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Sunday, January 1, 2012

UNIT 4 THEORIES OF THE STATE

Structure

4.1 Introduction

4.2 Understanding the State

4.3 Liberal Conception of the State

4.4 Rousseau

4.5 The Marxist Perspective

4.6 Welfare State

4.7 Liberal – Egalitarian State

4.8 Libertarian – Minimal State

4.9 Gandhian Perspective on the State

4.10 Feminist Theory and the State

4.11 Summary

4.12 Exercises


4.1 INTRODUCTION

The State is central to our understanding of modern societies and politics. It is a truism to mention that State plays a crucial role in the functioning of modern society. What then is the State? This appears to be a simple question but when we attempt to answer this we find the answers elusive. In the course of answering this question we would realize that our understanding of politics itself is to a great extent linked with our understanding of the State.

Today it is impossible to think of life without the framework of the State. The State has come to be equated with civility and identity. Although there are enough sceptics and critics who decry the institutions and the practices of the State, it has become an integral part of everyday life. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we start and end our lives within its confines and the recognition of the State in both these matters is rather crucial. This should amply illustrate the significance of the concept and our need to study it. Besides most of our fundamental concerns and the debates surrounding it (for instance around the concepts of rights, obligations, laws) acquire meaning only in the context of the State.

Our attitude to the State is to a great extent determined by our conceptualization of it. From the point of view of an active citizenship it is important to include a critical and insightful understanding of the State as part of any meaningful political education. All this makes the study of the State significant.

Having highlighted the importance of studying the concept of the State, it needs to be mentioned that it is done of the most problematic and ambivalent conceptss in politics. its ambivalence being a consequence of its certain yet elusive character. So overwhelming is the importance of the State in contemporary societies that politics is itself conflated with the State, the appropriateness of this conflation is the subject of a rather lively debate in political theory.

Differing historical experiences have led to differing perceptions and practices of the
State. Yet all States do have a territory, legal system, judiciary and monopoly of 1

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force and so on. The idea of an impersonal and sovereign political order is an intrinsically modern idea and by extension also the idea of citizenship. The gradual erosion of feudal ties and controls meant a redefinition of political authority and structures as well. The idea of the modern State which we will examine in this unit emerges around this time. In fact it was only towards the end of the sixteenth century that the concept of the State became central to European political thought.


4.2 UNDERSTANDING THE STATE

It was around the time of the Enlightenment that major enquiries into the basic nature and structure of the State began to be made in a systematic manner. The new concerns focussed on the distinctions between the new, modern State that had come into being and the traditional state systems. The new concerns also focused on the relationship between the State and society. The Enlightenment thinkers were particularly concerned with the question of where the State ended and the society began. It was as a result of the intellectual efforts of the Enlightenment thinkers that we are today in a position to address some key questions regarding the nature of the State. Some of these questions are: What is the State? How long has it been with us? What are its main features? These are all important questions and need to be answered before we proceed to enquire into the theories of the State.

State can be defined as the centralized, law making, law enforcing, politically sovereign institution in the society. In other words, it is useful to understand and define the State in terms of the functions it performs. Put briefly and simply, the State

l Comprises a set of institutions with ultimate control over the means of violence and coercion within a given territory;

l Monopolizes rule-making within the territory;

l Develops the structures for the implementation of the rules;

l Regulates market activity within the territory; and
l Ensures the regulation and distribution of essential material goods and services. However, in modern times, that is to say during the last three hundred years or so,
a whole new set of functions have been added to this. It has been argued that a major task of the modern state system in Europe was to enable the development of industrialism. It was also under industrialism that the modern State came to enjoy tremendous powers. It also became so omnipotent that it became virtually impossible to think of human life outside the framework of the State. The state is all pervasive today, but was it always like this? Was there a time when people could live without a state? This leads us to the second question: how old is the State?

