State, The

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The independent (and sovereign) political community. The term is derived from the Roman-law concept of status rei Romanae, i.e., the public law of the Roman Republic. Beginning in the 15th century (e.g., Stato di Firenze), it replaced the original terms, the Greek polis and the Latin res publica, civitas, and regnum corpus politicum (mysticum ). The state has elements of both community and association, in the sense of the distinction made by the sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies. As a political community it is included in the most comprehensive and highest society, mankind, which has its proper common good, its specific "international" law, and its historically variable forms of organization. As a body politic the state has its own supreme internal order of positive law, ordered to a distinct common good that is the ultimate authority within its order, binding a people who inhabit a defined territory. Although each state claims sovereignty and independence from other societies of the same order, states are interdependent and bound to recognize the community of nations (mankind) and its public international law, and of course the natural law, which is ultimately the foundation of the state and the critical norm for all manmade positive law. States (including vatican City, or the apostolic see) are thus primary subjects of public international law, regardless of their internal constitutions, whether unitary or federal, republican or monarchic, national or multinational (see government).


Three basic elements of the state are commonly distinguished: (1) a distinct territory with more or less strictly determined boundaries; (2) a multitude of people already individualized by language, tribal customs, religion, or other cultural forms of living together; and (3) a positive constitutional and legal order that determines, legitimizes, and limits the one political authority and the basic relations between ruler and ruledin public law and between the citizensin private (civil) lawthat together form the "bond of law" (vinculum juris ). Some scholars add as a qualification of the first element the wealth of the nation, i.e., its raw materials, soil fertility, climate, and all economically relevant abilities and skills of the inhabitants. The state is distinguished from the Church by a distinction of ends and means, since, in scholastic language, each is a "perfect" society possessing and controlling all the means necessary for the realization of its specific end. In relation to the many other societies creatively produced by man in the course of his intellectual, moral, socioeconomic, and cultural growth and differentiation, the state is the ordering and unifying authority, the unitas ordinis of the common good in which all individual persons and their many free associations participate and through which they enjoy legal security and self-fulfillment in the stability and tranquility, i.e., the peace, of the public order.

More than any other temporal community, the state, as the name implies, tends toward perpetuity and survival into an indefinite future. A people conscious of itself and its historical individuality often longs for political existence. As individual persons and families follow each other in an unceasing sequence, they appear to be the ever-changing matter of an enduring form. This has led more than a few thinkers to hypostatize the state, to ascribe to it not merely legal personality but physical personality and substance, as did G. W. F. hegel, R. Kjellen, A. Schäffle, and J. J. von Uexcüll, for example. But in its mode of being the state is accidental, not substantial; it does not exist independent of, outside, or above the persons who are organized within it, but wholly in them. It cannot act except through the persons who have competence, whose acts are imputed to the state; thus, although a collective criminal guilt is impossible, there may very well be a collective liability of the whole for the unjust acts of its agents. Nor is the end of the state so much its own and so independent of the ends of the persons forming it that their lives, rights, and fortunes can be unlimitedly sacrificed for its end or good. Instead, the rights of individual persons are themselves essential parts of the end of the state, which, like all societies, must ultimately serve the ends of its individual members.

State and Society. Although the formal distinction between state and society is of relatively recent date, as a practical distinction it is actually very old, since it is implicit in the traditional distinctions between public law and private or civil law, and between commutative justice, specifying relations between persons and groups of persons, and legal and distributive justice, specifying duties of citizens to political authority and duties of the authority to citizens. In all states, regardless of the form of government, the political authority monopolizes the power to enforce laws in order to establish justice, protect personal and civil rights, ensure domestic tranquility, and provide for external defense. No individual or group can take the law into its own hands. The security of the public order, the protection of rights (except in immediate selfdefense), and the enforcement of the legal order, especially the administration of criminal justice, are prerogatives of civil authority.

Since he who has power is always tempted to abuse it, this monopolized power must be limited, that is, subjected to strict procedural forms, or channeled, as it were, by a higher law. In other words, it must be exercised within constitutional limitations. Important among these are the limitations placed upon the state as the administrator of criminal justice by bills of rights and by legal principles that provide for trial by a jury of one's peers or that prohibit ex post facto legislation; arrest for crime or imposition of punishment without previous law; arrest without a warrant; or deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Principles such as these have been included since the early Middle Ages in the many charters of rights of which the magnacarta is the prototype. These charters often guaranteed also the rights of association, of free movement, of taxation only by consent of the estates, etc. Other limitations on the state were found in the participation of the people in legislative bodies, in the widespread self-government of towns and of guilds of artisans and merchants, and in the liberties and privileges of the universities. Thus, under the protection of the public order in the West, there developed over many centuries a rich life of many groups and associations free from the arbitrary intervention of political power. After the downfall of absolutism with its petty bureaucracy and economics of mercantilism, the third estates insisted on a sphere of free economic, cultural, and academic activities of citizens that was circumscribed and protected by the formal bills of rights found in modern constitutionalism. Within this sphere citizens form by free initiative economic, social, cultural, educational, religious, or other associations characteristic of the free and pluralistic society of modern times. Their proper role is distinguished from that of the state by the principle of subsidiarity. During bellicose occupation or complete subjugation of a belligerent nation (debellatio ), society continues to exist under the protection of international law while the state is inoperative and even destroyed. For war is directed against the state and its armed forces, not against society and its institutions, the peaceful life of its families and the private life of its private persons, and their properties and rights under civil law. The real distinction between state and society, and between public and civil law, is essential for the free state as well as for the free society. Although the line of separation between the two is not rigid and defined once for all, but fluid, shifting the line radically in favor of society results in anarchy, and shifting it radically in favor of the state results in totalitarianism.

State and Nation. State and nation are not necessarily coterminous. During the 19th century the principle of national self-determination established by the french revolution became a kind of ideal of European public law. It was a consequence of the democratic movement that developed in contrast to the historic multinational state of monarchic legitimacy. The new principle led to the unification of Germany and Italy and, after 1918, to the reestablishment of the Polish state and the dissolution of the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire. Actually, the new states in central Europe were not themselves nation-states, but contained within their borders "national" minorities that the minority treaties of 1919 (avoiding the term "national") were intended to protect. Similarly, few of the new states that have arisen as a result of the abolition of colonialism in Africa and Asia are true nationstates; because the former colonial borders were not established with respect to the older tribal territories, in most of the new states nations are still to be formed.

Historically, it is significant that the first nationstatesFrance, England, and Spain (even in the case of the reconquista )resulted from the struggle against the universalism of Christendom, of the sacrum imperium and the Church universal. Kings claiming to be emperors in their territories were assisted against emperor and pope by the growing national consciousness of the ruling groups, namely, the aristocracy, clergy, universities, and jurists. The Protestant reformation strengthened this consciousness. But modern secularized nationalism is the product of the French Revolution and the democratic sovereignty of the nation.

The nation as a product of historical forces is a stable community of persons and families who have developed a common culturea common language, literature, customs, and often a common religionas well as a distinct feeling of belonging together and of being different from neighboring communities, a common awareness of a historical destiny, and a consensus of accepted value preferences often but not necessarily based on ethnobiological factors. All these factors need not be present together to produce the "daily plebiscite" that makes a nation. Mexico and Argentina speak the same language but are different nations. Poland and Ireland lived for generations without statehood, yet continued to exist as nations, thanks mainly to the bond of religion. The nation-state is not the only legitimate political form of an independent state. Indeed, Ignaz seipel regarded it as an inferior form because of its tendency to promote doctrinaire, quasi-religious nationalism. The best way for neighboring nations to find a home in one state without succumbing to this tendency is federation, toward which the old nations of Europe now tend; their example might well be salutary for newer nations. In the contemporary world the narrowly conceived unitary sovereign nationstate is more and more anachronistic.

The State in Catholic Thought. The state as exemplified in the Greek polis or the Roman, Egyptian, Persian, or Chinese empires is older than Christianity. When what Tacitus contemptuously called the Secta Christianorum spread from its birthplace in the Roman-occupied religio-political community of the Jews into the Helleno-Roman Empire, which was then seeking to save itself by an ideological assertion of the divinity of the emperor, the Christians were neither socially nor politically revolutionary. They accepted the empire; they prayed for the powers above them; they paid their taxes; they served in the legions. They were accused of "atheism," however, because they refused to acknowledge the national gods and the worship of the emperor, and thus they were persecuted. Already in the writings of the Church Fathers and especially in those of the apologetes, Christians began to make the political community the subject of their thinking, critically studying Greek and Stoic political philosophers and accepting what did not contradict the Gospels, the faith, and the experience of the new Ecclesia. Slowly, there developed in Christian intellectual circles a political philosophy that was to be systematically elaborated through the great scholarly effort of scholasticism in the high Middle Ages. It remains a philosophy of man that is valid for all men and not only for believers.

According to Catholic tradition, the state belongs to human culture and to the secular order. Its root is in the social nature of man. Its end is temporal felicity (happiness). Therefore it is taught by all that the essential mutual rights and duties of citizens and of political authority are independent of the state of grace. Baptism does not change these rights and duties, although it exalts them into the realm of grace by means of supernatural motives. Certainly the state cannot be a virtually omnipotent pedagogue, the only master of moral life; the contention that the state is such a master leads necessarily to a Hegelian divinization of the state and to the servitude of the Church, if not to the Church's destruction in the totalitarian state. Once this is said, however, it is to be remarked that this traditional political philosophy does not use theological method; its principles are based not on theology but on natural reason and on the great tradition of natural law. Viktor cathrein has rightly called it a natural-law political philosophy. The term "Catholic political philosophy" means only that this political philosophy, as part of the philosophia perennis, has always had a home and a refuge in the Church's intellectual institutions and in the utterances of her magisterium.


The philosophical problem of the origin of the state must be distinguished sharply from inquiries into the factual historical beginnings of individual states or from ideal constructions of how these beginnings ought to have occurred. It refers rather to the essential properties of man's nature that make life in a political communitybe it ultimately even that of a world statea necessity in the sense of Aristotle's dictum that the stateless man is either a demigod or a beast. True, history proves empirically that man has always lived in "states" and that all attempts to live in anarchy, i.e., without law and authority and motivated exclusively by mutual love, have failed. What Aristotle meant was that man is by his very nature not only a social but also a political being. Only by establishing a stable and enduring order of peaceful and protected personal life and social cooperation can he fully realize all his potentialities. He is an "incarnate person" in a "world" that he himself helps to form and shape into an ever more favorable and less unfriendly environment through the social process of progressive civilization, developing culture and technical control of the powers of "nature." Christianity did not change the fundamental requirements of this process, although it gave it a new dignity and made it the object of new motives as the field in which man in statu viatoris, participating in the "visible" sacramental order of grace, works in the world for the salvation of his immortal soul.

Family as the Basic Unit. Political theory recognized at its beginning two natural societies, the family and the state. The family is based on the bisexual nature of man as a rational being. Each individual is born into a family, needing education, protection, and bodily care; growing, maturing, founding a family, and caring and working for those who are nearest and dearest. The "natural" authority in the family from the great patriarchal forms to the modern is the parentes or one of them, truly auctores with their natural rights and duties. In the first stages of social evolution families increased to tribal multitudes that settled in particular territories. Agriculture developed as the first form of the rational, technical use of nature. The first stable and immovable homes were built, and a new form of human living together became necessary. This form was a superfamilial, sociojuridical order supplying a stable authority to judge in conflicts, to protect against breaches of the peace and violence to members or their property, and to protect against dangers from foreigners while extending hospitality to guests. In this perspective, experience itself proved the family insufficient for the full realization of man's social nature; it was in this respect imperfecta. A "more perfect union," a societas perfecta, was demanded, a social organization that in a continuous process of perfection would be able to care for and to improve the superfamilial multitude by its own means.

