How We Might Define the Modern State

Topics: Political philosophy, Sovereignty, Social contract Pages: 5 (1647 words) Published: October 24, 2005
How might we define the modern state
The inference that we might be able to define what constitutes a modern state presupposes that it already existed prior to it becoming modern. This is not in doubt. What are task then entails is to illuminate the transition from pre-modern to a modern state, and to distinguish its characteristic features. We shall undertake this task by considering historical changes in how the state legitimises its rule, and the relationship between this rule and subjection. What is more, whilst exploring the relationship between rule and subjection we will pay specific attention to the concept of consent, an idea that was first forwarded by the British philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. Herein it will be possible to make links to the analysis of political and social theorists such as Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Emile Durkheim whose concepts of democracy and social organisation have played a major role in how we today define modern states.

To be able to define the state as modern it will be necessary for us to focus our analysis at a time in history when the state, as a political concept, was just beginning to formulate. That is, we will contemplate the structure of the state in the period known as Absolutism, and in particular when this period was drawing to an end between the sixteenth and seventeenth century. ...ruled from his court, not through it.' (Poggi, 1978:70) This was enabled by the In England, Stuart king's attempts to rule and raise taxes without Parliament precipitated the English Revolution of the 1640s.' (Hall, 1990:7) We will now develop the theme of the English civil war, 1642-48, thus making links to Thomas Hobbes political theories of state legitimacy.

The opposing views of Charles I and the parliamentarians, and the pursuing civil war was the accumulation of years of religious and political divide. In 1640, at the height of this divide, and after ruling alone for eleven years Charles I reformed parliament in order to secure funding the Bishop's War in Scotland. This was come to be known as the Short Parliament because it was promptly dissolved again after only three weeks. Still, Charles I did secure the funds he needed, although he was to be unsuccessful in Scotland. Later that year Parliament again was recalled this time being known as the Long Parliament, in contrast to the previous occasion. Nonetheless, the King was now tied to Parliament for future funding, thus giving those who opposed him, such as John Pym, the opportunity to erode his The reforms carried out by the Long Parliament eventually formed the basis of the Restoration Settlement and were important steps towards the constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy of modern Britain.' (Plant, 2004) This is something we shall expand upon further in due course.

It was amid this turmoil that Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) formulised and set out his ideas of an alternative theory for legitimizing the state, other than by divine right, or by theories based on natural law. ...every man is enemy to every man.' What is more, Hobbes held, great Leviathan' or The attaining to the Soveraigne Power, is by two ways. One, by Natural force...The other, is when man agree amongst themselves, to submit to some Man or Assembly of men, voluntarily, on confidence to be protected by him against all others. . (Hobbes, 1996:121)

In today's language Hobbes Leviathan state may seem to us to be dictatorship whereby its citizens are obliged to conform to the state wishes, and that it is the state that only has rights. But we must understand that his concept was a thought experiment, an exercise in which we should understand the states legitimacy in terms of peoples consent in return for peace and stability. It also offered an alternative, secular, form of state other one based on religious principals or mans natural rights. holding that no such transfer of sovereignty need or should take place: sovereignty not only originates in the...

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Durkheim, E. 1992. Professional Ethics and Civic Morals. Trans. H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. London: Routledge.
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