Living in modern times we tend to take the State for granted as if it has always been a part of human society. Moreover, we also tend to take some of the features of the modern State – national, representative, centralized, interventionist – for granted. We need to recognize that not only were these features not always a part of the State, the State itself was not always there. Therefore the question on the life of the State can be answered by suggesting that although there is nothing exclusively modern about the State, it nonetheless does not have a very long life in human history. It is therefore best to look upon State as a contingency and not a perennial feature of human life. If we were to divide the entire human history into three phases – pre- agrarian, agrarian and industrial – then the State certainly did not exist in the pre-

agrarian phase of human life. In the elementary situation of the hunters and gatherers, there was no surplus and no division of labour. As a result, there was no need for any political centralization. However, once humans took to agriculture and consequently to a more settled life, a division of labour and a more complex form of human organization began to emerge. It was then that gradually a State came into being to extract surplus, regulate the division of labour, maintain exchange mechanism and settle disputes whenever required.

However not all the agrarian societies had a State. Only the large and the more complex ones did. Small, primitive, simple and elementary agrarian societies could still manage their affairs without a State. Although the State had arrived in the human world at this stage, it was still an option and not an inevitability. Some agrarian societies had a state and some did not.

It was however in the third phase of human society, i.e., under industrialism that the State ceased to be an option and became an integral and necessary part of human society. With a limitless increase in the division of labour and an increasing complexity of human life, people have found it impossible to manage without a State. So it would be fair to say that in the beginning, i.e., in the pre-agrarian stage of human life there was no State. Then, under agrarian conditions, some human societies had a State and some did not (we can even say that some needed a state and some did not). But under industrial condition there is no choice but to have a State. State under modern conditions is no longer an option but a necessity.

The range of the nature of state-systems in human history has varied a great deal. There have been small kingdoms, city-states as well as large empires. However under modern conditions, a new type of State – nation-state – has emerged and pervaded the modern world (you will read more about nation-state in Unit 10 of Block 3). We can say that the history of State in modern times is the history of nation-states. It is this nation-state – centralized, interventionist, representative – that has been the object of theorizing by various scholars. We can now turn to some of the theories that have propounded about the modern State.


4.3 LIBERAL CONCEPTION OF THE STATE

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Jean Bodin (1530-96) were amongst the earliest writers to articulate the new concerns, although it was Thomas Hobbes (1588-1642) nearly a century later who addresses the question sharply. The questions that arose were seeking answers to basic issues like, what is the State? The State’s origins and foundations were examined, as also its relationship with society and the most desirable form of this relationship, its functions and of course whose interests should the State represent, and then at the end of it all how would the relationship between States be governed?

Thomas Hobbes offers a brilliant analysis of the State and related issues. He represents a point of transition, between a commitment to the absolute State and the struggle of liberalism against tyranny. Without going into too many details, liberalism can be explained as that worldview which gives central importance to the idea of choice, this choice is to be exercised across diverse fields like marriage, education, enterprise, work and profession and of course political affairs. This ability to choose is what characterizes a rational and free individual and politics is about the defence of these rights and any interference whatsoever is to be limited and through the State based on a constitution.

Hobbes in his book ‘Leviathan’ acknowledges clearly the development of a new
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form of power, public power characterized by permanence and sovereignty. Hobbes is a fascinating point of departure for our discussions on the modern theories of the State, because he combines within him many profoundly liberal and at the same time many illiberal arguments. Hobbes opens his account by describing human nature that he says always seeks ‘more intense delight’ and hence is characterized by a restlessness and a desire to maximize power. This famously reduces human society into a ‘war of all against all’. The idea that people might come to respect and trust each other and co-operate and honour their promises and contracts seems remote to Hobbes. This is what he describes as, the state of nature, here life becomes to quote him ‘ nasty, short and brutish’. What then is the way out? It is the creation of the State, which in this case turns out to be an absolute State, and this is quite clearly a direct outcome of the dreadful life that Hobbes visualizes in the absence of the State.