The Primitive State. This organization exists in the inchoate state of primitive societies. It is a necessity of human nature, but it is established through the free will of rational beings. The state is not the result of a blind biological urge, as is an animal herd. However necessary it is from the point of view of man's nature, ultimately it cannot be formed without free human acts. Aristotle found this development of the human social process only in the polis, the city-state, so that he termed "barbarians" those who were not members. Contrariwise, the theologians of the age of discovery, at least the majority, regarded the "newly discovered Indians" as states despite the primitive condition of some of them. These theologians (e.g., F. de vitoria, F. suÁrez) protested when a Sepúlveda used the Aristotelian theory of the barbarian as the natural slave of the citizen to justify enslavement of the native peoples and confiscation of their lands. As a matter of fact, primitive civilizations (considered both as early and as simple) were and are organizations of citizens. They form civil societies intellectually and morally, and with their customary law and their religious beliefs are by no means "animal-like" (see law, primitive). Fritz Kern shows that they practically "lived natural law" (Beginn der Weltegeschichte [1953]). Their religious beliefs are often monotheistic; their social life often confirms Kropotkin's thesis that mutual help and aid are anterior and superior to a ruthless "struggle for existence." Anthropologists of the 19th century, viewing them, were too much under the influence of Hegel and Charles darwin.

Concept of the State of Nature. Nor can a primitive organization be equated with the celebrated status naturalis from which it was once thought that solitary primitive man entered into the status civilis, as in the theories of Thomas hobbes, John locke, or Jean Jacques rousseau or in those of some of the Greek sophists. Actually, neither Aristotle nor any of the scholastics (except Juan de mariana) indulged in the description of a status naturalis of the individual man. They did distinguishas do their successorsthe status familialis with its specific authority from the status civilis with its different specific authority. For them the social process that produced the state was based on the rational dynamic activity of man and on his creative ability to meet new situations and to understand the necessities demanded by his nature, more than on irrational biological urges. The state was thus seen neither as merely the result of an arbitrary free contract nor as an ethically indifferent invention of the strong seeking to transform might into right and conformity into the duty of free obedience.

Theory of the Social Contract. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, for the purposes of their characteristic political theories, postulated a social contract. For Hobbes all rights except that of self-preservation were transferred by the contract to the sovereign. Locke held that inalienable rights were retained but that their protection was guaranteed by the state. In Rousseau's theory the natural rights were transferred to the sovereign people and granted back as civil rights. The main aim of these contract theoristseven of Hobbeswas the protection of the very individualistically conceived natural rights that to them was the raison d'être of the state. Yet even they thought of this social contract not as a solemn formal agreement but as a postulate of reason accounting for the transition from the status naturalis to the status civilis.

That the rights and duties of the first natural society, the family, differ from those of the status civilis was and is the opinio communis. How the status civilis came to have moral and juridical validity therefore requires explanation. Was this an unconscious growth, or must it be assumed that the change from one form of social life into a qualitatively different one could not have occurred without the mediation of human reason directing the wills of the heads of families? If the latter, then a moral-legal form providing this mediation must be identified. Ancient writers proposed as the mediating agency the idea of a pactum, a consensual agreement or meeting of minds, enabling the realization of the higher form of social life, a good life demanded by natural human initiative and therefore by the natural law. This theory was accepted by some of the Church Fathers and by medieval thinkers and was developed especially by the great writers of the 16th to 18th centuries, as Peter Tischleder has shown. Later it was abandoned by many to avoid confusion with the theories of Hobbes and Rousseau, but it has again gained many adherents.

Unlike Rousseau, for example, scholastic theory defined the pact in terms of status. The new rights and duties of the status civilis were seen as demanded objectively by natural law. Man was not considered able arbitrarily to enter into or to avoid the pact once it was demanded by social conditions, or able to determine arbitrarily or to change the basic rights and duties imposed by the status civilis. As St. Robert bellarmine explained, the political order of legal justice, with its mutual rights and duties of governor and governed, is in its existence dependent on the free acts of consent of those uniting in the body politic; in its essence, however, that is, in its foundation and final cause and in the rights and duties that it imposes by virtue of the natural law, it is independent of human will. What obliges and empowers is not the juridical fact of consent but the natural law, which is perpetual and immutable (De Laicis ch. 2). Thus persons born after the formation of the pact also are bound by the essence and final cause of the natural law.

Theories of the Reformers. Neither quoad essentiam nor quoad existentiam is the state a consequence of sin, original or personal. Some schoolmen asked whether in the state of pure or integral nature (before the fall of man) the political community would have been necessary. They affirmed that although the coercive power of authority would not have been necessary, the directive authority to establish order would have been necessary. For the ReformersMartin luther, John calvin, Huldrych zwingliand for spiritualist groups such as the anabaptists, the state was a result of original sin. Their view of the latter exaggerated its destructive influence on the intellect and will of man and, in consequence, exaggerated man's necessary sinfulness (simul justus et peccator ).

Luther. If men were truly Christian and redeemed, Luther said, there would be no need for the state; but since their nature is evil, since they cannot recognize a natural law, the state is necessary as "God's stickmaster and hangman." In this view, the state and its authority and power are only instrumental causes through which God Himself maintains peace and law; they are not secondary efficient causes with their own initiative, responsibility, and relative autonomy, as in scholastic theory. The foundation and the justification of the state and its authority are found neither in God-given human nature, to be realized ever more fully through the state, nor in natural law under the aspect of the order of creation, but only in God's revealed word in the sinful world. The state is thus singly and wholly the instrument of the hidden and incomprehensible will of God in its infinity and absolute omnipotence. The state and its authority in their everchanging forms are, from man's point of view, accidental, but are nevertheless divine instruments to which is owed humble obedience. All powers are in their mere factuality God's instruments, so that this factuality itself clearly demands submission; a right to active resistance against political authority is a moot question. The one tormenting question for Luther was how man, always and from the beginning a sinner, might find the merciful God. This is not to say that Luther did not acknowledge and now and then use natural-law doctrine, but for him it had in no way the importance it still had in the political thought of william of ockham, for example.

Calvin. Calvin held a similar, theologically founded doctrine. For him the state and its authority were based on the positive will of God revealed in the Bible. His legalistic approach to the Old Testament and his predilection for the theocracy of the Book of Judges show that he regarded the Scriptures as a collection of permanently binding laws expressing the only valid absolute will of the one Sovereign, God. He could not accept human nature, including rational insight into the natural law, as in se a valid and sufficient moral basis for the state and its authority. The latter appeared rather, in whatever forms they were found to exist, as instruments of God's sovereign will. In this concept, too, the state is God's rod, and self-negation and penitence are the proper attitudes of Christians. Calvin's doctrine of the right of resistance of the "inferior magistrates" was not the medieval theory of the valentior pars of the people justifying eventual active resistance against tyrannical authority. Like Luther, Calvin made furious attacks against the Anabaptists with their spiritual individualism and anarchical millenarianism.

Post-Reformation Developments. Because the Reformers left no systematic political theory, their followers were more or less free to develop eclectic doctrines and even to radicalize the original Anabaptist tendencies. The theory of the divine right of kings, concerned principally with the origin of political authority, was definitely a "protestant" doctrine based on biblical grounds. It was too unhistorical to be acceptable to Catholic thought. The arguments for the theory, not unknown during the early medieval dispute between the emperor and the pope of the one Christendom, would have subordinated the Church universal to kings as heads of Erastian state churches. Although a similar defense of the principle of monarchy was attempted later by Joseph de maistre and Louis de bonald, its argument was much more historical and was based upon the constitution of the papal Church rather than upon the Bible.

During the enlightenment, references to the natural law in the thought of Philipp melanchthon were revived by Samuel von Pufendorf and John Wise, among others. Later, inspired by German idealism, Karl Holl (18661926) promoted an idealistic interpretation of Protestant political theory. Others incorporated idealism into this theory through a Christian interpretation of Hegel's philosophy. Subsequently, after a period of "secularization" that produced liberal Protestantism, the dialectical theology of Karl barth returned to the original inspirations of Luther and Calvin. But barthianism revived also the ambiguity of their theology of creation (Schöpfungsordnungen ) and of their rejection of natural law in favor of exclusively biblical argumentation.

Marxism. Marxist theory traces the origin of the state to the class struggle caused by the development of private property. This view is so in contradiction with traditional doctrine and the faith that even the few Christian writers who have accepted Karl Marx's critique of capitalism (e.g., Wilhelm Hohoff) have never accepted the typical Marxist theory of the state as a mere superstructure or the chiliastic hopes of the withering away of the state and the rise of the classless society. Although historically the state as an institution may sometimes be the prize in violent group conflicts and there may be a certain degree of class struggle, especially in laissez-faire capitalism, the Marxist view is so barren of ethical considerations as to be unacceptable on either philosophical or theological grounds.

Legal Positivism. Legal positivism, as part of a general positivist philosophy and a special scientific method, either excludes all ethical problems of the state and its authority as irrelevant for the jurist or disqualifies them as "unscientific." The state, its origin, and its authority are merely facts for the positivist. Only positive law and imperative commands issuing from the legislator, whatever his constitutional form, and enforced by the organs of the state, its police, and administrative bureaucracy are "laws." Natural law and divinely revealed biblical law are thus not "laws." They may be subjectively valid moral or religious norms, and they may be motives for the individual's external conformity to the law as the will of the sovereign. But because they imply value judgments, they are regarded as irrelevant for "science." What matters is not the ethically relevant content of the positive law but merely the form, namely, that it issue in a constitutionally correct form from the sovereign, or supreme authority, that does not recognize any superior and receives "habitual obedience" from the greatest number of citizens (obedientia facit imperantem ). Law is not reason, nor is it legitimized by its ordination to the common good; nor is obedience a virtue of free men who can render only "reasonable" obedience.

In the face of tyranny positivism is helpless with its slogan that law is law, for the tyrant "legalizes" his regime. The judge has no other criterion than this legality; he cannot find, for instance, that the law is arbitrary or commands acts that are evidently against humanity and the basic values that transcend positive law, e.g., justice. The argument that law is law actually means that might is right. But might decrees only a "must," not an "ought"; it cannot be the basis of a valid obligation. The positivist concept of law, although neat and easily identified, neglects the whole ambiance of the law, the intimate relation between the legal and the moral order, the hunger and thirst for justice in and from the law, the ethical consensus of the consciences of the citizens and its vital influence on the values to be realized by positive law. A satiated peaceful or apathetic society can afford positivism, but in times of crisis ethical values and the natural law demand recognition. Positivism, furthermore, is intimately related to the closed sovereign nation-state, in which the power element, i.e., the ability to enforce external conformity by whatever means, is superior. Thus it is basically unable to recognize international law and canon law as genuine law. (see positivism in jurispru dence.)

Form of Unity

A fundamental concept of man that affects understanding of the specific form of unity of the state is implied in the thesis that man is a sociopolitical being and that in the social process of the realization of this nature he produces an increasingly complex, gradated order of social forms for the attainment of his truly human goals. These extend to the political community and ultimately to the community of nations, or mankind, in the temporal order, with which the Church universal is coordinated. Man is an incarnate person, a master of his own acts, with an inborn initiative deriving from his intellect and will; and he is thus free and responsible to God, his Maker, and to his fellowmen. His sociality reaches into his inner life, into the center of his person, despite the "ultimate solitude" there that is open only to the Creator. A person is the highest form of being; it is as a person that man is created in the image of God. The intentional character of the acts of a person demands fulfillment by a "Thou" and an original dialogue and awareness of "we." Man is a speaking being; he has something to communicate from his more or less rich inner subjective world. Love in its various formsfrom love of neighbor, friendship and comradeship, conjugal love, civic friendship, and patriotism to the highest form of selfless love (agape )is manifested by intentional personal acts that distinguish the person from all animals. "Man has intellect and hands"; man is homo faber. Through various forms of cooperation he transforms the "natural" world, as its master and owner, into an ever more favorable material, moral, spiritual, and cultural "hominized" world.

