The Meaning of Modern State:
The term modem state is confusing because in the continuity of time no specific age can be treated with special importance and can be called modern. Today what we call modern, after few decades or a century the term modern may be obsolete. So the term “modern” is a relative one and is not always meaningful. In 1926 R. M. Maclver, the well-known political scientist and sociologist (he is the famous co-author of the noted book Sociology) published.
The Modern State and it was read by students of political science as a textbook. Today political scientists and researchers avoid the term modern state. In spite of this difficulty I shall, in the following pages, discuss some of the problems with which a modern state is faced. Here I use the term in a special sense.
It is known to all students of political science that the concept of state has undergone radical changes during the post-Second World War period and this trend continued up to 1980s when globalisation spread its long arm over almost all parts of the globe. The nation-state is the symbol of modern state system. But this nation-state was forced to be plunged into several problems.
But neither globalisation nor any incident at international scale could jeopardies the very existence of state or nation-state. The state, notwithstanding the changes around it, is still the most acceptable political organisation and its existence haunts everyone. We shall discuss this state.
Concept of Power and Modern State:
The ownership of power and its use have been the source of heated controversy. The claim of the monists that the state is the supreme authority of sovereign power has been challenged by the pluralists on the ground that the numerous organisations within the state have freedom. The pluralists’ approach to the doctrine of sovereignty does not bring about the curtain upon the sharing of power by the state and other organisations.
Within the state there are many groups who are involved in a persistent fight to capture and exercise power and needless to say that this is the nature of any pluralist society. Modern political scientists, after surveying the nature of capitalist states, have argued that there are many elitist groups and there is keen competition among them to capture power.
This makes the political system unstable. Sometimes the state acts as an umpire and tries to keep the warring groups within control. This, of course, does not provide any solution to the situation because the existence of elite groups is an integral part of pluralist society.
Again, the concept of power and its use have made the role of the state both peculiar and problematic. If pluralism and the arguments of elitism are accepted one is to conclude that the state power must be drastically cut down. If so, who will act as a mediator in the case of the resolution of conflicts? Who will settle the disputes? If the power of the state is admitted, the problem is how far the state can go? Should it have absolute coercive power? Some situations may demand this. Others do not agree.
Problem of Social Choices:
There are many roads to the attainment of goals after which a modern state aspires. Put differently, there are a number of social choices which the state may adopt. But none of these choices is above controversy. Explaining Robert Dahl’s concept of power Davies and Lewis have said that there is a great polemics as to the selection of social choice. There are socialism, capitalism, planning, laissez-faire etc.
In all these social choices there is a specific role of the state and in modern time this role has been a hotbed of politics and heated controversy. Whatever the social choice the state adopts that will create controversy and, later on, problems. The opposite forces will work to scuttle it. Any system or social choice will produce good results if it is implemented with seriousness and worked out painstakingly.
But the modern state is not always allowed to work freely. Controversy surrounds it and makes its action and decision complicated. The point is not about opposition or to criticise, the point rather is people have no toleration to accept opposite view or no perseverance to allow the government to act freely or with a free hand.
In a democratic state, it is needless to say, this poses a very great problem and the authority, even after making persistent efforts, cannot come out of the vicious circle. We can also call it a cobweb. This is specifically relevant to any Third World state where the selection of social choice or an ideology poses greatest problem. Political instability is sometimes caused by this.
Role of the State in Economy:
Since the days of Adam Smith the role of the state in economy has been a centre of controversy. Adam Smith’s suggestion was that the state should adopt the policy of non-intervention in the economic affairs which should fall within the jurisdiction of individuals.
His argument runs as follows: The management of economy by the individuals, he forcefully argued, would produce the best results and any state interference has sufficient potentialities to damage the spontaneity of the individuals which is the important factor of economic development.
But in the first half of the nineteenth century the maladies of non-intervention of state in economy came to be so prominent that even the staunch advocates of laissez-faire began to suspect its efficacy in ensuring more employment and reducing economic inequalities. The intervention of state in the economic affairs was vigorously argued by many because they believed that only the timely intervention of state can save the economy from imminent disaster. Socialism, communism, Fabian socialism, scientific socialism etc. enlivened the topic—state intervention.
At the same time liberalism argued for nonintervention and it believed that market economy and its strengthening could provide the most powerful elixir to the rejuvenation of economy. After the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 there has started a kingly march of market economy. But the market economy is not treated as the master-key which will be able to open all the locks.
Problems Relating to Right, Liberty and Equality:
Right, liberty and equality are the basic and very important democratic principles and every democratic government makes elaborate administrative and other arrangements for their realisation. As to their importance there is no difference of opinion.
But the problem arises in respect of their attainment in practice. All the three basic democratic principles are political in nature but when one thinks of their realisation, economic issues inescapably arise. For instance, if there are gross economic inequalities among various sections of the body politic, the economically dominant section will invariably try to control the weaker sections which will finally lead to the suppression of rights, liberty and equality.
