According to John Austin, sovereignty is the key concept in understanding the nature of law. Sovereignty is embodied in a person or a determinate body of persons who have supreme and absolute authority within a given political community. The sovereign is characterized by the following:
1. Command: The sovereign issues commands that are to be followed by the subjects of the political community. These commands are laws, backed by sanctions.
2. Habitual Obedience: The sovereign must be habitually obeyed by the majority of society. This obedience is not sporadic but consistent and ongoing.
3. No Habitual Obedience to Others: The sovereign does not habitually obey any other person or body within the community. This helps to define the sovereign as the ultimate authority within the community.
4. Indivisibility: Sovereignty, according to Austin, is indivisible. It resides in a single entity, whether an individual or a determinate group, and cannot be shared or distributed among different branches or levels of government.
5. Not Subject to Legal Limitation: Austin’s sovereign is not bound by legal rules, only by political and moral considerations. The sovereign can change the law at will and is not subject to legal constraints.
Austin’s concept of sovereignty reflects his legal positivist view, focusing on the structure and source of legal authority rather than moral or natural law considerations. It emphasizes the hierarchical nature of legal systems, with a clear and absolute authority at the top. This theory, while influential, has been criticized for its inability to account for the complexities of modern democratic systems, separation of powers, and international law.