Basic Principles. It follows as a first principle of social philosophy, coordinate with that of the sociopolitical nature of man, that all social forms exist to serve persons. They fulfill their meaning and their ends only insofar as they are means to the fuller development of persons in the production and perfection of what more pious, less materialistic eras called humanitas and humaniora and of what, in view of Christ's mission, ought to be called humanitas Christiana. There is a corresponding theological principle that supernatural grace presupposes human nature and perfects it (see grace and nature). Thus a table of objective values follows, descending from the highest valuesthe glory of the personal triune God and the salvation of the soul; the freedom of the person and of consciencewhich are the foundation of intellectual, moral, and cultural values, down to biological, economic, and comfort values produced by common social efforts and thus by specific "functional" groups within the peace and security of the public order, the state.

Subsidiarity. A third basic principle is that of subsidiarity. According to it, the state as the public authority should leave to the individual person what the person through initiative and competence can regularly and reasonably do and perform in the private sector. Similarly, it should leave to the family and then to the many associations that persons and families produce for their improvement the functions that they can adequately serve. The state should afford to these groups legal status in private and social law, and it should protect their "selfgovernment" and provide rules to resolve conflicts of competencies and interests. This principle is directed against collectivism as well as against totalitarianism, each with its depersonalization and Vermassung.

Solidarity. A fourth principle, solidarity, follows from the sociality that has been described and affirms a fundamental mutual relationship between individual persons and the community. The first are ordered to the latter, and the latter exists only in and for the persons in mutual solidaristic obligations. The common good of a community, e.g., of the state, embraces the rights of the citizens to the extent that the wanton arbitrary deprivation of the rights of a member of a racial or religious group is a mutilation of the common good itself.

Social Justice. social justice as a fifth principle augments the three classical forms of justice, legal, distributive, and commutative. It is the dynamic element that demands a continuous effort to adapt the positive sociolegal order to ever-changing conditions of life and to the more clearly conceived ideals of justice as they grow in the community. Each age has its "social questions" through which men become aware that de facto the static positive order has become unjust, inasmuch as whole groups within the community have become its victims while others have gained unjustifiable advantages exclusively from it. In such an eventuality social justice demands that objectively unjust but legally correct rules should be changed and that a more just positive order should be established. Thus, social legislation has been employed to correct the injustice of the predominance of property rights over the personal rights of the unprotected worker selling his labor as a "commodity." All these principles are principles of the order of being and therefore ethical-legal principles governing man's social activity.

The State as a Unity of Order. Although the state may be called a communitas communitatum, its unity is not that of a biological organism or of a racially defined substantial being as in the Nazi formula of Volk-Blut-Rasse, according to which the Volk was all and the individual nothing and the so-called pure Aryan race had the right to exterminate mongrel races. Nor is the state merely the positive legal order as in the "pure" theory of law of Hans Kelsen. For the state lives in the ethical order as well as in the legal; it is a sociological form that exists in the informal consensus and in the spirit of civil friendship of the citizens as well as in positive law. The state is a unity of order, and the common good is the good and end of this order.

Catholic thinkers also, under the influence of the Pauline Corpus Christi mysticum, have often used the term "corporate," or "organic," in defining the state. Suárez, following some late medieval writers, among them Baldus de Ubaldis, Lucas de Penna, and Jean ger son, called the state a corpus politicum mysticum. The term can best be translated as moral organism, indicating that the character of the bond as well as the end of the corpus is not physical but moral. That is, it includes ethical virtues such as civic friendship, obedience, and mutual help in numerous freely formed associations and legal virtues such as the spirit of solidarity, mutual responsibility, and duty, or obligation. All these underlying virtues support the "visible" legal order, which is directed to the good common life, to the concrete realization of the common good in which all participate, and which guarantees that the persons united in it are able to reach the natural felicity that "opens" upon their supernatural end, known by God's revelation. There are thus two ordines, two mystical bodies, two supreme authorities, independent of each other yet destined to serve the same persons as citizens of the state and as members of the Church universal.

The "organic view" sees the state as a whole as a functional structure of many associations serving the varied human goals that develop with the progress of civilization, of the civitas humana. All these functional associations are protected in their initiative and self-government within the legal order; they fulfill their own particular common goods and yet in so doing serve in their diversity the common good of all as a whole. The term "organism" denotes a universitas having a telos and end in itself and being able to fulfill this telos by its own organization. It is this character that makes the state (like the Church) a perfect society.

This view is opposed to the so-called individualist-mechanist view, which holds that the state integrates exclusively the "interests" of individuals who out of regard for their interests are forced either by the sovereign (Hobbes) or by the mechanism of the competitive economic market (Adam Smith's "invisible hand") to bring into being the optimal organization of the state-society. Or the state becomes a kind of umpire of the struggle for survival charged with keeping a minimum of public peace (Herbert Spencer) or the instrument of the exploiting class in the historical process of the class struggle (Marx).

Finally, in the organic view the active element that obtains the cooperation of the members and directs it is not an external principle, e.g., the ruler. If this were the case, the forma rei publicae would be constituted by political authority alone, commanding from above, as it were, to organize the whole. The forma, the causa formalis that is at the same time the causa finalis of the state, is the political common good. Its realization is the result both of the acts of the authority and of the members' acts of assent and of faithful fulfillment of their various functions in many associations. Thus it is the common good and its realization hic et nunc that is the norm of legitimacy for the laws of the ruler as well as for the due obedience of the free citizens. It is one of the (few) principal rules of natural law that the realization of the (political) common good is to be assisted and not obstructed. This rule binds all, ruler and ruled alike. It allows no divine right of kings or transhistorical monarchical legitimacy.

The Common Good as the End of the State

If man is ontologically a social and political being, his natural potentialities, inclinations, and longings for the full realization of his God-given nature as a rational, free, self-determining, and thus responsible person can be realized only through a series of increasingly varied social forms. This culminates (in the natural order) in the state and in mankind, the highest community. The "goods," or values, to be realized by this functionally differentiated structure of social life constitute national cultures and ultimately human culture. It follows that the political community as, in a sense, the communitas communitatum must have a distinctive communal end, the common good. This is a good in which all participate, at least in principle. It is not merely the sum of the individual goods and interests of the persons that form the community. Furthermore, between the original natural societies, the family and the state and, beyond, the community of states, numerous forms of social life are products of man's unrelenting active drive toward happiness, toward a more perfect life in the civilitas humana. This is a drive for the creation, protection, and development of spiritual, moral, cultural, artistic, and material values that the bodybound spiritual being needs and desires.

The Realization of Justice and Public Peace. The life of the free, value-producing, and value-preserving persons and their many corresponding societies or groups presupposes an order of public peace and security. This is an order of positive law that rests upon the moral order of justice and is secured by the constituted organs of the political community. It guarantees and protects not only the persons but also all the free and autonomous groups within it. Thus the common good is a bonum ordinis, an order of positive law, security, protection, peace, and mutual help that approximates justice. The legal order organizes and limits public power; protects rights; enforces internal peace as constitutional law; grants persons the legal forms of private, or civil, law essential for the development of socioeconomic and cultural life; and secures and protects the network of legal relations through civil and criminal courts. Since the order of law must be protected against a foreign invader or aggressor, a common defense of the order of peace is implied. By natural reason and by the Scriptures, the jus vitae ac necis and the jus pacis et belli are given political authority in defense of the common good. It is easy to see that the preambles of constitutions provide in fact good definitions of the political common good, as does the preamble to the Constitution of the United States, setting forth as the purposes of the document, "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty." It is just, following Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, to say that the common good is the realization of justice and public peace in and by the positive legal order in its entirety.

The Common Good and the Person. Since the natural rights of persons and of groups of persons organized as corporate bodies are integral parts of the order of law, there is no irreconcilable conflict between the good of the person and the common good. As Suárez wrote, bonum commune consurgit ex bonis singulorum. The common good may demand the risk of life in its defense, not only out of pietas but in justice. The duty of justice is perfectly fulfilled in the supreme sacrifice. The relations between the political authority and those who owe obedience to it, including the duties of the authority to its subjects, are ruled by distributive and legal justice; and the exchange of goods and services between private persons is ruled by commutative justice. All are embraced in the justice demanded by the common good. In contradistinction to the principle of equality between persons and between goods and services exchanged, this justice takes account of standing in relative importance and closeness to the realization of the common good; thus it requires, for example, a more intense loyalty from a civil servant or a judge than from a private citizen. In the same way, a higher salary for a judge than for a janitor is justified because the profession of the judge, and consequently his or her loyalty, is nearer to and more important for the common good. This is so even in the most egalitarian society. Conversely, an income tax with a reasonable (i.e., neither confiscatory nor economically unsound) progression is justified because the security of the legal order is proportionally more important to the owners of large fortunes than to propertyless workers.

The Common Good and Free Associations. The common good and its specific form of justice, in its positive realization in history, is correlative with the structure of society. If society becomes more complex, if the differentiation of vocations and professions in economic life requires a high degree of integration because of increasing interdependence, an increase in social legislation and administrative law is demanded. This may be necessary in particular if social and economic institutions prevent the participation of a whole group or class in the fruits of the common good. Social security is a general human quest. If the social structure prevents its attainment by the working class, social legislation must guarantee it to this class in principle, because without it the active participation of persons in the cultural and public life of society would be hindered. The realization of the common good of the state thus presupposes the realization of the individual common goods of many free associations that owe their existence to the free, creative initiative of persons for whom to be active means to be, to create what is called significantly civilization, culture. These groups and corporate bodies have rights to autonomy and to self-government and development within the order of law according to the principle of subsidiarity. A free state favors them, helps them by improving the order of law, by tax exemption, etc.; for although the state is not primarily the creator of values and culture, it must further the works of persons in their free associations because they make possible and perfect the common good. In this much, the common good is inseparable from public welfare in the literal sense. All states are welfare states, but none should become an all-providing state, a state that by its administrative agencies assumes all the freely created social and cultural functions. The administered person is unfree, and the administered culture becomes sterile.

The Common Good as the First Principle of the State. The common good and its optimal realization hic et nunc is the principle that determines the legitimacy of forms of government, laws and decrees, even war. The tyrant, the illegitimate ruler, is he who injures gravely the common good, the first and foremost right of the people. Some modern philosophers identify the state itself with the positive legal order, forgetting that the state lives and acts in the more comprehensive orders of international law and natural law, and forgetting also that the state lives essentially by the sociopolitical virtues, such as patriotism, civil friendship, mutual aid, respect and love of neighbor, and willingness to subordinate private interests to the common good, since the optimal concrete realization of the common good of a state is the conditio sine qua non of the freedom, rights, and private interests of the citizens. The positive legal order can operate efficiently and with approximate justice only if these ethical virtues constantly support it. The common good is the end of these virtues, and the positive legal order lives by them. Traditionally, the end of the state, the common good, has been held to embrace justice, social welfare, and culture. This is still a good description, but one that must be enlarged and refined with changes in the political order both inside and among states.

Political Authority

Primitive peoples usually ascribe political authority to their deities just as they attribute their laws to these deities. This interpretation of authority and law recedes with the "awakening" of critical reason, which must then explain satisfactorily the problem of political authority. This is the majestas tremenda of rulers and judges in any state regardless of its form or the historical phase of development of the people whose political life form the state is. In harsh reality, the state is the armed police, the military barracks, the criminal court, or the hangman; and in all ages there have been pleas that men should live together without coercive rule, without arche, that is to say, anarchically. Humanitarian or religiously inspired love, an imputed fundamental urge toward mutual help (Kropotkin), or human altruism have been proposed as foundations for new communal movements. Yet all such experiments have failed after a period of initial enthusiasm. Certainly love is a great inspiration, but man must liveand lovein the security of legal order. This security implies that all participants in the order may rely upon it without risk and that all will conform to the order, if need be as subjects of coercive power and public punishment.