He suggests that free and equal individuals should surrender their rights by transferring them to a powerful authority that can force them to keep their promises and covenants, then an effective and legitimate private and public sphere, society and State can be formed. This would be done through a social contract wherein consenting individuals hand over their rights of self-government to a single authority, authorized to act on their behalf. The sovereign thus created would be permanent and absolute. At this point it is interesting to note the liberal in Hobbes emphasizing that this sovereign would be so only as a consequence of consenting individuals, who in turn are bound to fulfil their obligations to the sovereign. It would be the duty of the sovereign however, to protect the people and of course their property.

Thomas Hobbes considers the State to be pre-eminent in social and political life. According to him it is the State that gives to the individuals the chance to live in a civilized society. The miserable life in the state of nature is altered by the emergence of the State. Then follows the creation of a civilized society. Thus it is the State that in Hobbes’ conception constructs society and establishes its form and codifies its forces. Moreover the self-seeking nature of individuals leads to anarchy and violence and hence State has to be powerful and strident enough to resist this and maintain order, for order is a value that Hobbes cherishes greatly. And since it is all the consenting individuals who have created the State, the State is legitimate and represents the sum total of all individuals enabling them to carry on with their businesses and lives in an uninterrupted manner. To do all this, a giant and powerful State is envisaged, and this vision is remarkably close to the image of a modern all pervasive State that we are familiar with. His conception of individuals as being nothing more than self- interested is also a depressingly modern and familiar view.

Hobbes’ political conclusions emphasizing on an all powerful State does make him profoundly illiberal, and this tension in his writings between the emphatic claims on individuality on the one hand, and the need for an all powerful State on the other hand make his arguments very exciting.

Rapid and far-reaching technological, economic, political changes apart from a good number of years separate John Locke from Hobbes. Locke is not prepared to accept the idea of an absolute sovereign, and this is a major point of departure from where he then establishes his theory of the State. For Locke the State exists as an instrument to protect the life, liberty and estate of the citizens. Locke like Hobbes saw the establishment of the political world as preceded by the existence of individuals endowed with natural rights to property, which includes life, liberty and estate.

Locke begins with a picture of free, equal and rational men (Locke like Hobbes and in fact like most other political theorists is not thinking of women when he writes

about social and political issues) living quite amicably in the state of nature governed by natural laws. In the state of nature they enjoy natural rights, but Locke points out that not all individuals would be equally respectful of the natural laws. This creates some inconveniences, the most significant of these being inadequate regulation of property which for Locke is prior to both society and the State. Locke suggests that these inconveniences can be overcome only by the consenting individuals forging contracts to create first a society and then a State. The State is thus very obviously a creation for the purpose of the individuals and it would be they who would be the final judges in this matter. This is a very novel idea though today seems commonplace because it has become almost the central idea of liberalism. Locke holds categorically that the individuals do not transfer all their rights to the State, and whatever rights are transferred is only on the condition that the State adheres to its basic purpose of preserving the individual’s life, liberty and estate. This is today one of the central ideas of liberalism and is central to our understanding of the State.

Thus Locke paved the way for representative government although Locke himself advocated constitutional monarchy and was clearly not articulating any of the now routinely accepted democratic ideas of popular government based on universal adult franchise. Yet there is no denying that it was his idea that the State should be for the protection of the rights of the citizens which made the transformation of liberalism into liberal democracy possible.

Taking off from Locke’s ideas that there must be limits upon legally sanctioned political power, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), and James Mill (1773-1836) developed a systematic account of the liberal democratic State. In their account the State would be expected to ensure that the conditions necessary for individuals to pursue their interests without risk of arbitrary political interference, to participate freely in economic transactions, to exchange labour and goods on the market and to appropriate resources privately. In all this the State was to be like an umpire while individuals went about their business as per the rules of the free market, and periodic elections determined who would be in power.

The idea was that such an arrangement would lead to the maximization of pleasure for the maximum numbers as per the principle of utility, to which both Bentham and Mill subscribed. This argument was clearly advocating a limited State on the grounds that the scope and power of the State should be limited in order to ensure that the collective good be realized through individuals freely competing and pursuing utility without State interference.

Yet significantly certain kinds of interference were allowed, any individual, group or class that would challenge the security of property, the working of the market or the upkeep of public good could be held by the State. Prisons became the hallmark of this age, the enactment and enforcement of law backed by the coercive powers of the State and the creation of new State institutions advocated in order to uphold the general principle of utility.