This point was successfully pointed out by Marx in the second half of the nineteenth century and later on Laski and many others. It is admitted by almost all that for the proper realisation of rights, liberty and equality leveling of economic opportunities are essential and this task is to be done by the state.
The tragedy is that no government has yet been able to create a material condition favourable for these basic principles. Though some governments have good intentions to do something for their attainment, manifold problems stand in their way. The root of these problems has spread to the very depth of the society and it is very difficult for any government to uproot them.
What are the Problems:
We have noted that the removal of inequality is the most potential way of attaining the rights, liberty and equality and for this nationalisation of the sources of production can substantially help. At least the socialists can claim this. But the nationalisation of the primary resources cannot be treated as a panacea to all evils. There are differences of opinion.
Moreover, the nationalisation is not an easy task which can be done at a single stroke. Again, nationalisation will face stiff opposition and its opponents have valid reasons. Utilisation of resources other than nationalisation can be suggested but it is not also free from limitations. Rapid industrialisation can help in reducing inequality, helping the citizens to have access to liberty and equality.
But for this venture huge amount of investment, improved technology, etc. are required and a government of the Third World state cannot easily get them. There is a gap between the creation of opportunities or their quantum and the number of claimants. The explosion of population in the Third World states has created vicious circles.
The multiplication of population is so intense that a government cannot cope with the rapid rise of demands. An important solution to this intriguing problem is to check the growth of population. Here again the problem is the state authority is either callous because of which it cannot understand the problems, or is unwilling to take action on political grounds.
Problem in Respect of Justice:
From the days of Plato right up to Amartya Sen (the recipient of the 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize for Economic Science) large number of scholars have shed light on the idea of justice and the interesting fact is that nobody has been able to suggest a real way to achieve justice. Justice requires the distribution and redistribution of resources. It implies that wealth can be taken from those who have excess (of course in the form of tax) and it shall be allocated to them who are deprived of basic necessities.
Here the problem is government (or the state) will force the owners of wealth to sacrifice a part of their wealth which the state, from the standpoint of democratic principle, cannot do. Hayek concludes “The conflict between the ideal of freedom and the desire to correct the distribution of incomes is not usually recognised. To make distributive justice a grand success it is necessary to set up an elaborate and repressive machinery which will force the wealthy persons to sacrifice a major part of their wealth.
It is alleged that this involves the negation of democratic principles and rights of the owners of wealth. It also requires other arrangements such as planning out redistribution of wealth. The owners of the wealth and lovers of democracy will challenge this venture. Some critics also argue that this attempt will encourage laziness. The owners of wealth will try to conceal a part of their wealth to get rid of this.
Rawlsian Theory of Justice and the Problem of State:
Dr. Amartya Sen (Development as Freedom) calls Rawlsian theory of justice the “most influential… the most important of contemporary theories of justice”. Though we agree with Sen’s evaluation we should not fail to note that it has failed to eradicate the possibility of problems. Here we shall quote few phrases used by John Rawls. He calls justice as fairness. It is the first virtue of social institutions.
The realisation of justice requires cooperation among people. Only in a well-ordered society there can exist justice. He also suggests that everyone will be entitled to liberties compatible with similar liberties of others. For the sake of justice, inequalities can be admitted.
Finally, for a proper blossoming of Rawlsian justice a market economy is essential. Where is the problem of state? In all the situations noted above there is the issue of the involvement of state. The state must restructure the society (both political and economic) so that the market economy can work without any hindrance, the society gets to be well-ordered, and the state must see that all are in the possession of some basic liberties and rights.
It is the duty of the state to ensure that the inequalities are absolutely compatible with the attainment of justice. The moot point is that the Rawlsian theory of justice—though the most important contemporary theory—is difficult to realise without the intervention of state. It means politics and invites numerous controversies.
Development and Problem of State:
The development is the sole or one of the most cherished objectives of any modern state and particularly of the Third World states. The development is a complicated concept and its attainment demands the fulfilment of many conditions. Amartya Sen, in his recent work Development as Freedom claims that without freedom development, in fact, cannot be easily achieved. “Expansion of freedom”, writes Sen, “is viewed both as the primary end and as the political means of development. Development consists of the removal of various types of un-freedoms that leave people with little choice, and little opportunities of exercising their reasoned agency”.
These freedoms are political, social, economic, cultural etc. These are the “constituent components of development”. Here we come across a very crucial matter. Though development is primarily an economic issue, its association with political aspects is also profound and when it is political the intervention of state becomes inevitable.
According to Dr. Sen the various freedoms are the constituent components of development. We feel that if the state does not take any action regarding freedom, the only consequence will be economic backwardness. We know that, in any society,’ there are two forces at work—pro-freedom and anti-freedom.
The governmental scheme must be so arranged as to resist the growth of anti-freedom designs. But this task is so hard that it cannot be performed early. Though government prepares different schemes to advance freedom and development many of them remain unrealised.