Necessity of Authority. No human community can have enduring life without law: ubi societas ibi jus, but also ubi jus ibi auctoritas. Communities less inclusive than the state must be able to rely on the possibility of an appeal to the final authority, the common legal order with ultimate power of decision. Political authority has a monopoly of coercive power, enforcing legislative enactments as a coercive executive and administrator of criminal justice and as a judicial body. It protects the mutual rights and duties of all, their lives, liberties, and properties, including the rights and duties created by free contracts, etc. The imposition of obligations and the binding of consciences has always been and is still a foremost ethical and political problem, because it is in the hands of fallible men, subject to the highest of all temptations, that of power. Those in authority and in power have the right to demand obedience, the free assent of free men; but if authority is gravely abused by the tyrant, by arbitrary and unjust laws, there is presented the severe problem not only of passive but of active resistance. Such an authority and power over equal, rational free persons (wholly different from the patria potestas ) must ultimately come from Him who is the Creator and Author of all men and Who is all-wise, all-just, and omnipotent. This has been recognized in all civilizations not expressly atheistic. Parenthetically, it explains why divine-right theories could be accepted by reasonable men.

Origin of Authority. Christian tradition has always taught that political power comes from God. He who gave man his nature and gave him reason and free will to shape his own forms of living together is the origin of political authority as He is the origin of the state. But just as the state came into existence only through the reason and will of those who first formed it and continues in existence by a daily plebiscite and indisputable moral necessity, so political authority was not given by God immediately in a concrete legitimate form. Because anarchy is an impossibility, even in the status naturae integrae, political authority was born in the same moment that the state was born. It is mediately from God; immediately its form, its constitution, is determined by men who as free persons may never owe "blind" obedience to any human authority. In constituting political authority, men must order its competencies, form, etc., to the common good, which is the only source of the legitimacy of political authority and of all its acts.

What eventually came to be called the constituent power rested originally with the people who constituted themselves as the state. No individual could by any particular gift of character or wisdom have a "natural" inborn right to political authority; the only means by which this authority might be conferred was a pact, a consensus of fellowmen. Naturally, once an individual or a "collegium" of elders, a "senate," was established to rule, all owed obedience to laws and commands, so long as these served the common good, the realization of which is the categorical duty of rulers and ruled alike. In the writings of the Church Fathers, the schoolmen, and theologians before the French Revolution two pacts were distinguished: the pact of union, by which the state came into existence as a direct democracy, and the pact of subjection, by which a particular form of government (regime) was established by the original holder of political authority, the people themselves. In consequence, all rulers distinct from the whole people hold their authority by positive law. There is neither a divine right of monarchy nor a natural right of democracy. Forms of government are historical forms, to be judged according to the service they render for the realization of the common good of a people in a given stage of development.

All forms of government are limited thus by natural law (and divine law) and by the natural rights of persons that are indelibly part of the essential content of the common good. Furthermore, the constituent power is returned to the people in a justifiable revolution or in the event of collapse of the public order. An illegitimate ruler is legitimized, not by prescription, but by the consensus of the people who sanction his regime because and insofar as he actually serves the common good. Thus it is evident that the concrete actual realization of the common good is the objective principle of legitimacy, not only tradition or majority opinion, which is all too often manufactured.

"Indifference" of the Church to Forms of Government

The "partner" of the Church universal is historically and in principle not so much the abstract state as the pluralism of concrete states, each having its historical form, development, and constitutional law. To speak of eras of absolute monarchies or of aristocratic feudalism, for example, is to refer to historical tendencies, to Weberian "ideal-types," rather than to concrete forms that were everywhere identical. Although the democratic principle of legitimacy has become dominant (see the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 1821), so that even totalitarian states must formally proclaim it, the concrete forms of government not only vary but vary considerably. The Church universal, called to teach and baptize all nations through the history of civilization, is only by historical accident, not by nature, Occidental. The Church can and must accommodate its religious activity as mater et magistra to various cultures, civilizations, and political forms. In all these the Church must claim its liberty (Ut [ecclesia ] tibi serviat secure libertate ). Political forms that leave to the Church universal this field of secured liberty are indifferent to the Church. The field is greater in a "neutral" democracy than in an antireligious "laicist" democracy or in an absolutist (e.g., Gallican) regime. Totalitarian states guarantee no such field constitutionally, and in them the Church becomes the suffering underground Church of Silence.

Supernatural Vocation of the Church. The Church always opposes a fanatic devaluation of the world as essentially sinful, as the realm of the Prince of Darkness. It opposes as well its own definite identification with historically specific forms of political life, born out of the freedom of man to organize his political and social life in independence. Admittedly, on certain occasions such an identification has been avoided only at the last moment. Ruling classes have often tried to identify their transitory interests with the Church in order to gain perpetuity for themselves, and churchmen have often been deceived or have succumbed to temptations of power. But a full identification has always been avoided, else the Church would have disappeared with past forms. Her indifference to legitimate political forms has its ultimate reason in her supernatural vocation.

This indifference of the Church universal to forms of government, as long as and insofar as they respect the libertas ecclesiae that permits the Church to fulfill her supernatural end through the millennia and within the various civilizations and cultures, does not absolve the Christian theorist from studying the profound and universal trends found in these civilizations. The present era is witness to the slow and difficult growth of a world civilization toward political forms that are called democratic. These embody the demands for the self-determination of mature nations that need neither temporal nor ecclesiastical guardians. Even the "new" nations demand effective bills of rights, representation based on universal suffrage, equality before the law, and democratic legitimacy (consent of the ruled). The latter demand is generally accepted in theory even by totalitarian regimes, and the others have been enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and acknowledged in the 1944 Christmas message of Pius XII and in an encyclical of John XXIII, pacem in terris.

The Church and Democracy. The "new" democratic trends at least imply a new relationship between state and Church as compared with older forms of union with all their dangers of gallicanism and jurisdictionalism in relation to the freedom of the Church. The modern trend has been toward the free Church in the free state, toward freedom of religion in constitutional law, and toward a friendly form of "separation" in societies that have become or are becoming religiously and culturally pluralistic. Throughout the 19th century the basic issue was subordinated to others that were less important, e.g., the challenge to the temporal power of the papacy, once a protection of the libertas ecclesiae, as a result of the demand for Italian national union on a semidemocratic basis. During the great controversy over the reform of laissez-faire capitalism and the demands of workers for equal rights as citizens, workers apostatized in great numbers wherever the older "union of throne and altar" still existed or was held as the ideal. Catholic social movements could not help but become "liberal" and "democratic" as they freed themselves from the tutelage of paternalistic employers, princes, and parish priests. Until the dispute over integralism, priests continued to hold to the fiction of a Christian, i.e., Catholic society, although the "real" society as distinguished from the "legal" was threatened by the progressive mass apostasy of intellectuals and workers. Also, post-Reformation ecclesiology had stressed the institutional and juridical aspect of the monarchical papal Church so that "democratic" thinkers were suspect as antiecclesiastical. This occurred despite the fact that state and Church do not and cannot have univocally the same constitutional principles and despite what Joseph de Maistre and other conservative thinkers sought to prove.

The 19th century was thus an era of fictional identifications, at least in Europe. In the name of liberty, doctrinaire liberal democrats repudiated the Church and the faith; and in the name of faith and the union of throne and altar, Catholic Christians repudiated liberal democratic demands for social justice and political reform. The Body of Christ was torn apart; on the "left" was His justice, on the "right" was His truth. But truth without justice too easily becomes tyranny; and justice without truth, anarchy. Since 1914 these false identifications have more and more disappeared. The once-repudiated demands of Liberal Catholics and of the "democratic" Catholic social movements have become the program of Christian democracy, with the consent of the overwhelming majority, even of conservatives, and with the approval of the popes of the 20th century (except, perhaps, St. Pius X).

Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Selected Political Writings, ed. a. p. d'entrÈves, tr. j. g. dawson (Oxford 1948). j. f. cronin, Catholic Social Principles (Milwaukee 1950). j. eppstein, The Catholic Tradition of the Law of Nations (London 1935). j. maritain, Man and the State (Chicago 1951). j. messner, Social Ethics: Natural Law in the Modern World, tr. j. j. doherty (new ed. St. Louis 1964). a. j. osgniach, The Christian State (Milwaukee 1943). Philosophy of the State (American Catholic Philosophical Association. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting 15; 1939). Philosophy and Order (ibid. 17; 1941). f. j. powers, comp. and ed., Papal Pronouncements on the Political Order (Westminster, Md. 1952). h. a. rommen, The Natural Law, tr. t. p. hanley (St. Louis 1948); The State in Catholic Thought (St. Louis 1945). y. simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government (Chicago 1951).

[h. a. rommen]

State, The

views updated May 18 2018

State, The. The American concepts of state and state power have since colonial times been shaped by national security interests and by experience in the management and use of the American military. Insofar as a sovereign state holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, state power must be defined with reference to the raising and employment of armed forces. The logic is Hobbesian. The state provides order; the alternative is anarchy and a life both “brutish and short.” Given this choice, the citizen opts for order and accepts the rule of Hobbes's Leviathan—the state.

Historical development has distanced the American state from this view but never quite overcome it. The nation's founding myth—that a dispute with the crown over contractual rights and responsibilities caused the Revolution—follows John Locke's contrary postulate that the social contract grants limited power to the state. The Constitution itself confirmed the relevance of Locke's version of the contract metaphor to the U.S. government and its constitution.

The Internal Security Dilemma and the Nineteenth‐Century American State.

This conception of limited state power poses special problems with respect to national security. National security becomes a vital issue when survival of the state is threatened; then the Hobbesian (or realpolitik) understanding of the state and state power clashes with the Lockean (or liberal) conception. This clash creates what can be called the “internal security dilemma.” In the realpolitik view, the state cannot provide the blessings of liberty unless it can assure its own survival. In the liberal view, the powers of the state must be so disposed as to protect citizens. Hence the dilemma: The state must somehow cope with threats to itself while maintaining the liberties and rights of citizens.

From the end of the War of 1812 to the close of the nineteenth century, state survival was not a question of external threat. Survival emerged as a serious sectional issue, which the Civil War settled; otherwise, policies and disputes associated with the security of the American state centered on providing the United States with strategic space. By denying the western hemisphere to rival powers, the Monroe Doctrine (declared in 1823 but an unfinished project until the twentieth century) laid claim to an enormous strategic space for the United States. The quarrel with Britain over the Oregon Country, settled diplomatically in 1846, and the disputes with Mexico that led to the Mexican War in that same year, actualized American state claims to territory on the basis of strategic considerations no less than by invoking “manifest destiny.” The Civil War, however, definitively established the nineteenth‐century American understanding of the state's power to ensure its survival, as the federal government held a continent‐wide country‐qua‐empire together by force of arms. The scale and violence of the Civil War tested the limits of war itself, while its political stresses took a heavy toll on civil liberties—the federal courts proving particularly ineffective guardians against martial law's encroachments on freedom of speech and assembly.

The exercise of political opposition and the employment of military force furnish two major reference points for defining the state. Democracy requires the possibility of legitimate opposition to government, while nation‐states under threat to their survival or security, and states that vastly expand their military activity, usually give priority to security considerations and seek to limit political partisanship. Such tensions were particularly evident in the early‐ and mid‐nineteenth‐century United States, where army officers, and to a lesser extent navy officers, often cultivated political connections and acted as partisan figures. In 1846, for example, the Senate rejected President James K. Polk's attempt to appoint Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a civilian with no military experience and a fellow Democrat, as the top general commanding the campaigns against Mexico. Polk had to content himself with two Whig generals, Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, both aspirants to their party's presidential nomination in 1848, as leading officers in the campaigns. In 1864, Gen. George B. McClellan, once Abraham Lincoln's general in chief, ran against Lincoln as Democratic nominee for the presidency. For his own part, Lincoln did not hesitate to appoint brigadier generals and allot military contracts as a means of cultivating local interests and winning their political support.

Partisanship and “pork” persisted after the Civil War, but preferment gradually diminished. The army, deployed in the West during the Plains Indians Wars, became more isolated from American society and thus susceptible to reforms, adopted after the Spanish‐American War, that made it more professional and less political. Up to that point, however, political considerations generally tended to place American state power—and the services of the U.S. Army—at the disposal of local interests. This was largely true in the Mexican War and in westward expansion. In the Spanish‐American War, the Cuban campaign was essentially a projection of land power partly in response to the demands of Cuban exiles in New York and Florida.

