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Chapter 1

Chapter 1-Politics and the State.docx

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Queen's University
Political Studies
POLS 110
Jonathan W Rose

Chapter 1- Politics and the State The Political Importance of the State  Weber regards the state as an institution claiming a monopoly of the legitimate use of force in enforcing its order within a given territorial area o The state is therefore linked with sovereignty  The idea of the sovereign state denotes its superiority as the highest form of authority in a particular territory o There is no higher authority within that territory, and no external challenge to this authority  Sovereign states replaced feudal societies which shared authority between th th the aristocracy and the Catholic Church in the 15 and 16 centuries  In constitutional theory states are sovereign, but in reality, states have always faced challenges from within and outside their borders, therefore limiting their autonomy  There is a crucial distinction between de jure sovereignty, which refers to a legal right to rule supremely, and de facto sovereignty, which refers to the actual distribution of political power A Typology of the State  A classification of the state is usually organized around the degree to which it intervenes in society and the economy  Night-watchman state the state concentrates on ensuring external and internal security, playing little role in civil society and the economy where the economic market is allowed to operate unhindered o Central characteristic of classical liberal thought and played a large part in shaping 19 century British politics  The notion of a minimal state is an ideal type that does not exist within society  In a developmental state, there is a strong relationship between state and private economic institutions with the goal of securing rapid economic development o Ex. Japan, South Korea  Social democratic states have a broader social and political objective, and are associated with attempts to secure greater social and economic equality, rather than just economic development  States can also be defined in terms of their relationship to democracy or popular control of political leaders  Liberal democracies are characterized by free and fair elections involving universal suffrage, together with a liberal political framework consisting of a relatively high degree of personal freedom and the protection of individual rights o Ex. USA, India, UK  Illiberal states are characterized by elections but relatively little protection of rights and liberties, and state control over the means of communication. This results in relatively few transfers of power through elections as opposition parties are disadvantages o Ex. Russia, Malaysia  Authoritarian regimes can be characterized in terms of the absence of hair elections and therefore the accountability of political rulers o Ex. China  Totalitarian states intervene in all aspects of social and economic life, through the guise of a transformative ideology o Ex. Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and East Germany Key Points  However difficult it is to define, the state is undoubtedly a crucial institution of the political analyst  Sovereignty is a key defining feature of the state, although it is a concept that, arguably, had greater legal than political importance  It is possible to develop an empirical typology of the state from the minimalist night-watchman state, approximated to by 19 century capitalist regimes at one end of the spectrum, to the totalitarian state of the 20th century at the other The State and Power  Theories of the state more often than not provide different accounts of power distribution  These theories are primarily empirical accounts, seeking to describe the reality of power distribution rather than a normative aspiration  The need for an overarching theory of the state emerges from the need to be selective, to have some guide to the choosing of relevant information from the mass of factual evidence that can be unearthed  There are three major theories of the state: Pluralism, Elitism, and Marxism Pluralism  In the classical pluralist position, society is seen as being composed of thousands of activities that have the effect of creating many different groups of all shapes and sizes  For pluralists, the existence of, often competing, groups is a natural feature of all societies  The role of the state can also be defined in terms of the activities of groups  In this political pluralism, the state’s role is to regulate and mediate between these groups  What government do will be a mirror image of the balance of power of groups within society, and it is believed all groups get at least something of what they want  In a pluralist state, most interest groups will be able to influence public policy outcomes to at least some extent  Power is fragmented based upon a number of related arguments o The bases upon which power rests are variable, that is, political influence is not dependant upon one particular resource  There are a variety of important resources- wealth, organization, public support, a group’s position in the economy, the ability to exercise sanctions- which are not the preserve of a small number of groups o Even though it may seem that in a particular issue area one groups is influential, the same groups are not influential in other issue areas o An influential group in a policy arena is challenged by a countervailing influence  In the economic sphere, for example, the influence of business groups is checked by the role of trade unions Pluralism to Elitism Continuum  It is possible toe envisage a number of other approaches or theories of the state on a continuum between classical pluralism and classical elitism  The first of these is elite pluralism, sometimes described as democratic elitism  This revision of classical pluralism came about in the late 1950s following a sustained criticism o Mills argued that power in American society is concentrated in the hands of a powerful elite, dominating the economic, military, and governmental spheres  The pluralist response to this was to accept that the classical pluralist assumption, that there is widespread participation in decision-making and that groups are themselves internally egalitarian, was misplaced  The existence of political elites was accepted  Politics may be hierarchal, but rather than one homogeneous elite group, there are a multiplicity of competing elites  Further down the continuum between pluralism and elitism is corporatism, which traditionally referred to the top-down model where the state, as in the fascist model, incorporates economic interests in order to control them and civil society in general  Modern societal or neo-corporatism reflects a genuine attempt by governments to incorporate economic interests into the decision-making process  This modern version of societal corporation shares with pluralism the belief that groups are a crucial part of the political system  Corporatism denies, however, that the competition between groups was as widespread and fragmented as pluralists had suggested  Corporatism points to the critical role played by economic elites  Government outputs are a product of a tripartite relationship between elites in government, business, and the trade unions Elitism  At the other end of the spectrum from classical pluralism is the ruling elite theory of the state  Ruling elite theory holds that all society, whether democratic rhetoric proclaims, is ruled by a single, unified, and self-conscious elite  The original elitists were concerned primarily with refuting Marx’s vision of a future egalitarian society, as for them, a ruling elite was an inevitable feature of all complex societies  No one resource is necessarily crucial, so it is possible to conceive of elites based upon military, administrative and religious factors as much as economic ones  Modern elitism has ceased to be anti-Marxist, and has instead become a critique of pluralism  They identify the rule of elites, but argue that it is illegitimate and ought to be challenged Marxism and the State  Marxism shares with elitism an acceptance of the fact that modern capitalist societies are dominated by a united self-interested ruling group  Unlike elitists, Marxists are very specific about the character of the riling group in capitalist societies o For them, the ruling group in pre-communist societies is always that social group that controls the means of production, and therefore has economic power  The dominant interpretation of Marx attaches to him the view that it is pointless for the working class to seek emancipation through gaining the vote and winning power through elections, as this is not where real power lies o Power lies within the economic sphere of society; those who have economic power also have political power  Marxism centers around the idea that a communist revolution would bring about a truly egalitarian society, one in which hierarchy would be abolished The
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