He recognised the distinction between the State and an association and defined the State as “the association to protect the interests of men as citizens.” He agreed that “to satisfy the common needs, it must control other associations to the degree that secures for them the service such needs require.” He also accepted the need of the “ultimate reserve power of the State.” Laski finally conceded: “And however much we may reduce the direct administrative capacity of the political State, the fact remains that once it is charged with the provision of services which men stand in common need, it has their interests in trust to a degree with which no other body can, at least in a temporal sense, compete.
Even if we abstract from the modern State the final control of international affairs, the civic area of internal matters that is left seems, at any casual glance, overwhelming.” We may, then, conclude that in spite of their convincing arguments, the pluralists fail to “expunge” the notion of sovereignty from political theory as they claim. There is yet another interesting and perhaps somewhat surprising fact to note. “While most Pluralists have sought to drive sovereignty out of the front door of their new society, they quietly smuggle it again through back door, more or less disguised, but nevertheless sovereignty.” Such, indeed, is the case with Krabbe’s “legal community” ruled by the sense of right, Duguit’s monistic principle of “social solidarity”, and Cole’s “democratic supreme court of functional equity.” The pluralists attempt to abolish sovereignty, but are finally compelled to restore it.
There is always some ultimate authority in society, whether we find it in “natural law”, “in reason”, in “social solidarity”, or in the individual’s “sense of right.” As soon as we admit the existence of an ultimate power, we must provide a channel for its expression, that is, a “determinate person”, as the jurists say, “through whom the voice of the common good is heard.” The pluralists may refuse to call this channel the sovereign person, but the fact is that with whatever name we may designate it, sovereignty is still sovereignty. It does not lose the quality of supremacy, no matter by whom in and in which manner it is exercised.
In fact, the pluralists are not out to destroy sovereignty, but to recognise it so that the political power shall become the true expression of the community. “To destroy sovereignty”, as Hsiao says, “is as dangerous as it is futile.” The possession of power does not mean its perpetual exercise whenever the sovereign’s command is opposed. If the opposition is resolute and determined, common sense and good judgment may suggest it to the sovereign to give way. If he does not, perhaps the cost would be too great, disproportionate to the satisfaction of vindicating the law. Would it have been wiser to meet the Indian demand for Swaraj (independence) and Egyptian nationalism with wholesale military repression instead of granting independence to both the countries? The sovereign will always hesitate in taking drastic action. It is easy to recall many occasions on which the sovereign has given way before group pressure. The behaviour of the legal sovereign can best be explained by his dependence on the political sovereign.
If the political sovereign has not been reduced to impotence as the mere tool of a dictator, he hangs over the head of the legal sovereign like a sword of Damocles. Even a dictator is afraid of his future and will hesitate to take an action which is likely to jeopardise his existence. Maclver appropriately says that “all governments depend simply upon a margin of strength, represented by the balance of opinion in their favour” and “an act which reduces the margin weakens its authority entirely out of proportion to the turnover of opinion. If the legal sovereign flouts public opinion, when the voters finally act, they will entrust legal sovereignty to a different set of men and so reverse the unpopular policy of repressive actions. But it does not mean that the entire pluralistic criticism of the monistic State is a vain attempt. The pluralists have done a useful service by emphasizing individual freedom and introducing the group into political thought. They have pointed out the way to a more concrete method of social organization than that hitherto generally employed. Sovereignty, they insist, must not be too narrowly political or legal.
It must be representative of the diversity of social purposes—economic, religious, cultural, and other interests as well. In this way, sovereignty becomes the real and living manifestation of social purposes. The authority of such a sovereign is vastly more extended and ultimate than any sovereign power conceived by monistic lawyers who always take a narrow and abstract view of it. Such a conception of sovereignty retards the forces of absolutism set into motion by Hegel and his followers.