The modern liberal democratic State which we are familiar can be traced to the writings of Bentham and Mill. However they stopped short of advocating universal suffrage (for instance workers and women were kept out of the charmed circle), finding one reason or the other to deny the vote to all individuals. For the utilitarians, democracy was not an end in itself only a means to an end. Democracy was seen as the logical requirement for the governance of a society freed from absolute power and tradition, inhabited by individuals who seek to maximize their private gains, constituted as they are by endless desires.
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John Stuart Mill (1806-73) is perhaps one of the first and strongest advocates of democracy as an end in itself who saw its primary purpose as the highest and harmonious development of the individual. John Stuart Mill was deeply committed to the idea of individual liberty, moral development and the rights of minorities. He was concerned with the nature and limits of the power that could be legitimately exercised by society over the individual. Liberal democratic government was necessary not only to ensure the pursuit of individual satisfaction, but also for free development of individuality.

While he conceded the need for some regulation and interference in individual’s lives, but he sought obstacles to arbitrary and self-interested intervention. To ensure all of this, Mill proposed a representative democracy. However despite the firm commitment to liberty and democracy that Mill makes, he too believed that those with the most knowledge and skills should have more votes than the rest, inevitably this would imply that those with most property and privilege would have more votes than the rest. Of course it needs to be mentioned that deep inequalities of wealth, and power bothered Mill who believed that these would prevent the full development of those thus marginalized.


4.4 ROUSSEAU

Standing apart from the liberal and democratic tradition is Rousseau (1712-1778) who might be described a champion of the ‘direct’ or ‘participatory’ model of democracy. Rousseau is uncomfortable with the idea that sovereignty can be transferred either by consent or through the ballot, actually he did not think it possible even. Rousseau justifies the need for the State by beginning his arguments in the
‘Social Contract’ with the description of the state of nature in which human beings were rather happy but were ultimately driven out of it because of various obstacles to their preservation ( some of these obstacles that he identifies are natural disasters, individual weakness and common miseries). Thus human beings come to realize that for the fullest realization of their potential and for greatest liberty it is essential for them to come together and co-operate through a law making and enforcing body. This State would be thus a result of a contract that human beings create to establish possibilities of self-regulation and self-government. In his scheme of affairs individuals were to be directly involved in law making and obeying these laws would not be akin to obeying a sovereign authority outside on oneself but it would amount to obeying oneself and this to Rousseau constitutes freedom.

Individuals are thus to vote in disregard of their private interest, to each individual who is an indivisible part of the sovereign what matters is oly the interest of the body politic itself. Rousseau calls this general will. For Rousseau the sovereign is the people themselves in a new form of association and the sovereign's will is the will of each person. The government is thus the result of an agreement among the citizens and is legitimate only to the extent to which it fulfils the instructions of the general will and obviously should it fail to do do so it can be revoked or changed.

4.5 THE MAR XIST PERSPECTIVE

The take off point for Karl Marx (1818-83) and Engels (1820-95) in their analysis of the State is unlike the preceding accounts not the individual and his or her relation to the State. As Marx put it very eloquently ‘man is not an abstract being squatting outside the world…’

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Marx argued that individuals by themselves do not tell us much, it is the interaction between individuals and institutions and the society that makes the account worthwhile. He contends that the State has to be seen as a dynamic institution circumscribed by social forces and always changing. Thus the key to understanding the relations between people is the class structure. Classes they argued are created at a specific conjecture in history, the implication is that historically there was a period characterized by the absence of classes and the future could hold a classless society. With the creation of surplus produce a class of non- producers that can live off the productive activity of others emerges and this is the foundation of classes in society. Those who succeed in gaining control over the means of production form the ruling class both economically and politically. This leads to intense, perpetual and irreconcilable conflicts in society. Such struggles while becoming the motor force for historical development also become the basis for the emergence of the State.

