Manual Political theory and the modern state : essays on state, power, and democracy

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The State and International Relations. Themes in International Relations. Introduction to theories of the state from an IR perspective. Also serves as a short but high-quality introduction to IR theory. Marinetto, Michael.

Can Democracy Be an Agent of Both Power and Goodness?

Theorizing Society. Well-written and relatively current tour of the state in modern social theory. It has the advantage of being written by a single author: a narrative arc. Nelson, Brian. DOI: A concise book that integrates political, sociological, and ideological context into a historical analysis of the origins of the modern state and state theory. Vincent, Andrew. Theories of the State. New York: Basil Blackwell, Well-written introduction to classical theories of the state from a political-philosophy perspective.

Includes chapters on the absolutist state, liberal constitutional state, Hegelian ethical state, Marxist class state, and the pluralist state, with discussion of the English and American traditions of pluralism. Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login. Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here. Not a member? Sign up for My OBO.

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Already a member? Publications Pages Publications Pages. But that fog reveals a real question—is democracy a beneficial political order or merely a linguistic honey? In my scholarship, I have found that confusion about democracy stems from the misunderstood and opaque relationship between democracy and ideas of goodness, especially goodness as it relates to common and public affairs. Practical roots of this misunderstanding recur to the American founding. The drafters of the American Constitution did not intend to create a democracy—thus, the Electoral College and the Senate although having two houses of Congress can have democratic benefits.

As the nation extended suffrage and abolished slavery and segregation, the political question became how democratic should the republic become. Americans may wonder whether greater democracy is even desirable, since few in the echelons of society that dominate public communications and our capitalist economy are prone to entrust more power to the many who are often seen as uncouth—incapable of political judgment and likely to threaten their positions.

While anti-democratic thought often stems from prejudices of one kind or another, it actually is true that democracy does not inherently provide an automatic guide for just political action. Democracy is not automatically just, because the demos is not automatically right. This is not a uniquely democratic foible; human beings are fallible. It was not a majority of the American citizenry that favored or fought for slavery; it was not a majority of the French citizenry that authorized the Reign of Terror; it was not a majority of the German citizenry that elected Hitler.

The Nature of the State - Political Science - Oxford Bibliographies

Besides this historical truth, political action in democracies and all other political orders occurs amid conditions of uncertainty. When citizens engage political dilemmas, they have reason to wonder exactly what the two conceptual pillars of democracy—freedom and equality— mean. How are we to put political equality into practice, if we do not seek sameness? This critique puts a moral and intellectual burden on the understanding and practice of democratic citizenship and governance: How can one be sure that becoming more democratic means that society and its citizenry will become better?

  1. Political theory and the modern state : essays on state, power, and democracy /.
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  7. Political theory and the modern state essays on state power and democracy!

These questions of how and whether democracy produces goodness are serious and longstanding. Since its inception, democratic activity has needed ethical compasses to enable citizens who make decisions to do so beneficially, for the public as a whole. But there is no single intellectual or practical source for these compasses. Citizens may believe in God or think reasonably, but there is no God or Reason or website or algorithm that identifies the needs of democracy.

We are not born with these virtues and practical skills.

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  • And yet everyone can learn the basic skills of political navigation, given the requisite general education and political experience. What, then, is the modern state?

    The modern state consolidated into one entity social, political and economic functions once located in several separate institutions; its story, as we shall see, is one of centralization, concentration, and absorption. Nothing like the sovereignty of the modern state had been contemplated by the social and political systems that formerly prevailed in Europe, in which three estates, each with its own powers and prerogatives, checked the power of princes. The Church, the nobility, and the peasantry all enjoyed certain more or less well-articulated traditional rights, many of these appearing to modern eyes to be the stuff of statehood.

    Modern European nation-states emerged from and replaced a fragmentary order in which numerous small and overlapping jurisdictions and foci of power coexisted and competed. Even to speak of Europe during the period is to elide important details that undermine the picture of the continent as in some way a unified, coherent political or cultural entity. Likewise, many of those places we now treat as distinct nations, thought to be well-defined by a shared history and culture, were actually quite internally diverse.

    Libertarians are right to be careful.


    In concentrating decision-making power, the state divests citizens and society of agency, of the very self-determination that the nation-state is thought to represent. Further challenging its reputation, the appearance of the modern state would seem to make the totalitarian socialism of the twentieth century a foregone conclusion, if we may indulge in such a fallacy.

    For once sovereignty of such an absolute and concentrated kind was conjured from the messy farrago of institutions previously jockeying for position, the obliteration of the individual seems inevitable.

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    But neither the modern state in general nor its most depostic examples in particular were preordained. Today, the world is blanketed by nation-states that imitate a distinct European model, one invented only relatively recently. And if total-state socialism was not really inevitable, always there, latent in the DNA of modern statehood, then neither was the modern state a necessary and unavoidable result of the conditions of the Middle Ages.

    The State - Meaning, Definition & Elements

    Apart from the modern nation-state, the political form that ultimately triumphed, Charles Tilly identifies no less than five outcomes that arguably remained possible in the s, among them, an only loosely-united empire or political federation; a theocratic commonwealth, bound by the Catholic church; a network of trading partners lacking centralized political power; or the continuation of feudal modes of governance. Indeed, we might think of the constitutional separation of powers as an attempt to recreate the highly fragmented political structures of pre-modern European societies.

    How, then, did the modern state appear at just this moment?

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