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Monday, 23 May 2005


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Horace Jeffery Hodges

My hometown of Salem, Arkansas has a local government, but I wouldn't call it a state. Actually, I wouldn't normally call it a government either. I'd probably call it city hall. But it is a local government. If we're talking about nation states (itself a problematic expression perhaps), then we don't use state and government interchangeably. I think that a state could change governments several times, even change its basic law, or constitution, and at all times be thought of as the same state. France, for instance, has gone through many transformations over the past few centuries, but it has long been a unified state. Or am I conflating state and nation? Jeffery Hodges * * *

John Gallagher

Social contract theorists such as Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau posit that the State's monopoly on use of force is justified by an implicit agreement that we are better off under this arrangement than we would be in a state of nature where anyone is free to employ force in the pursuit of their own selfish interests and there is no concept of the common good. So long as the State acts to pursue the common interests of society in accordance with a democratic process this monopoly of force is justified. Now some would argue that there is no social good, only the desires of individuals. I reject this argument and maintain that there are measures that government can and should take to further the common good. The state is justified in using taxation to provide services that advance social well being that cannot be adequately provided for by the market. Every advanced government on the face of the earth agrees with this principle. How do we decide what advances the common good? In a democracy we do this by electing representatives who make such decisions and voting them out if they don't do what we expected them to do. All government is indeed based on the threat of force, however, in the absence of government we would have competing warlords running their own private protection rackets which would not serve the common good.


An intriguing post and one that could require hours. But I'll keep it short. First it's fair to say the term "the State" has a perjorative connotation,not unfair,just perjorative. I use it with some frequency and distinguish it in my own mind from government,particularly from the idea of gov,t as sustainer of society,civilization,if not life itself. I don't regard that as an a exaggeration as in some quarters gov't has taken on the image of a secular diety. The term State encompasses in the users mind the negative aspects of gov't power as well as it's spotted history. In addition it can refer to the potential harm or dangers hiding in the future and as such is used not only by frustrated anarchists but probably by ACLU members who have drank to much coffee. Oppenheimer in his intrduction to The State says"the state may be defined as an organization of one class dominating over the other classes". Considering the book was written in 1914,and what changes and events we've had since then,that may require some modification. But if you use or substitute the term "government class" with some explanation it has validity. In America there is an amalgam of interests;the bureaucracy,interest/advocacy groups,media,politicians,and the academy,that combine to form a powerful force for their idea of reform and control. Oppenheimer was talking about government in general,so in other countries and times such alliances were unneccessary but the idea of class and power hold in every society. Somewhat more eloquently and extensively Gaetano Mosca in "The Ruling Class" writes on this subject,that minorities govern irrespective of theories of majority rule. I must cut it short and will do so with Nock's Iron Law of Economics,man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion" A J Nock. And so people will always try to get the state to do and get what they can't do or get for themselves,and it's not always nice.

Bill Vallicella

Jeff, I think you are conflating nation and state. The German nation went from the Weimar Republic to the Nazi State (1933-1945) to the post-war BRD/DDR dual state to the present unified state. One nation, several states. I don't see how the one nation, France, could be the same state before and after 1789. These are tentative remarks. I am neither a political scientist nor do I even claim to be a political philosopher. In one sense of 'government' it is the state, in another it is the current regime. Thus the Reagan regime followed the Carter regime, although we don't usually talk this way. Same nation, same state = government (in sense 1) but different regimes (governments in sense 2).


Bill, The distinction between state and government is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that in Great Britain the Queen is head of state, while the PM is head of government. It is interesting that in the U.S. the president is both. But modern English usage seems to have made the two interchangable in some people's minds. Your German example is an interesting one, since if we go back to 1871 there were the many German states in confederation, and after that they were one state under the Kaiser. And the Hapsburg empire was a state, but in its later stages it certainly wasn't one nation. As so often with our language, the deeper we look into it the more complex it becomes. Robert

John Gallagher

What would a Hobbesian State of Nature look like. Perhaps like this or this. Without a State to defend your rights they are meaningless. All rights are contingent on a State that can and will use force to defend them. Without the Leviathan, there is merely a struggle between competing warlords to enforce their will. And you thought it was liberals who had an overly optimistic view of human nature!

Jason Pratt

Perhaps the difference between 'state' (capped or not {g}) and 'government', is that the second noun implies action (or at least behavior). A 'state government' would be the government (or governing apparatus, or perhaps most precisely the people who are governing) such-n-such political State. Again, a nation-state could be distinguished from other kinds of political states (for instance, I understand there is a general agreement among historians that the rise of _nations_ per se in Europe displaced the system of feudal states), as national government can be distinguished from other sorts of government.


John Gallagher I don't think anyone is arguing for anarchy,to recognize the need for government is not to preclude criticism and an awareness of abuses.

Bill Vallicella

John T, Tony Flood is arguing for anarchism. But please don't confuse this philosophical doctrine with bomb-throwing, lawlessness, etc. Anarchism is a doctrine in normative political theory, to wit, no state is morally justified. It is the claim that states ought not exist even though, obviously enough, they do exist. I would imagine that Tony the anarchist or anarchocapitalist likes an orderly, peaceful environment. It is just that he thinks this can be attained without the state.

Bill Vallicella

John G, Of course, you are not confusing 'state' in 'state of nature' with 'state' in the political sense. "Without a State to defend your rights they are meaningless." Come on, John, you can do better than this. This statement of yours itself borders on meaninglessness. First of all, the right to life is what it is whether defended or not. Second, it can be defended by oneself or by a group one joins or a protective association one hires. And this sometimes happens when the Feds fail to do their job as on the Southern border. It is simply false to say that a state is the only way for rights to be defended. "And you thought it was liberals who had an overly optimistic view of human nature!" Who is the "you' here? I am not an anarchist, Tony is an anarchist. My claim is that anarchists and leftists have in common an overly optimistic view of human nature. But I have to agree with Tony that you are not engaging the anarchist point of view. I'd like to see you come up with a half-way rigorous argument against it.

John Gallagher

Do "natural rights" really exist? Or are rights simply principles that we agree upon as a society and enforced by the laws of government? Without a government that can enforce laws and that we accept as the legal arbiter of rights there are only groups of individuals asserting competing rights. They often wind up going to war over whose conception of rights is the correct one. I maintain that "rights" do not exist in the State of Nature, but only become meaningful when we accept them as a part of our culture and agree to abide by a rule of law that enforces them. Civilizations, like organisms, are subject to natural selection. Those societies with good rules survive and prosper. Those with rules that are contrary to human nature and material circumstances do not. Man is a social animal, comparatively weak, and only able to survive and prosper in groups. Cooperation plays a far more important role in human survival than competition, though both are necessary. "Natural rights" exist only in the sense that some rules are necessary for a civilization to survive, but these rules can change as material circumstances change. It is contrary to human nature to expect individuals to accept rules that will result in their own destruction. When you ask sizable groups of people to do so, the end result is revolution. I have yet to see a convincing account of how rights can be logically derived apart from instinct and the question of human survival. I tend to agree with sociobiologists that conscience is a simply a product of human instinct.

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