Marx and Engels challenged the idea that the State can be neutral and represent the community or the public interests as though classes did not exist. When the liberals claim that the State acts neutrally it is according to Marx protecting a system of individual rights and defending the regime of private property, thus its actions produce results that are far from neutral. Marx is of the opinion that the dichotomy between the private and the public which characterizes the modern State is itself dubious for it depoliticizes the most important source of power in modern societies i.e. private property. That which creates a fundamental and crucial divide in society is presented as an outcome of free private contracts and not a matter for the State. However he argues, all the institutions and structures of the State defend the interests of private property and thus the claims of neutrality that the State makes are untenable.

Marxist politics would therefore require an action plan to overthrow the State and by implication the classes that uphold the State. Marx characterized the history of State broadly as having set out from a slave State, to feudal State and then to the modern State (with capitalism as its basis). The last mentioned carries within it as a consequence of heightened class struggle the possibility of revolutionary transformation and the creation of a socialist State. This would be for the first time in history a State representative of the majority. It would be controlled by the proletariat, and unlike the earlier dictatorships controlled by the property owning classes, this State would be the dictatorship of the proletariat, the toiling classes.

Eventually Marx argues that the logic of historical development would lead this State to a communist stage. Material abundance and prosperity would distinguish this State from the earlier stage of statelessness described as primitive communism by Marx. In the communist stage of society’s evolution due to the absence of classes and class struggle, the State would become redundant and wither away. The State according to Marx exists to defend the interests of the ruling classes and is deeply embedded in socio-economic relations and linked to particular class interests. We can discern at least two distinct strands in Marx explaining the nature of this relationship between classes and the State.

Of the two, the more subtle position is the one that we will examine first. This position holds that the State and its bureaucratic institutions may take a variety of forms and constitute a source of power which need not be directly linked to the interests or be under the unambiguous control of the dominant class in the short term. Thus, according to this view, the State appears to have a certain degree of power independent of class forces, thus it is described as being relatively autonomous. The other view that we find often represented in Marx’s writings is that the State’s role is to coordinate a divided society in the interests of the ruling class, thus it sees the State as merely a ‘superstructure’ serving the interests of the dominant class.
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Later Marxists have differed considerably with each other on the interpretations of the Marxist concept of the State. One of the most celebrated of such differences is the now famous ‘Miliband vs. Poulantzas’ debate.

Ralph Miliband begins by stressing the need to separate the governing classes from the ruling classes. The latter exercises ultimate control whereas the former makes day-to-day decisions. Miliband is suggesting that the ruling class does not get embroiled in the everyday business of governance, for the State is an instrument that is for the domination of society on behalf of this very class. His contention is that in order to be politically effective the State has to separate itself from the ruling class. And in doing this, it might even have to take actions that might not be in the interests of the ruling class, of course in the long run.

For Poulantzas the class affiliations of those in State positions and offices is not of any significance. He draws attention to the structural components of the capitalist State which enable it to protect the long-term framework of capitalist production even if it means severe conflict with some segments of the capitalist class. A fundamental point in Poulantza’s argument is that the State is what holds together capitalism by ensuring political organization of the dominant classes that are constantly engaged in conflict due to competitive pressures and short term differences.

Further the State ensures ‘political disorganization’ of the working classes which because of many reasons can threaten the hegemony of the dominant classes, the State also undertakes the task of political ‘regrouping’ by a complex ‘ideological process’ of classes from the non-dominant modes of production who could act against the State. Thus in this perspective the centralized modern State is both a necessary result of the ‘anarchic competition of civil society’ and a force in the reproduction of such competition and division. The State does not simply record socio-economic reality, it enters into its very construction by reinforcing its form and codifying its elements.


4.6 WELFARE STATE

Marxist theory of the State as we have seen challenged the hegemony of individualism that was intrinsic to liberal and liberal-democratic theories. However from within liberalism attempts at revisiting the basic assumptions came with the reversal of the explanation of the process of social causation, and the consequent effect this had on the idea of personal responsibility that had been a feature of nineteenth century thought. The emergence of the case for the welfare State began with the argument that instead of public welfare being the cause of dependence, loss of autonomy and capacity for individual responsibility for action and the market the source of independence and freedom, the opposite was the case.

