The State: Critical Concepts - Vol. 1

The State: Critical Concepts - Vol. 1

The State: Critical Concepts - Vol. 1

The State: Critical Concepts - Vol. 1


The state is one of the most important concepts in explaining the shape of modern life. It is also a concept surrounded with much dispute. What exactly is the state? How important is it in influencing personal conduct? Does it act impartially? What changes has it undergone? What are the varieties of state organization? These three volumes, edited by John Hall - one of the world's best respected commentators on the subject - provide scholars and students with a reliable and comprehensive guide to these questions. The volumes will be essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in the state.


The first part of this collection necessarily concerns itself with basic theory. Definitions, debates and the most recent theoretical advances occupy centre stage.

Social science lost interest in the state for most of the post-war years as the result of American hegemony. Allegiance of the Anglo-Saxon powers to a liberalism distrustful of the state was much exacerbated by the fact that Japan and Germany were loyal to brutally statist ideologies. In the late 1960's interest in the state revived, however, not least because domestic conflict and international intervention made Americans feel the brute reality of political coercion. The articles in the first section were part of the initial revival of interest in the state, and they offer basic definitions which proved to have great influence.

Behind questions of definition lay, as noted, awareness of brute empirical realities. Two such realities-considered in the second and third sections-were central to revival of interest in the state: crucially, these two realities pointed, so to speak, in different reactions. The first such reality largely concerned matters economic. French structuralist Marxism, particularly as expressed by Nicos Poulantzas, sought to update the work of Marx himself so as to allow attention to be given to the capacity of modern states to help capitalism to survive by the provision of key functional needs, from education to welfare. Insofar as this approach went beyond merely instrumental views of the state, that is, beyond views insisting that capitalists controlled the state at all times, it suggested that the state had 'relative' autonomy. This notion was inherently unstable: either capitalists did control the state or-as many came to argue-the autonomy of the state was at times real and absolute. If this debate led to an awareness of the importance of state power, a different tack led to the same point more pointedly and powerfully. Social scientists aware of geopolitics, conversant with the logic of war, realised very quickly that the main purpose of most states in history was that of military survival. This was overwhelmingly demonstrated by even the most cursory of examinations of state budgets: monies were overwhelmingly spent on armed forces by all states until the mid-nineteenth century-and not on the needs of capitalism. If states had to interact with their societies, not least so as to be able to afford arms, they lived quite as much within the larger society of state competition-participation in which gave them much of their autonomy.

Discovery of autonomy, of whatever degree, momentarily seemed to finish debate. Thankfully, it was soon realised that the proof that states mattered was not an end in itself, however important it had been to stress this against society-centred views. The final section in this part presents some of best of the most recent analyses going which seek to investigate the mechanisms of autonomy. It is particularly noticeable that these sophisticated arguments go beyond the language of autonomy, preferring instead to see ways in which differential state capacities result from acting with very particular sorts of societies.

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