September 19, 2013
The Sovereign State
• Central concept in the study of politics
• Jean Bodin (1529-96): sovereignty is “the most high, absolute, and perpetual power over the
citizens and subjects in a Commonwealth”
• Sovereign state model emerges in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries
• Replaces feudal societies in which authority is divided between the aristocracy (emporers,
kings, princes, dukes etc) and the Roman Catholic Church.
• State as highest form of authority in a given territory
- Theoretically above challenge both internally (domestically) and externally
• Most countries now make use of the sovereign state model
• But how useful is the concept of sovereignty in today’s world?
• What about failed states?
State: Must have a defined territory, a population, and a functioning/capable government (legal
definition of state). There’s a difference between a state, a nation and a government. A
government is the people/political party in control. A nation usually has common cultural and
religious values and a common historical account. Sometimes we can use state and government
interchangeably. One way to categorize a state is based on their intervention in the economy.
---> If there is no government to preform the basic functions of controlling the territory,
collecting taxes, enforcing laws: they are called a failed state.
A Typology of the State
• States can be categorized based on how much they intervene in society and the economy:
- Night-watchman state
- Developmental state
Night watch-man state - Minimal role of the state in the economy and society, their job is to
protect life, liberty and property of the people. This is favored by classical liberals or libertarians.
In this kind of society, the government is basically supposed to protect the liberty and freedom of
its citizens from external and internal threats. The state is supposed to just provide security,
whatever you do within the state is up to you. This sate is considered an “ideal state”
Libertarians want nothing to do with the state interfering with individual affairs; individuals
should have to autonomy to decide what happens in their lives. They tend to say no to universal
healthcare and welfare programs in general. As far as libertarians are concerned, individuals
know what is best for them and each person has the capacity to get what they need, therefore the
state should not interfere. Libertarians believe that the state’s role should be very minimal, and
most are very critical of large state bureaucracies. They also object to the maintenance of a large
military force, especially when it is deployed to fight overseas (most Americans opposed the September 19, 2013
2003 invasion of Iraq, since foreign intervention exceeds the mandate of the government). They
believe the only military force that should be used is when the country is under attack.
Night Watch-man State
• Sees the role of the state as minimal
• Typically restricted to the provision of security and property rights
• Favored by both classical liberals and New Right thinkers
Minimization of state interference to maximize freedom.
• Government and private business partner together to concentrate on rapid economic growth, or
on greater social and economic equality through growth.
• Government effort to secure greater social and economic equality
• Prevalent in East Asia following WWII (in Japan especially)
- After colonialism this type of state emerged
They do not just form a relationship with the private sector
• Trying to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor
• A common criticism of Britain’s post-1945 political and economic development has been that
the country embraced social democracy, with its emphasis on the welfare state, but neglected
the developmental aspect (Marquand, 1988), limiting the economic growth that would have
helped to further the social democratic project. The same criticism was leveled at Canadian and
American governments when they were establishing their welfare state programs during the
1950’s and 60’s. The issue remains important today, especially in the wake of the 2008
A Typology of the State
• States can also be classified according to how leaders are subject to the will of the people:
- Liberal democracy
- Illiberal democracy
- Authoritarian state
- Totalitarian state
• Free and fair elections, universal suffrage, personal liberty, and the protection of individual
rights (ex: Canada, the US and India)
• Note: none is ideal; all experience some corruption, elections fraud, economic inequality, etc.
• People are equal before the law
Elections are held, but little protection for rights or liberties
• Opposition parties are at a distinct disadvantage due to state control of media outlets, few
transfer of power through elections. Elections are held, but the same people win every time.
• ex: Russia, Malaysia, some people consider Singapore also September 19, 2013
• President of Zimbabwe has been in power since the 1980’s
• Absence of fair elections; rulers generally unaccountable to the citizens; can be centered on an
individual, family, military, or ruling party. ex: power is transferred from a leader to his son
Up to 1/3 of the world’s population lives in an authoritarian state
• Ex: China, many states in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia
• Extreme form of interventionist state
• Absence of public/private distinction; repression of civil society
• Total control exercised through police and other forms of state violence
• First emerges in the 20th century along with the rise of mass communications technology as a
means for the dissemination of propaganda. ex: Nazi Germany, Stalinist USSR, Maoist China
• However difficult it is to define, the state is a central institution for students of politics
• Sovereignty is a defining feature of the state, although it is arguably more important in the
legal context than the political one
• An empirical typology of the state would run from the minimalist night-watchman state typical
of nineteenth-century capitalist regimes at one end of the spectrum to the totalitarian state of
the twentieth century at the other.
Theories of the State (Power Distribution)
• The New Right
These are based on different accounts of power distribution. (Who has power? Who decides?
- Classical pluralism, Proponent of classical liberalism: Dahl (1963). Dahl defines
modern liberal democratic politics in terms of “minorities rule” rather than majority
rule, or polyarchy (a society where government outcomes are the product of the
competition between groups) rather than democracy.
- Society is made up of many competing groups
- What governments do reflects the balance of power of those groups
- No one group is predominant
- This theory is quite recent September 19, 2013
- This is saying that: there are multiple groups within the state who have power, and none
of these groups are predominant, not one is more powerful. The end decision of the
government is the reflection of the competition between these groups. The government
makes a decision based on the competition between various interest groups within the
- The pluralist conclusion is that power is fragmented is based on a number of related
arguments: 1) Political influence is not dependent on one particular resource (wealth,
organization, public support). 2) Even though it may seem that one group or small set of
groups is influential in a particular issue area, the same groups are not influential in
other issue areas. 3) The influential groups in various policy areas are almost always
challenged by some “countervailing influence”. In the economic sphere, for instance,
the influence of business groups is checked by the influence of trade unions.
• Organization for defense or promotional of an interest or cause
• Different interest groups will prevail when it comes to different issues at different times
(environment, economics etc)
• Two types:
- Sectional groups protect the (usually economic) interests of their members, ex: CUPE,
- Cause groups promote interest of a particular group (homeless or ethnic group), or an
ideal (environmental protection, opposition to pornography)
Pluralist Fragmentation of Power
• Different groups prevail in different issue areas
• Not all groups are equally influential in all areas
• Group competition works to keep influence in check (“minorities rule”)
- Success depends on forging a majority coalition