A considerable amount of re-interpretation of certain basic concepts like liberty, community and equality were undertaken, and the nature of society was no longer visualized as a loosely coordinating set of individuals bound together by common rules but lacking a common purpose rather as a more intimate form of order. People were seen as being held together by social bonds that were not merely contractual and hence they could make claims on one another as citizens engaged in a common enterprise. This made the welfare State appear less like a charity and more like a form of entitlement. T. H. Green (1836-82) was one of the first and strongest advocates of the kind of the welfare State that Europe became familiar with. It began with a redefinition of liberty and its recasting of the notions of citizenship and community, moving as it did from the earlier foundation of the State based on the subjective preferences of atomized individuals.

The theory of modern welfare State stems out of an enquiry into the alleged inadequacies of the individualistic market order rather than from a socialist or Marxist theory. The latter theories would not argue for a welfare State without the backdrop of socialism. In fact Marxists are deeply critical of the welfare State institutions since they are merely set upon existing capitalist structures. On close scrutiny of the intellectual foundations of the welfare State we would notice that it does not sanction the abolition of the market but only a correction of its defects. Hence the successful welfare State is something that would in the long run help the capitalist State.

4.7 LIBERAL-EGALITARIAN STATE

The primary concern of welfare State theories has been equality, and to realize this goal an interventionist state was advanced as an option. John Rawls on the other hand has been concerned with the justification in rational terms of socially and economically necessary inequalities. Rawls’s notion of State is similar to that of Locke: the State is a voluntary society constituted for mutual protection. This civil association regulates the general conditions so that individuals can pursue their individual interests. In Rawls’ conception individuals are viewed as rational agents with interests and right claims, and a State can provide a general framework of rules and conditions which enable the fulfilment of these rights and claims. Rawls bestows upon the State an active role in the integration and promotion of the lives of the individual.

Rawls believes that ‘public reason’ would be the basis of the liberal legitimacy of the State. This is described by him as intellectual and moral power of citizens. In Rawls’ most well known work, ‘A Theory of Justice’ as well as in his later works there is no conscious attempt made to develop a theory of State. However a close reading of his works suggests that he has in mind a constitutional democracy based on the principle of ‘public reason’ where each departure from the principle of equality should be justified on the basis of the famous Rawlsian principles of justice. The State would in this framework be expected to intervene in favour of establishing the principle of justice as fairness, and establish the principle of equality of individuals.
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4.8 LIBERTARIAN-MINIMAL STATE

Robert Nozick has in his work ‘Anarchy, State and Utopia’ (1974) expressed his deep reservations regarding a State that is allowed to intervene and in fact to the whole quest for equality. Nozick is of the view that it is only the minimal State that can be morally justified, being limited by rights bearing individuals. Nozick challenged both anarchic visions of statelessness as well as welfare oriented interventionism.

Nozick repudiated the claims of any State to ‘forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults’. He argues that a State that does anything more than provide services will necessarily violate people’s rights and so cannot be morally legitimate. He argues primarily against the view that a major function of the State is to achieve distributive justice on the basis of some conception of the right pattern of distribution. Nozick therefore argues that a State which is more extensive than the minimal State is bound to be non-neutral by increasing the scope for manipulations. The position that Nozick took led him to become one of most invoked philosophers of the New Right, who were arguing through the 1980s for the rolling out of the State from the society. Nozick’s prescription for a minimal State seemed to fulfil these requirements and thus gave an intellectual basis for the rapid withdrawal of the State from many key areas in England, Europe and America.
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We have till now looked at theories of the State that are circumscribed by the western experience. Anti-imperialist movements and the subsequent de-colonization was the context of new theories of State that questioned, re-examined and in some cases moved away completely from the western vantage point. Of these Mahatma Gandhi’s is a profound challenge to both the liberal and the Marxist views of the State.