The army reforms of 1899–1904, largely under Secretary of War Elihu Root, reinforced civilian authority over the army, with a chief of staff, the army's leader‐manager, answering to the president as commander in chief, and depending upon the civilian secretary of war to be effective in his own job. This structure reduced the autonomy of the army bureaus and weakened their links to congressional interests, while centralizing authority in such a way as to strengthen professionalism. Despite a certain amount of resistance at the top, officers tended to embrace the new managerial ideals, which facilitated the planning and coordination fundamental to modern warfare, and thus rejected older, populist views of military leadership, which stressed romantic, intuitive qualities and fostered partisan political activity. The navy followed suit, achieving its reforms by more informal means.

Professionalism has usually advanced at the expense of local politics in the American military establishment and has strengthened civilian leadership based on the power and authority of the president as commander in chief. Significant advances occurred during the first two decades of the twentieth century, although localism remained evident at the end of the century when post–Cold War budget cutbacks led to military base closings that were opposed by local interests.

During the twentieth century, American armed forces took part in four major wars—World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War—and several minor conflicts, the largest of which was the Persian Gulf War. None of these five occurred in the western hemisphere: two took place in Europe, two in Asia, and one in the Middle East. Local interests played either a negligible role or no role at all in any of them. Military power was associated with “high politics,” a phrase commonly used during the Cold War to refer to the way Congress and the executive branch handled national security in the nuclear age—in particular, the way Congress deferred to the president—and the way the public rallied to support state power in times of crisis.

When the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson chose a professional officer to command the American Expeditionary Forces. Though Gen. John J. Pershing was son‐in‐law to a senior Republican senator, he avoided partisan politics, and after the war, he scotched a movement to run him for president on the Republican ticket.

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt minimized political controversy about the conduct and purpose of the war effort by two means. One was to promote bipartisanship; the other, to delay the resolution of contentious issues about war aims until the return of peace. The first he accomplished by bringing two prominent Republicans into his wartime cabinet (Henry L. Stimson as secretary of war and Frank Knox as secretary of the navy) and appointing other Republicans to administer war agencies. The second he accomplished by declaring, as he did at the Casablanca Conference in 1942, that unconditional surrender was the Allied military objective of the war.

But important issues about the employment of the armed forces as the principal instruments of state power in war remained. One had to do with strategic priorities. Roosevelt adopted the army's favored strategy of defeating Germany first (before Japan). Command links to the European theater from Roosevelt through Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in Europe worked nearly perfectly. No field commander in American history caused his commander in chief less trouble or delivered more results than did Eisenhower. Although Japan surrendered sooner than expected, the Pacific War was a different matter, for Asia's lower priority left two military scores to be settled after 1945—one with the navy and one with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Both had important consequences for the state and its control over the armed forces.

The navy's priority lay in the Pacific theater, where it could demonstrate its seaborne striking power. Only after the defeat of Germany did it gain first priority, and then the Pacific War ended quickly. In the immediate aftermath of the war, as the administration of Harry S. Truman sought to restructure the U.S. military, the navy bitterly opposed the force integration that modern warfare required. This dispute was settled by the Key West Agreement of 1948 and other compromises, delaying the development of combined arms warfare and perpetuating interservice rivalry that handicapped military operations and distorted military advice during the Vietnam War.

MacArthur proved in some ways a more difficult problem. Charismatic and personable, he was a virtual throwback to the nineteenth century; as army commander in chief of the Pacific theater, he proved an uneasy partner to the admiral commanding the Pacific Fleet, Chester Nimitz. With the defeat of Japan, MacArthur became the virtual American proconsul in Tokyo, often ignoring instructions from Washington on occupation policy. The problem worsened when it fell to him to lead the United Nations (predominantly American) forces in the Korean War. His relations with Washington deteriorated into mutual mistrust until President Truman dismissed him in 1951, when MacArthur sought the support of congressional Republicans in a ploy reminiscent of the Partisan Politics of the Mexican War or the Civil War.

This, the second score to be settled from World War II, showed that Eisenhower's example was now the rule. A general might have presidential aspirations, but not a hint of them may show until he takes off his uniform. American military activities in the last half of the twentieth century would scarcely be isolated from business interests or shielded from political controversy, but whatever personal political ambitions arose within the officer corps were strictly channeled.

The Truman administration's political fortunes suffered because of the Korean War, which put any candidacy by Truman for a second elected term as president beyond consideration. In broader terms, Truman had invoked crises too often in his efforts to build a permanent and stable Cold War posture. Eisenhower profited by his predecessor's hard lesson that presidents could overplay their hand in the “high politics” of state power. Elected in part to end the Korean War, Eisenhower resisted the temptation to use crises to win political support for military programs and military actions. Yet his calmer leadership style with respect to “high politics” had its own problems. When the Soviets launched Sputnik, the first of the space satellites, in 1957, his administration came under attack for its seeming unconcern about competing with Soviet military technology. John F. Kennedy employed charges of a “missile gap” in his successful presidential campaign in 1960 (only to learn later, and admit, that it never existed).

No twentieth‐century war drew the American state into more domestic dissent than the Vietnam War. President Lyndon B. Johnson's decisions about the war added up to an unsuccessful military policy, with disastrous domestic effects. As with Truman and Korea, they led to a turnover of the White House to a Republican president. Richard M. Nixon, who succeeded Johnson, expanded the war in the course of ending it, leaving the Democrats in bitter opposition and the American state burdened with failures in both security policies and the handling of its military leaders and forces. Yet if Vietnam raised the political costs of engaging American military forces abroad, it did not end the practice. It had little effect on NATO; if anything, the ending of the American engagement in Vietnam enabled the United States to strengthen its forces in Europe. Meanwhile, the nation's postwar isolationism proved only temporary. Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976 at the head of a Democratic Party that espoused moderately anti‐internationalist and antimilitary policies. But Carter reversed himself and started a rearmament program that became the Ronald Reagan rearmament policy of the 1980s. The Vietnam War's more permanent legacy, a reduced confidence in America's leaders in their employment of force, led Reagan to try to restore popular confidence in U.S. military power. In this he proved only partially successful.

“Vietnam” remained shorthand for a warning against committing American military forces without an exit strategy. But strategy alone was not the issue: the way the American state handled “high politics” was.

As the management of the armed forces in relation to Congress, the executive branch, and society, “high politics” defined the degree of consensus on national security issues and hence the dimensions of American state power. Defined in this inclusive way, the Cold War's high politics shifted dynamically over time to reflect changes in threat perceptions, in the perceived need for the armed forces, and in their successes and failures. State power expanded and contracted accordingly, growing during the first half century, declining briefly in the early fifties as a result of the Korean War and the Communist scare, then recovering and reaching its high point of consensus on security issues in the early sixties. It was never the same again. The manifest errors of the Vietnam War reduced public and elite confidence in the employment of force to achieve political goals and sharply curbed the expression of state power. Eventually, the early seventies watchword, “No more Vietnams,” faded from use; but the skepticism it reflected remained. By the late eighties and nineties, policymakers concerned with security and the state were looking increasingly to economic leverage as a substitute for military power.

Nuclear Danger and the Definition of the Powers of the Commander in Chief.

Before the United States acquired nuclear weapons, U.S. political leaders regarded the state's military function as synonymous with its capacity to mobilize for and conduct large‐scale warfare. Nuclear weapons did not displace this role because conventional war‐fighting capabilities continued to be regarded as necessary in maintaining stable deterrence and in minimizing the danger of a catastrophic nuclear war. Yet nuclear weapons irrevocably altered the way the American state employed force to achieve security. Three interrelated factors shaped the change.

The first was World War II's impact on the balance of power. The war severely damaged the military capacity of all participants except the United States, which emerged as the world's first superpower. This eliminated the prospect that America could confine itself to the role of power balancer of last resort, for other states could no longer reliably stabilize the international political order. Specifically, Western Europe could not balance the Soviet bloc without an explicit and tangible U.S. commitment from the beginning. For the first time in its history, the American state had to maintain massive military forces in the absence of active hostilities.

The second factor that shaped the American state's military power after World War II was the American view of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. U.S. leaders saw it as a threat to the military and political security of Western Europe and to American interests there. They took the Soviet bloc as a given; in the interest of stability, they did not challenge it—which in turn meant containing it, not defeating it. For a European statesman, the point was self‐evident, but those who wielded American state power found it an unfamiliar idea. Only for the leaders of the American state was it necessary to decouple the identification of a rival from the course of the action the United States had taken in two world wars: to mobilize and defeat it.

The third factor was the American development of nuclear weapons systems—the warheads themselves and the technologies for warning and target acquisition, for aiming and delivering and guiding weapons, for safeguarding them and for commanding and controlling their employment—that could deter enemies from attacking at locations remote from U.S. territory; and finally, the doctrines that explained how these vast, complicated systems should be positioned and employed. All of this placed an enormous burden on the military command and control process, beginning at the top, with the commander in chief. President Kennedy, appalled at the “spasm war” scenarios for which the nuclear air force had planned, took steps in 1961 to provide himself, as commander in chief, with options in a Flexible Response doctrine, expanding the range of choices available to presidents for employing nuclear weapons. But the Vietnam War produced a quite different approach to options, based on a critique that placed much of the blame for the U.S. defeat on civilian leaders—in particular, on the president—for overextending American power and micromanaging the war with catastrophic consequences.

This criticism has persisted. President Reagan's secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, issued guidelines for military interventions that assured maximum autonomy to the generals in determining how they might fight. In substance, President George Bush followed these guidelines in the Persian Gulf War.

Criticisms of the Vietnam War also led to the Congressional War Powers Resolution of 1973. Intended by its authors to increase congressional participation in decisions that might lead to war under circumstances that did not directly threaten the survival of the United States, this act has been opposed by every president since its passage. Presidential concern for preserving the prerogatives of the commander in chief, however, have been no more significant in rendering the act inconsequential than has congressional reluctance to follow through on the claim to a decisive role in determining whether or not forces should be introduced in dangerous situations. The law claims for Congress a resolve it has in actual practice lacked: to share in presidential decisions regarding the employment of conventional forces.

At the end of the twentieth century, divergent views about security threats, the military forces needed to meet them, and the employment of those forces have left the American concept of the state, in relationship to security and the military, unfocused and in flux. Congress avoids showdowns over military issues with the president; legislators avoid partisan showdowns among themselves over military policies. Meanwhile, the military itself enjoys a voice in security policy—and is called upon to participate in quasi‐police activities like the “war on drugs”—to a degree unanticipated by military professionals at midcentury.

Looking back from an era of total war and nuclear standoff, one is struck by the prominence the U.S. Constitution gave (and still gives) to executive power by combining in the presidency the offices of chief of state and commander in chief. This solution reflected British experience as it was understood at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, and addressed the internal security dilemma in two enduring respects. One was to avoid the potential tyranny of an Oliver Cromwell (the English military dictator in the mid‐seventeenth century) by conferring the highest military authority on a civilian, whose authority did not derive solely from the Congress. The other was to combine the offices of chief of state and commander in chief as a means of avoiding “Caesarism,” the despotism of a military commander insulated by popularity from control by civil authorities. The men who drafted the Constitution were aware of an internal security dilemma when international threats to the survival of the American state were taken seriously. This dilemma remains. After more than 200 years, it continues to impose stress on a government of limited powers that, when dealing with the issues of its citizens, ultimately depends upon the survival of the state.
[See also Civil Liberties and War; Congress, War, and the Military; Constitutional and Political Basis of War and the Military; Nationalism; Supreme Court, War, and the Military.]


