The National Competitive State: State, Democracy and Politics in Global Capitalism

By Soederberg, Susanne-Marie | Capital & Class, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

The National Competitive State: State, Democracy and Politics in Global Capitalism


Soederberg, Susanne-Marie, Capital & Class


Edition ID-Archiv, Berlin and Amsterdam, 1995. pp.218. ISBN 3-89408-049-3 (pbk) DM 28

For those versed in the German language, Joachim Hirsch's latest book, The Competitive National State: State, Democracy and Politics in Global Capitalism (my transl.), offers insightful historical materialist analyses surrounding the globalisation processes vis-a-vis the national social formation. This book is, in essence, both a theoretical and political exercise which strives to capture both the sources and effects of globalisation by the constant reference to the underlying capitalist social forms, e.g., the value-form which takes its concrete expression in the money-form, and the political-form which manifests itself in the historically distinct separation between the national state and society. Accordingly, Hirsch has divided his book into two overlapping sections: a theoretical discussion and a political discussion. It should be mentioned that largely due to this format, Hirsch's book has been the central reference point whereby the German Left are attempting to both `make sense of as well as begin to develop strategies contra the dominant neoliberal project of `German locational politics' (Standort Deutschland) and its inhumane social, economic and political implications.

Hirsch's primary thesis is that globalisation should not be viewed as some sort of unavoidable trajectory, e.g., usually promulgated by technological determinism, nor as an expression of the inherent logic of capital. Rather, the globalisation of capital should be regarded as a representation of a politicaleconomic project which has been both created and established via numerous political, economic and social struggles. The theoretical discussion is based upon what has been referred to as the `German reformulation of state theory.' Briefly, the theoretical premises of this approach critiques the Parisian Regulation School for failing to incorporate the notions of institutions, human agency and structure within their theoretical analyses. This critique is accomplished by the reliance of the basic premises of Poulantzas' state theory, Gramsci's concept of hegemony and Hirsch's theoretical contribution to the German Derivationist Debate of the 1970s (Hirsch 1974).

Relying on Poulantzas' concept of Authoritarian Statism, or, what Hirsch has termed the `Security State' (1980), Hirsch goes on to describe and analyse the basic feature of globalisation, namely, the changing relationship between two historical social relations: the state and capital. The author attempts to capture this new relationship between capital and the state in his notion of the `national competitive state.' The `national competitive state' is characterised not only by the principle of territoriality and relatively delimited external borders, but also, by the specific expression and forms of relative autonomy. For Hirsch, the term relative autonomy represents the structural divide between the centralised power-apparatuses (e.g. the military and police) of the national state and its respective social groups and classes. It follows that the pluralist system of nation-states is constituted by the historically specific expression of the political-form which compete against one another for surplus-value (profit).

In my opinion, the more significant dimension of this theoretical discussion has been largely ignored in the reception of this book in Germany. This theoretical discussion includes Hirsch's attempt to revitalise his original premises of the State Derivationist Approach within the larger post Fordist context. In doing so, however, Hirsch fails to resolve one fundamental shortcoming, namely, the seemingly structural determinist overtones in his explanation of how the societal structures (viz., the historical social forms which are imbedded in the capitalist mode of societalisation, known as the Vergesellschaftungsmodus) become translated into the social institutions which are located everywhere from the bureaucracy to the family unit. …

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