

In Sovereignty: The Biography of a Claim, Peter H. Russell traces the origins of the sovereignty claim to Christian Europe and the attribution of sovereignty to God in the early Middle Ages. Transcending a narrow legal framework, he discusses sovereignty as a political activity including efforts to enshrine sovereignty within international law. Russell does not call for the end of sovereignty but makes readers aware of its limitations. While sovereignty can do good work for small and vulnerable peoples, it cannot be the basis of a global order capable of responding to the major existential threats that threaten our species and our planet.

A brisk, often humorous, and personal exploration, Sovereignty: The Biography of a Claim will interest specialists and general readers alike, offering fresh insights on the limitations of sovereignty and the potential of federalism to alleviate these limitations now and in the future.


"It is wry, fast-moving and instructive…Sovereignty casts a bright light on platitudes that dominate official discourse on First Nations. The result is absorbing."

- Holly Doan

"Sovereignty: The Biography of a Claim provides a nuanced… approach to nation-state claims of sovereignty that serve as a useful contrast to Indigenous and emerging articulations of self-determination, thus underscoring the relationships at stake in such claims and the practices these claims foster."

- Jim Miranda, Bentley University