Nature of State : liberals vs marxist

Topics: Marxism, Karl Marx, Political philosophy Pages: 13 (6369 words) Published: September 7, 2014


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Political power is, of course, always coercive power backed by the state’s machinery for enforcing its laws. But in a constitutional regime political power is also power of equal citizens as a collective body: it is regularly imposed on citizens as individuals, some of whom may not accept the reasons widely believed to justify the general structure of political authority (the constitution); or when they do accept that structure, they may not regard as well grounded many of the laws enacted by the legislature to which they are subject. John Rawls, 20011

The nature of the state is a topic which divides criminologists. There are those who see it as a neutral instrument which upholds civic order or which supports citizens through a system of benefits and support and there are those who see the state as either having interests of its own or advancing the interests of a specific class of persons, in whose interests it governs. The idea of justice as fairness rests upon the idea that the state is a neutral entity and it is fair to say that the liberal tradition within Criminology has tended either to neglect the state or to rely, wholesale, upon liberal political theorists, such as John Rawls and his conception of ‘social cooperation among equals for mutual advantage’.2 The Marxist and Feminist traditions within Criminology have a far richer body of writing about the state and more generally about state control and social regulation. This chapter will set out the main ideas used in contemporary Criminology, either explicitly or implicitly, concerning the nature of the state.

The State
The state is, arguably, the most contested term in political theory and it may refer to a great many different things, such as a philosophical or ideological category, an institution, a territorial power or a functional organising principle. It is a topic covered extensively in the writings of political philosophers since classical times,



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• • • Criminology and Political Theory • • •
and certainly Plato, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke and Marx are only a few of the writers who have tackled the subject of the state. In Criminology different traditions have grown up which attribute varying attributes and motivations to the state. In order to make progress, let us outline four basic and interrelated features of a state. First, the state must have a working political organisational structure. In other words, it must have a set of institutions which allow it to operate, such as the courts, a civil service and a police force. Secondly, for a state to be a working entity it has to persist in time and space, i.e. it must control a set territory and survive changes in its basic organisation, as would be the case if an election altered the government. Thirdly, it must be able to support a single political form of public order and therefore it must have agency. It must be sovereign and be able to claim a monopoly of political authority, law-making and power, and it must be autonomous. Fourthly, but closely linked to the idea of the state as a single political form of public order, it must have the allegiance of its members (citizens, subjects), who are subject to its laws and who have an obligation to obey it. The political theorist John Charvet has noted that: ‘For Locke, as well as for Hobbes and Rousseau, entry into political society from the state of nature is possible only if individuals surrender their natural right of private judgement to the public judgement of the community or its agent.’3

The two most important features for criminologists are the first and third features. The first feature, that the state is a particular form of political organisation, is the dominant notion at work in contemporary Criminology. It is the view of Karl Marx,...
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