Special Events

The Rights of Sovereignty

Thursday, The Heyman Center

Daniel Lee’s talk investigated the rule of imprescriptibility in the
analysis of sovereignty in early modern political thought: the
norm that legal rights of sovereignty (jura majestatis) cannot be
acquired by private actors simply on grounds of desuetude. He
began by outlining prescription in the Roman law of property governing
usucapio, i.e., transfers of ownership by undisturbed possession
over time, and went on to explore how prescription was
used in medieval legal thought to model the special jural status of
sovereign princes. Unlike ordinary legal actors, whose rights could
expire, the rights of the crown were set beyond the scope of time.
Thus, the jurists declared, “No time runs against the king.” This
background, Dr. Lee argued, framed the major discussions of early
modern jurists who studied the concept of sovereignty, such as
Bodin, Althusius, Grotius, and Domat. These jurists suggested that
the rights of sovereignty were not only indivisible and inalienable,
but also imprescriptible. Dr. Lee concluded with observations on
the influence of this rule of imprescriptibility in the modern law of
nations and the modern liberal theory of individual rights.