Edward S. Corwin , Total War and the Constitution, 1947.
Samuel P. Huntington , The Soldier and the State; The Theory and Politics of Civil‐Military Relations, 1957.
Ernest R. May, ed., The Ultimate Decision; The President as Commander in Chief, 1960.
Paul Y. Hammond , Organizing for Defense: The American Military Establishment in the Twentieth Century, 1961.
Allan R. Millett and and Peter Maslowski , For the Common Defense; A Military History of the United States of America, 1984.
Henry Bartholomew Cox , War, Foreign Affairs, and Constitutional Power: 1829–1901, Report of the American Bar Association Steering Committee on War, Foreign Affairs, and Constitutional Power, Vol. 2, 1984.
Robert Previti , Civilian Control Versus Military Rule, 1988.
Daniel P. Franklin , Extraordinary Measures: The Exercise of Prerogative Powers in the United States, 1991.
John Hart Ely , War and Responsibility, 1993.
John T. Rourke , Presidential War and American Democracy: Rally 'Round the Chief, 1993.
Barbara Hinckley , Less Than Meets the Eye; Foreign Policy Making and the Myth of the Assertive Congress, 1994.

Paul Y. Hammond

State, The

views updated May 17 2018


The term "state" denotes the complex of organizations, personnel, regulations, and practices through which political power is exercised in a territory. In simple societies organized as bands of families, as tribes, or as chiefdoms, political power is not separated from power relationships rooted in kinship structures or religion. Those societies also lack organizations and specialized personnel (beyond the chief) for exercising political authority and therefore have no real states. The state emerged only with the development of more complex societies, either cities or tribal confederations, which formed the bases for city-states, monarchies, and empires. Monarchies and empires in turn have given way to liberal states, modernizing dictatorships, and one-party states as the most widespread current forms of states.

The "state" is a rather abstract term. Over time and space, the concrete organizational forms, the kinds of personnel, the specific laws and regulations, and the practices of states have varied greatly with the historical development of societies and across different cultures and regions. The modern nation-state is a very particular kind of state that developed in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and currently is spreading across the world (Poggi 1990). However, like other forms of the state, this organizational form is likely to have its day and then fade; already various kinds of supranational and international bodies have begun to take over some of the political power formerly monopolized by nation-states.

The basis of the state is political power. This article examines the roots of that power and then explores the various forms taken by states from their beginnings to the present day.


All forms of power involve the ability of powerholders to coerce others into giving up their property, their free choice of action, and even their lives. Political power, as opposed to economic power (based on money or other forms of wealth), religious power (based on relationships to transcendent forces), family power (based on sex, seniority, and kin relationships), and pure coercion (based on brute force), is rooted in the recognition of the rightful authority of the ruler (Weber 1968). That authority stems from the demands within a society for specialists with the ability to mediate and coordinate.

Any group of human beings in regular interaction among themselves is prone to conflict over possessions, decisions regarding group actions (to hunt or not, to camp here or there, to fight or flee from a threat), and individual actions that give offense (insults, injury, infidelity). In small groups, such conflicts usually can be settled through the arbitration of respected family members or elders, but in larger groups or groups in which much interaction occurs among nonkin, those conflicts produce demands for justice that require a more broadly recognized form of mediation. Individuals who are particularly skilled at mediating such conflicts, who gain a reputation for wisdom and justice, can acquire the role of a specialist in settling conflicts. In addition, every group of human beings faces external threats from wild animals, the weather, and other human groups. Individuals who are particularly skilled at coordinating actions within a group for the purposes of attack, hunting, and defense can gain a reputation that translates into a calling as a specialist in coordinating group actions to meet threats.

The functions of mediation to produce internal justice and of coordination to deal with external threats are distinct; indeed Native American tribes sometimes had a "peace chief" and a "war chief" who specialized in those functions. Modern societies have legal-judicial systems and executive-military systems that show a similar division of functions. However, these functions tended to merge because in both cases it was necessary to have mechanisms to compel compliance with the arbitration decisions of the mediator or the action directives of the coordinator. Once a society develops regular means to compel compliance with those decisions and directives (generally armed warriors closely attached to or under the direct supervision of the mediator or coordinator), that society is on its way to developing a state. Political power is thus the authority given to a recognized leader (whether judge or general) to compel compliance with his or her decisions.

Political power, however, is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, the power of the leader must be sufficient to ensure that arbitration is enforced and that the coordination of military, hunting, or building activities is effective. The larger a society is, the more complex its economy is, the stronger its enemies are, and the more threatening and varied its environment is, the greater are the tasks facing the state. Thus, for a society to avoid turmoil and defend itself, it must grow in organizational size, complexity, and power along with the society of which it is a part. On the other hand, as the leaders acquire control of larger and richer organizations and larger and more powerful coercive forces, there is a danger that that organizational and coercive force will be used to enrich and serve the desires of the ruler, not to meet the demands for justice and protection of the population (Mann 1986).

The history of the state is thus a history of balancing acts and often of overreaching. State rulers frequently use their organization and authority to expand their power and wealth. Some rulers invest heavily in conquest, acquiring power over new regions and peoples by brute force and then setting up organizations and laws to acquire and enforce political authority. Other rulers have sought to distinguish themselves primarily as lawgivers or (e.g., King Solomon) paragons of justice. Still others have simply taken their power as given and abused it. Sometimes they gain mightily from such abuse, but at other times—under very particular conditions—they may become the object of elite revolts or popular revolutions.

For sociologists, the key to understanding the state is knowledge about the shifting relationships between state rulers, their organizations and resources, and their societies. Much of the history of the development of state forms comes from the competition between rulers seeking to extend their control of political organizations and coercive force and elite and popular groups seeking to limit or channel political authority into socially acceptable goals and actions.


Although cities and states initially may have developed independently, with both gradually moving forward between 8000 and 3000 b.c., by the third millennium b.c., the conjunction between urbanization and state making was firmly established in the Middle East. Elsewhere—in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia (especially Java and Cambodia)—states and even empires developed without true cities; those states operated through dense clusters of villages that often centered on great temple complexes. By contrast, in the Middle East and the New World, large cities grew up around the temple complexes that served as the headquarters and ceremonial centers of the new states. Several of those city-states had great success in expansion and became the nucleus of larger empires, such as Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, and the empire of the Aztecs.

City-states continued to emerge throughout history, especially in periods of early settlement of new lands (such as the Greek city-states that spread throughout the Mediterranean in the second millennium b.c.) or after the breakup of large empires (as occurred in Italy and along the Rhine in Germany after the collapse of Charlemagne's empire in the ninth century a.d.). The legacy of these city-states is that they experimented with a wide array of state forms. At various times, the Greek and Roman city-states of the eighth through fourth centuries b.c.—including Athens, Sparta, Thebes, Corinth, and Rome—were ruled by a single monarch, pairs of kings (or consuls), oligarchies of the wealthy or well-born aristocrats, and popular assemblies. The modern forms of democracy and monarchy can be traced back to the Greek and Roman city-states of that period. However, city-states generally did not survive in any area for more than a few centuries before being swallowed up by large territorial empires.

Those large territorial empires became the dominant form of the state in much of the world for the next 5,000 years, from roughly 3000 b.c. to a.d. 1900 (Eisenstadt 1963). In the Middle East, the major empires included of Sumer, Akkad, Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia and the Hellenistic empires founded by the generals of Alexander the Great. These empires were followed by the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Islamic empires founded by the followers of Mohammed. These empires were followed by the vast empires of the Mongols and the Turks, the last of which was the Ottoman Empire, which ruled large portions of north Africa, the Middle East, and southeastern Europe and lasted until 1923. In Europe, after the fall of the Roman Empire there followed the empires of Charlemagne and his sons. That empire left as a legacy the Holy Roman Empire, which eventually evolved into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which survived until 1918. After roughly a.d. 1500, much of eastern Europe and central Asia was under the control of the Russian Empire, which lasted until 1917. In China and India, large empires emerged in the third and fourth centuries b.c. In China, the Qin and Han dynasties initiated a pattern of imperial rule that lasted until the birth of the Chinese Republic in 1911; in India, the Maurya and Gupta dynasties briefly unified the subcontinent and were followed by the Mughal Empire, which lasted until India came under British domination in the eighteenth century.

In Africa, there also were large Empires, including the Aksum Empire in Ethiopia which was (founded around 300 b.c. and whose successor empires and dynasties lasted until 1974), the Ghana Empire and Mali Empire in west Africa, Great Zimbabwe and Mutapa in southern Africa, and the Zulu Empire, which ruled over much of southeastern Africa until it was defeated by the British in the late nineteenth century. In the Americas, three major indigenous empires developed: the Maya and the Aztecs in what is today Mexico and the Incas centered in modern-day Peru. After defeating the Aztecs and Incas in the sixteenth century, Spain established an empire in the Americas extending from Chile to California that it ruled for nearly 300 years.

The vast majority of these empires were conquest empires in which strong imperial centers acquired territory, troops, and resources to build ever-larger empires and thus conquer ever more territory. However, many imperial rulers also were famous lawgivers renowned for establishing justice and order in their empires; they included Hammurabi of Babylonia, Justinian of Rome, and Suleyman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire. Their lawcodes were established not to give "rights" to subjects but to produce order by making a clear list of crimes and the penalties that would be imposed.

Though powerful, these empires were not immune to decay and disintegration. Even the longest-lived empires, such as those of Egypt and China, had periods of civil war and broke up into multiple states. Population growth that created pressure on the capacity of the land to yield taxes, military defeat by powerful neighbors, and conflicts among elite factions could all produce disorganization and decay of the imperial state administration. In times of decay, a locally based form of rule known as feudalism often arose.

Feudalism in the strict sense is a pattern of allegiance by oath taking in which a lord gives control of land (a "fief") to a vassal in return for a promise of service. This pattern may have one dominant lord controlling many vassals, or there may be many lords and many vassals, with some vassals dispensing fiefs and thus becoming lords themselves. In this sense, feudalism is not a state, for no centralized administration has full control of the territory. However, if a single lord manages to emerge as dominant over all the other lords and vassals in a territory and is able to expand his own household and personal administration to exert his will throughout the territory, one can then speak of a state, which usually is described as a kingdom or monarchy. Kingdoms were known throughout the world and generally appear in periods in which large empires have broken down or before they are established. In most of the world, empires continued to reestablish themselves, often building on the strongest kingdom in a region. However, in western and central Europe, no empire ever reestablished lasting control over the area that had been controlled by the Romans. Instead, the period of feudalism in Europe (roughly a.d. 600 through 1300) was followed by many centuries in which a number of competing kingdoms controlled major portions of the European continent.


The early empires and kingdoms all had rudimentary administrations and relatively undifferentiated elites. That is, the officers of the state were mainly family members of the ruler or personal favorites appointed at the ruler's pleasure; many were also high-ranking officials in the church. They gained much of their income from the control of personal properties or privileges granted by the ruler. The mingling of state and church was based on a strong connection between religious and state power; there was usually an official state religion that supported the state and was in turn supported by the ruler.

By around the sixteenth century a.d., however, most of the kingdoms and empires of Europe and Asia had begun to develop into more impersonal and bureaucratic states. State offices were fixed in a "table of ranks," and officers were expected to undergo rigorous academic training to qualify for their positions. The number of state offices multiplied greatly, and while favorites still were chosen for key positions, an increasing number were chosen and promoted for their merit and services. States also began to diversify their sources of income. Most early empires relied on various forms of tribute collection or taxes paid "in kind," such as set amounts of grain, cloth, or labor services. In contrast, by the sixteenth century, most states had begun to specify and collect taxes in cash, with which they paid regular salaries to state officials. In those states, subjects still had few rights and no participation in politics; rulers remained absolute in authority. However, those states became "bureaucratic-authoritarian" in the sense that authority increasingly was exercised through uniform rules enforced by bureaucratic officials rather than through local and customary practices enforced by fairly autonomous local notables.

Dependence on cash meant that many states also placed a greater emphasis on trade and on taxes on commerce as an alternative to taxes on land. For some states (e.g., the Netherlands and Great Britain), taxes on trade and industry soon exceeded revenues from traditional land taxes (Tilly 1990). In the period 1500–1900, the promotion of trade and commerce led to a vast expansion of long-distance trade, both ocean-borne and land-based, across the globe. European kingdoms, stymied in creating empires in Europe, created them overseas. Seeking natural resources and new markets, European states (and later Japan) invested in colonies and overseas companies and administrations to control them in the Americas, Africa, India, southeastern Asia, Korea, and along the Chinese coast.