Gandhi’s views on the State begin from a position of deep distrust and discomfort vis-à-vis the State. He differed from the core commitment that liberals make to the idea of unbridled individualism. Hence he obviously does not subscribe to the notion of the State that has as its fundamental principle competing individuals pursuing an end defined by the interests of the isolated, atomized self.

Gandhi was equally uncomfortable with the interventionist role of the State advocated by some other theories albeit in the interest of equality. Gandhi argued that increasing State interference is immoral and opens up ever increasing possibilities of violence and corruption.

Gandhi described swarajya as the ideal State. This would imply not only self-rule as is commonly understood but it implied governance of one’s self, self-control and self regulation. A situation where each individual is able to govern and control himself or herself thus making the State redundant.

Gandhi advocated an active citizenry that would be involved in decision making and control of its destiny, rather than a huge and centralized, monolithic State structure. For Gandhi such a structure would be an embodiment of violence and would lead to alienation. This was an extension of his opinion that large scale industrialization would lead to violence and alienation.

Gandhi denounced the modern State as a soulless machine, which even while engaging in ostensibly egalitarian acts unwittingly leads to violence, and in the last instance a destruction of the individual. Gandhi expected the State to ensure internal peace and external security. He was however extremely sceptical of the modern State’s claims to act on behalf of something described as autonomous ‘national interest’. This discussion is only a fleeting glimpse of the very interesting arguments Gandhi puts forth in his dialogue with the tradition of western political theory that we have looked at so far. Needless to add that in order to present the total picture we need to place this discussion in the larger context of Gandhi’s political philosophy.

4.10 FEMINIST THEORY AND THE STATE

Feminists of the liberal persuasion do not see any harm in engaging with the State and using the State as an ally to fight for their rights. They see the State as a neutral institution from which women had so long been excluded and into which they should make an entry.

However there are many that see the above approach as being rather short sighted. Malestream (which is also mainstream) political theory and politics has all along had a way of structuring politics and political institutions that does not permit the entry, articulation and much less the realization of feminist goals. The State from this point of view is presented as male in the feminist sense. The laws thus see and treat women the way men treat women. Radical feminists would go on from here to urge
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feminists would argue they need to engage with this State as women, challenging the State’s spurious claims to gender neutrality, and insisting on the validity of female voices.

Marxist-feminist attitude of scepticism towards the welfare State is premised on the belief that the benign use of the State to provide welfare for its citizens simply represents the most cost-effective way of reproducing labour power. It also assumes and reinforces women’s domestic responsibilities and their economic dependency on a male breadwinner within the patriarchal family. The contention is that far from freeing women, welfare provision has helped to maintain oppressive gender roles, and has led to increased surveillance of sexual and reproductive behaviour and of child rearing practices. In the 1960s at the height of political radicalism, feminists argued that collaborating with the State amounted to a sell out. Today however there is a much more open-ended and less consistently hostile attitude to the State and to conventional political activity.

Post-Modernism and the Understanding of the State

Post-modernism sees the sovereign State as a metanarrative that is part of the totalizing discourse of modernity. Michel Foucault has argued that power is exercised not only at the level of the State but at the micro levels where it is constantly being redefined and experienced. Resistance too therefore to power has to happen not just at the spectacular levels but at these micro levels. Since such an approach is questioning the existence of a centralized system of power, there is no basis within this approach for either the use or the undermining of State power.


4.11 SUMMARY

We have in this Unit surveyed the liberal, the Marxist, the welfare, Gandhian, feminist and the post-modernist conceptions of the State. Each of these short discussions is a pointer to a much larger debate and analysis that can be developed with the help of further readings. The modern nation-State emerged at a particular historical juncture, and the changes in the contemporary world seem to suggest a difficult future ahead for the nation-State. Technological, economic, financial, cultural and political changes seem to suggest a disjunction between the structure of the modern nation-State and the world around it. The future would hold answers as to the form and longevity of the institution of the nation-State as we know it.
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4.12 EXERCISES

1. What do you understand by the State?

2. Write a note on the liberal conception of the State.

3. Briefly compare the conceptions of the welfare State and the minimal State.













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