While this period remained one of kingdoms and empires, bureaucratic-authoritarian states faced two extensive periods of challenge. From the late sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century and again from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, all of Eurasia experienced several trends that reshaped states. First, in those two periods the population grew dramatically, doubling or more, while in other periods the population declined or was stable. These periods of population growth were also periods of rising prices as a result of more extensive commerce and a rising demand for basic goods. Pay to laborers and available land for peasants, however, declined as the population grew faster than did the agricultural economy. Population growth also led to factional conflicts among elite groups competing for control of state offices and to greater demands on state administrations. However, states were running into financial trouble, for population growth was reducing the surplus available for taxation and the rapid growth of commerce was shifting more resources into areas where traditional tax collection was weak, leaving more resources in the hands of merchants, local landowners, and urban and regional elites. Toward the end of those two periods—roughly 1580–1660 and 1770– 1860—conflicts between state rulers and elites over the rulers' prerogatives and resources triggered worldwide waves of revolutions and rebellions in kingdoms and empires; these included the English, American, and French revolutions, the anti-Habsburg revolts, and the revolutions of 1848 in Europe; the collapse of the Ming Empire and the Taiping rebellion in China; and thejanissary, Balkan, and Egyptian revolts in the Ottoman Empire (Goldstone 1991).


Those revolutions and rebellions all involved popular uprisings and elite rebellions against the ruler and loyal elements of the state but had different outcomes in different areas. In most societies, the elites were deeply frightened by popular uprisings and sought to reestablish state power more firmly by tightening the reins of state power and enforcing allegiance to the state-sponsored religion. This was the case in Catholic Spain, Italy, and Austria under the Counter-Reformation; in Confucian China under the Qing dynasty; and in the Islamic Ottoman Empire. However, in England 1689, America in 1776, and France in 1789, the elites were more concerned that excessive state power would damage their positions and fuel future revolutions. Reviving ideas and institutions from the days of democratic Greece and republican Rome, they attempted to place limits on state power and reserve specific rights to elites and even to ordinary workers and peasants. Those limits and rights were codified in a variety of documents, including "declarations of rights", and especially in constitutions that became the basis for state power. Those constitutions marked a distinctively modern turn in the history of state. Previously, state authority had always rested on coercion and demands for the dispensation of order and been supported by religious belief and tradition, but from the age of constitutions, the legitimacy of state authority rested on whether the ruler abided by the limits in the constitution and recognized the rights of the elites and popular groups that had established that constitution.

Constitutions meant that a new relationship was forged between the state and the population of the territory it ruled. Under empires, the state established order and most people were simply economic producers, not political actors. By contrast, under constitutions, the people, or at least those involved in creating and establishing constitutional rule, were the ultimate controllers and beneficiaries of state power. This new relationship led to new demands by various groups.

One demand was for greater and more regular political participation by groups that had been excluded: religious and ethnic minority groups, women, and the poor. Though frequently resisted by elites and state rulers, in many areas those groups gained elite allies and acquired rights to regular political participation, most notably through voting (Reuschemeyer et al. 1992). States where voting rights are widespread and the state's power over its subjects has significant limits are commonly described as democratic or "liberal" states. By the late nineteenth century, most of the states in Europe west of Russia and in North and South America were liberal states.

Another demand came from professionals, merchants, and sometimes military officers who lived under empires and wanted to take control of their positions and territories under something like the relationship that prevailed in constitutional regimes, where the state was identified as an instrument of the people rather than the reverse. Those elites argued that every ethnic group should be entitled to its "own" state and its own rulers. The resulting ideology was known as "nationalism" (Calhoun 1998), and it spread widely throughout the world. Nationalism fueled the revolutions of 1830 in Poland and Greece; those of 1848 in Hungary, Germany, Italy, and Romania; the effort to expel the Austro-Hungarians and unify Italy under Italian rule in the 1860s; and the Serb liberation movement that helped start World War I. Nationalist sentiments also fueled revolts in Ireland throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; the Chinese Republican Revolution of 1911; the anticolonial revolutions in India, Algeria, Indonesia, and Vietnam after World War II; and a host of other anticolonial revolts in Africa and Asia.

Nationalism fostered the ideal that states should be "national" states, reflecting the identity and promoting the aspirations of their inhabitants as a united community rooted in shared traditions and culture (Anderson 1991). In fact, to comply with this ideal, many traditions had to be invented and national languages had to be created. Even today, it often is ambiguous whether a given nation-state reflects a nation (Is there is British nation or only English, Welsh, and Scottish nations plus portions of Scot-settled Ireland sharing the state of Great Britain?). However, the ideal of the nation-state spread widely, even to older states, so that it became expected that modern nation-states would have a national language, a national flag and anthem, national systems of schooling and communications (newspapers, radio, and television), national systems of transportation (highways, railways, and airlines), and a national army.

Nonetheless, since almost all existing states included members of more than one ethnic, linguistic, or cultural group within their boundaries, most nation-states inevitably failed to satisfy to a greater or lesser degree the aspirations of subnational groups, which in turn often developed their own nationalist ambitions. A large number of the violent conflicts in the world in recent years are the result of nationalist movements within nation-states, such as the Chechens in Russia, the Basques in Spain, the Kurds in Turkey, the Uighurs in China, and the Albanian Kosovars in Yugoslavia.

While nationalism seemed poised to bring more liberal, constitutional states into being, things did not develop that way. The defeat of many early nationalist movements led nationalist leaders to conclude that above all else, a people needed a strong state to protect them from control by others, whether multinational empires or other nations. As a result, many nationalist movements gave rise to authoritarian, populist dictatorships. Those dictatorships often promulgated constitutions and claimed to draw their legitimacy—in the modern fashion—from their service to and identification with the people of the territories they ruled, but in fact they operated in as absolute a manner as any older imperial state, only now they were backed by the latest industrial and military technology. Thus, while nationalism was destroying the old traditional empires and replacing them with modern states, those modern states were following divergent paths into democracy and dictatorship.


The history of the state in the twentieth century has largely been one of a struggle between democracies and dictatorships. In the liberal states over the course of the twentieth century, the range of citizen rights has been expanding, the participation in politics of ordinary citizens (through rallies, financial contributions, petitions, and voting) has grown, and the obligations of the state to support its citizens (the modern "welfare state") have been extended. A major result of these patterns is that women, the working class, and the poor are far more closely integrated into political life in liberal states as voters and direct recipients of state actions than ever before (O'Conner et. al, 1999). To accommodate and channel this political participation, most liberal states have a number of political parties that organize and control the competition for political power. At the end of the twentieth century, as a result of growing state obligations, the personnel and budget of modern liberal states has swollen to the point where state expenditures make up one-quarter to one-half of the entire national product of their societies.

However, the model of the liberal state did not triumph in every place where empires collapsed. In many regions, spurred by nationalist sentiment and the failure of liberal states to provide economic and military security under the chaotic conditions that followed military defeat or economic crises, modern dictatorships emerged. Some of those dictatorships, such as those of Adolph Hitler and his Nazi Party in Germany and Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party in Italy, did not outlast their founders. However, in Russia and China, Communist parties took on a dominant life of their own, and those countries became one-party states in which everything of economic, military, and political importance was controlled by the party-state. In other countries, notably in Africa (e.g., Nigeria), Latin America, and eastern Asia (e.g., Korea and Indonesia), military personnel seized power and held on for periods ranging from years to generations. For most of the twentieth century, such modern one-party and military dictatorships, all professing nationalist ideals and even staging (controlled) popular elections, controlled the vast majority of the states and peoples of the world.

In the last two decades of the twentieth century, however, the majority of those one-party states and military dictatorships collapsed (Walder 1995; Goldstone et al. 1991). Their extensive control of the economy stifled innovation and encouraged corruption, leading their revenues to fall well below those of the leading liberal states. Within dictatorial states, even the elites looked on the far greater material wealth and personal freedom of their counterparts in liberal states with envy. Efforts at reform in one-party and military states thus quickly turned into movements to establish liberal regimes. As a result, for the first time in history, it appears that humankind will enter a new millennium with a majority of its nations and populations living under liberal constitutional states (Huntington 1991).


While the twentieth century has closed with the national, liberal state seemingly triumphant, there is no assurance that this form of state will endure. Constitutional states often have been overthrown by dictatorships, both military and populist, when they encounter severe military or economic setbacks. The Great Depression led a host of democracies to collapse into dictatorships, and struggles with economic development led many Latin American and African states into communist takeovers and military coups in the 1960s and 1970s. In most of the world outside Europe and North America, liberal states are not firmly established and may be vulnerable if another major economic trauma sweeps the globe. Thus, the past threats to the continuance of liberal states may reemerge.

In addition, new threats to the primacy of the nation-state have arisen in the form of supranational organizations with genuine sovereignty and military power. The most notable of these organizations are NATO (a military alliance with a unified command embracing the forces of most European nations and the United States) and the European Union (a supranational body ruled by representatives from most European nations with taxing and legislative authority over certain aspects of its member states). A variety of cooperative multinational organizations established by treaty, such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the International Court of Justice, and various environmental commissions and human rights organizations, also have impinged on state sovereignty. The future may see still greater transfers of state power to such supranational bodies as the problems of establishing human rights, safeguarding the global environment, and maintaining stable and sound financial institutions may grow beyond the capacity of any single state or ad hoc arrangement of states to resolve.


Anderson, Benedict 1991 Imagined Communities. London: Verso.

Calhoun, Craig 1998 Nationalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Eisenstadt, S. N. 1963 The Political Systems of Empires. London: Macmillan.

Goldstone, Jack A. 1991 Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World. Berkeley: University of California Press.

——, Ted Robert Gurr, and Farrokh Moshiri 1991 Revolutions of the Late Twentieth Century. Boulder, Colo.: Westview.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1991 The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman: Oklahoma University Press.

Mann, Michael 1986 The Sources of Social Power. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.

O'Conner, Julia S, Ann Shola Orloff, and Sheila Shaver 1999 States, Markets, Families: Gender, Liberalism, and Social Policy in Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and the United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Poggi, Gianfranco 1990 The State: Its Nature, Development, and Prospects. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, Evelyn Huber Stephens, and John D. Stephens 1992 Capitalist Development and Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tilly, Charles 1990 Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1990. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.

Walder, Andrew 1995 The Waning of the Communist State. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Weber, Max 1968 Economy and Society, edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. New York: Bedminster.

Jack A. Goldstone

State, The

views updated May 21 2018

State, The








All human communities have some type of political organization that governs the behavior of its individual members. However, state forms of government are distinct from other forms of political organization such as tribes, clans, and gens. As Brian Nelson states in his 2006 study, the state is best defined in terms of its basic structural characteristics, which are territoriality, sovereignty, law, centralization, legitimation, and class stratification. And as both Elman Service (1975) and Ted Llewellen (1983) note, in contrast to earlier forms of political organization, which were based on lineage and heredity, the state is a form of political organization based on territorial jurisdiction. The state is also a sovereign entity, which means it claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory, as argued by Max Weber (1978). The states sovereignty depends on its ability to successfully enforce a monopoly of coercive force in relation to all inhabitants of its territory, against the claims of neighboring states, and against the claims of competing forms of political organization (e.g., tribes) within the same territory. Thus, for a state to exist, it must centralize the coercive powers of law, administration, and military force because sovereignty does not exist when governmental authority is retained by competing social units, such as clans or tribes, or where inhabitants political loyalties are retained by local units of government that function independently of the states central authority. Consequently, Charles Tilly observes (1975), state-building has been a lengthy and violent historical process involving the subordination of competing forms of political organization to the states sovereign authority and the defense of its territorial boundaries against rival states.

The states structural characteristics of territoriality, sovereignty, and centralized government are exercised through the application of general laws that are considered authoritatively binding on the territorys inhabitants. These laws are always reinforced by a corresponding form of state consciousness or ideology of legitimation. The state always derives its legitimacy from an operative myth of the states origin or foundation, such as a belief that the law is received by a states priests or wise men directly from the gods, or that the state is founded by heroes with exceptional virtues, or that the state was established by contract among its citizens. Yet, as a matter of fact, all states arise from a system of class stratification, which is reproduced by the state as one of its main political and economic functions. Class, as Friedrich Engels (1972) argued, is not the only kind of social stratification that exists in state societiesit generally coexists with gender, racial, or ethnic forms of stratificationbut class stratification is a unique attribute of state forms of governance.


Scholars have proposed many different typologies of state forms, but historically, as Nelson (2006) states, there are four fundamental forms of state: (1) ancient city-states, (2) ancient empire-states, (3) modern city-states, and (4) the modern nation-state. The origins of the state are generally traced to the late Neolithic period (30004000 bce), or about 34,000 years after the first homo sapiens. The first archaic states emerged on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (Mesopotamia), the Nile River Valley (Egypt), the Yellow River Valley (China), and the Indus River Valley (India).

Geography was a key factor in the origins of the state, because the fertility of these river valleys supported large settled agricultural populations, while the agricultural surpluses generated by these peoples made it possible to store and redistribute crops and to support the specialized craftsmen, warriors, priests, and administrators critical to state formation. Karl Wittfogels (1957) hydraulic thesis of state formation notes that complex irrigation and flood control systems were necessary to realize these agricultural surpluses, while the construction and maintenance of these systems required increasingly centralized forms of political control. As Morton Fried (1967) and Jonathan Haas (1982) observe, this centralization of political authority and the emergence of social differentiation based on function mark the origins of the archaic state.


The first archaic states were created by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia about 3500 bce, but within a few hundred years (31002320 bce) many of these archaic states had evolved into fully developed city-states. The first real states were city-states, and the largest among them sometimes had tens of thousands of inhabitants. The ancient Sumerian city-states were typically warlike and in some cases expansionary. The fact that many ancient cities were defended by walls and fortifications suggests that the city-state, which quickly spread to other parts of Mesopotamia, did so partly as a result of the conquest of other peoples and partly as a way to defend against the threat of the Sumerian city-states. Significantly, these states not only centralized political authority within a defined territory, but eventually developed concepts of law that were first enunciated in the Hammurabic Code, a code of written law promulgated by Hammurabi, a king of Babylonia (17921750 bce). Hammurabis Code influenced the emergence of legal systems in other Near Eastern states and was transmitted as a model to other empires in the Near East, Mediterranean, and later Europe.

The Egyptian state emerged almost simultaneously with the Sumerian city-states in 3100 bce. In both regions, the sovereign authority of the state and its legitimizing religious myth were embodied in the person of a king, who claimed power either as a deity (Egypt) or as the voice of the gods (Sumeria). The centralized bureaucratic, military, economic, and ideological power of these kings far surpassed that of any previous tribal chieftain or clan elder. These kings commanded a formal state-military hierarchy, sat atop a rigid class system, and exercised preeminent religious influence within the state.

The Indus Valley Civilization emerged at about the same time (3300 bce) on the Indian subcontinent, but this civilization did not achieve a state-level society until about 2600 bce. Romila Thapar (2002) explains that, as in Sumeria and Egypt, the irrigation of the Indus River Valley generated large agricultural surpluses that supported burgeoning urban centers by 2500 bce, and, over the next six hundred years, Indus Valley Civilization spread to the Ganges River basin and northern Afghanistan. However, it was not until 1000 bce that the first recognizable city-states appeared on the Indian subcontinent, although by 500 bce there were sixteen monarchies known as the Mahajanapadas covering the Indian subcontinent. These city-states, Vincent Smith (1981) notes, followed the earlier pattern of legitimizing the right of a king to his throne with genealogies devised by priests that ascribed divine origins to the rulers.

In their history of China, John Fairbank and Denis Twitchett (vol. 1, 1978) note that the Huang He Valley emerged as the first cultural center in China in the late Neolithic period (21001800 bce); by the end of the second millennium bce, the Zhou Dynasty (1027771 bce) was established in the Yellow River Valley and later in the Yantgtze River Valley (770221 bce). The first Zhou king invoked the Mandate of Heaven to legitimize his rule, a concept that would influence almost every subsequent Chinese dynasty. During the Zhou Dynasty, the city-state spread throughout China until several hundred warring states were finally consolidated into seven states toward the end of the fifth century bce.


The ancient city-states were aggressive and expansionary regardless of where they originated, and their wars resulted directly in the formation of the first ancient empire-states. In most cases, Nelson (2006) observes, the basis of early state formation was the city, with empires arising as a secondary state formation from a city-states imperial expansion. The Assyrians built the first empirestate, starting with Sargon of Akkad, who became the first king to successfully assert political control over inhabitants living beyond his city-state (2371 bce). Assyrian kings gradually asserted hegemony over all of Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent (2371612 bce), including Egypt for a short period (745612 bce). In building an empire of city-states, the Assyrians established the model for all subsequent ancient and classical empires, including the Persian, Macedonian, and Roman Empires, as well as many smaller empires, such as the Athenian, Phoenician, and Carthaginian Empires.

In India and the Far East, comparable configurations emerged from the warring city-states. During the time that large parts of India were subjected to the Persian and Macedonian Empires, the first Indian empire-state was the kingdom of Magadha, which emerged as a major power in northeastern India after subjugating two neighboring states (68426 bce). Numerous empires rose and fell in different parts of the Indian subcontinent, including the Satavahana Empire (230 bce199 ce) in southern and central India, and the Gupta Empire (240550 ce), which united northern India. In 1526 Babur established the Mughal Empire, which was the first empire-state to unite most of the Indian subcontinent by 1600 ce. Its successor, the Maratha Empire, stretched across the entire subcontinent by 1760 but was eventually displaced by the British Empire (17571947 ce).

In China, the Qin Dynasty (221207 bce) was the first to subdue large parts of the core Han Chinese homeland and unite them under a centralized Legalist government. It also imposed a common system of writing and developed a state ideology based on Confucianism. China was an empire-state for most of its history, although historians generally divide its political development into early imperial (221 bc588 ce), classical imperial (5801234 ce), and later imperial (12791911 ce) phases. However, as Peter Farb (1968) explains, there is considerable debate as to whether the Meso-American empires, including those established by the Olmecs (1200400 bce), Mayans (250900 ce), Incas (11971533 ce), and Aztecs (12481521 ce) should be considered ancient empire-states, archaic states, or a distinct tribal (i.e., non-state) form of tributary empire.


The ancient empire-states were often disorganized and short-lived in comparison to modern states. As S. N. Eisenstadt (1963) observes, it was not uncommon for empires to be conquered by rival empires, nor was it uncommon for empires to disintegrate back into warring city-states or into forms of feudalism because of weak political leadership, natural catastrophe, invasion, or rebellion. However, city-states and empire-states are the only known forms of state until the emergence of the modern state.

The basic structural characteristics of the modern state are identical to those of earlier state forms. However, most modern states tend to manifest these characteristics on a different territorial scale (the nation) and to vest sovereignty in an impersonal legal system. In the modern state, sovereignty is asserted to reside in the impersonal state form, and not in the ruler as conceived in the archaic and ancient states. Thus, in the modern state, there is a firm distinction between the state and its government (rulers), which is a distinctive ideological characteristic of the modern state compared to earlier forms of state. As Nelson (2006) notes, the modern state has also evolved in tandem with the capitalist form of economy and is therefore generally linked to the reproduction of specifically capitalist forms of class stratification.

The origins of the modern state are found in the medieval towns of Europe, which, as a general rule, stood outside the stateless feudal system of political relationships based on personal rule. The medieval towns developed their own governing system based on the idea that the town (i.e., the state) was an abstract entity (corporation or universitas ) that was by right free from outside control. Joseph Strayer (1970) notes that these commercial centers evolved into independent states, most notably in Italy and Germany in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The German city-states of the Hanseatic League, which emerged from the mid-fourteenth century onward, constituted a trading and military alliance of modern city-states but never became a true state in itself. Venice is the only modern city-state to build a commercial empire-state (8001797 ce) by asserting control over other cities and islands in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. Despite being largely displaced by the nation-state, Singapore, Monaco, and Luxembourg survive today as successful and prosperous modern city-states.


The modern state became largely synonymous with the nation-state beginning in Europe in the early 1300s. In parts of the world, such as Europe in the medieval era, China, and Japan, there was sometimes a concept of the nation or the people, which was united by geography, language, literature, custom, and religion; but there were not actual states with territorial boundaries coinciding with this legitimating idea. Indeed, following the collapse of empires in Europe, China, Japan, and India, and their disintegration into feudalism, the state often ceased to exist as a form of political organization. Feudal forms of political organization were premised on structural characteristics that are the opposite of a state: (a) extreme decentralization and (b) the privatization of social, economic, and political power.

The modern nation-state originated in Europe as powerful monarchs in France, England, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and Denmark waged continuous wars to unify their nations. The political and religious wars that engulfed Europe for four centuries finally culminated in 1648 in the Peace of Westphalia, which codified the modern system of nation-states as international law by recognizing fixed national boundaries and the sovereignty of states within their territories. However, the system of European nation-states was not actually completed until the unification of Germany and of Italy in 1871.

It has been argued that, because most of the major and minor European nation-states were all colonial and imperial powers from the 1500s onward, the major nation-states have always been nation-state-empires. In fact the nation-state as codified in the Westphalian system was largely transferred to other regions of the world through European colonial and imperial expansion. Some of these postcolonial states, such as those in North America (1700s), Latin America (1800s), China (1911), India (1947), and Africa (1950s1970s), were established by revolutions of national independence. Other states established in Africa and the Middle East were artificial nations created by the retreating colonial powers after World War I and World War II. For this reason, however, many of the postcolonial states lack the fundamental characteristics of either a nation or a state, such as a founding or heroic myth to legitimize the state. These nations often have a stronger history of internal tribal and religious conflict, while they sometimes lack a common language or religion except as a legacy of the colonizing state. The shared characteristics of nationhood are often most common among political and economic elites but are not shared evenly by inhabitants, who continue to speak local dialects, follow traditional religious practices, or retain political loyalties to local tribes and clans.


New nation-states have proliferated in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries as resurgent nationality and ethnic groups withdraw from artificially constructed nation-states or reassert their independence from nationstate empires. Membership in the United Nations increased from 51 members in 1945 to 191 members in 2002. However, as Martin Van Creveld argues in his 1999 study, the future of the nation-state appears uncertain: Many existing states are combining into new forms of transnational political association, while many of the states economic and military functions are being taken over by organizations that are not states.

The reassertion of ethnic and religious identities within and against established nation-states has also led to the proliferation of failed states among many of the artificial postcolonial states. This has resulted in a number of tenuous governing entities best described as quasi-states or proto-states; in other cases it has resulted in long periods of stateless anarchy, where small areas are governed by competing warlords in a system sometimes described, as by Gianfranco Poggi in his 1990 study, as modern feudalism.

On the other hand, many nation-states are responding to the contemporary challenges of a new era of globalization by delegating or ceding partial sovereignty to transnational, international, or supranational organizations that perform the statelike functions of internal governance (European Union), economic regulation (World Trade Organization), health and welfare provision (United Nations), and military defense (North Atlantic Treaty Organization); but these organizations, as both Kenichi Ohmae (1990) and Martin Shaw (2000) point out, are neither nations nor states. It is not yet clear whether this emerging network of political, economic, and military organizations foreshadows the end of the nation-state or the establishment of a new global state.

SEE ALSO Authority; City-State; Ethnicity; Gender; Globalization, Anthropological Aspects of; Globalization, Social and Economic Aspects of; Government; Law; Military; Nationalism and Nationality; Political Science; Political System; Politics; Race; Sovereignty


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Clyde Barrow

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