The problem of the state is aggravated by the uprisings that are taking place in various parts of the globe. Religious fundamentalism, terrorism or terrorist activities, anti-state agitation etc. are very common affairs or incidents in today’s world situation. The terrorist attack led by Al-quida under the leadership of Laden on the World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001 or terrorist attack on Metro station of London in 2005 are only few examples of terrorist activities.
Apparently it may seem that all these have no link with the authority and functions of state but, in close scrutiny, it will be found that these are activities against the state. Most of the time the terrorist activities are state-sponsored. One state encourages and finances the terrorist groups to launch attack against another state which she deems her enemy.
The problem is the terrorist activities destabilise the normal and stable political situation of a state. The state is forced to spend a major part of its scarce resources to combat the attacks and this invariably hinders its progress.
Whereas, the state cannot ignore these forms of destabilizing forces. The state’s efforts of rapid progress are adversely affected. The state, in fact, is sandwiched between the management of terrorism and efforts to go ahead on the developmental projects. Any attempt to neglect one will heavily cost the state.
Problems Relating to Functions of State:
The concept of the functions of state is perhaps the most explosive theory that has evoked maximum interest and fuelled a lot of controversy. Many years ago (in the 1930s) Prof. Laski said that a state must do some essential work for its citizens, otherwise its utility and worthiness might be questioned by the people.
We think that there is lot of validity in this estimate. Scholars have debated about what would be the essential functions of a state and in this respect they are clearly’ divided into two groups (there are, of course, other groups). These are individualists and socialists.
The former is also called laissez-faire advocates. The individualists want to keep the functions of the state within certain limitations and they have urged that the state should not violate those limitations. Duly considered, according to individualists, the state will have to perform minimum functions so that individuals can get liberty in its maximum form. But the socialists have contested this standpoint by arguing that if the state wants to ensure maximum welfare, it should not make any attempts to confine itself within the limitations.
Even today there is no end of controversy and it will continue. The problem is whatever and whenever the state wants to do that gives birth to debate. The state-intervention is criticised by the libertarians on the ground that it will jeopardies human freedom. On the other hand, the failure on the part of the state will encourage the socialists that the state is neglecting its minimum responsibility.
Jurisdiction of State and Globalisation:
During the last two decades and half the advocates of globalisation have been paying glowing tributes to globalisations as the most effective way of solving the problems from which nations are suffering. But one or more than one aspects of globalisation has been ignored by many—it has encroached upon the jurisdiction of nation-states.
The multinational corporations, inter-state organisations etc. have grabbed the decision-making power of the nation-states in respect of finance, commerce and domestic as well as international politics that they are hardly left with any autonomy. Though many scholars differ in this respect, the fact is that the decision-making power of the nation-states is drastically curbed.
Whereas the rationality demands that every nation-state must have the freedom to decide its own course of action. Even the Charter of the United Nations recognises the sovereign power of every state. This (globalisation) poses a serious problem to the authority of nation-state. Two opposite forces have made the position of nation-state problematic.
The nation-states cannot sacrifice this sovereign power in favour of the growth of globalisation. Again, the globalisation is an inescapable condition of the present-day world. It is very difficult to keep, oneself completely away from the comprehensive impact of globalisation.
The problem, again, is there is no possibility of compromise. There is remarkable erosion of the authority of nation-states which evokes resentment in the mind of the people and this erosion creates problem.
State in International Society:
The international society, we know, consists of sovereign states and in that society all states, big and small, enjoy almost equal legal status. But this picture is apparent. There are very few states (precisely three or four) who, for all practical purposes control the world situation (particularly political and economic) and the rest of the states are forced to kowtow to the decision of the big and powerful states.
This is absolutely undesirable because no sovereign state wants to be subservient to other powerful states. It is ignominious and against national interest. The ignominy of the nation-state in international society creates an adverse situation for the nation-state in domestic politics. Whereas the state has no ability to come out of this situation. Though the state is in the possession sovereign power, it has hardly any scope to utilise this power for the rectification of the situation.
The state is, in fact, in a peculiar position from which it cannot come out. Before the collapse of the former USSR in 1991, there were two power blocs in the international society and that assisted the maintenance of power balance. But after the disintegration of Soviet Union there is unipolarism which indicates the supremacy of USA.
In the present day world situation, except very few nations, all other nations are incapable of taking any decision and this goes against their sovereign status. Sovereignty is something (true to its name) which cannot be compromised.
Compromise and the Modern State:
We have just now concluded that the international situation, today, has reached such a pass that the nation-states are forced to arrive at compromises, but their sovereign status or the love for sovereignty prevents them from doing this The problem does not exhaust here. From the mid-forties to the mid-seventies of the 20th century, the Cold War between the two superpowers was the dominant feature of world politics.
Today there is only one superpower and in spite of this the Cold War has not fully disappeared. There is a new form of Cold War—it is between nations of a particular region or among several nations. After the Second World War at different regions several regional organisations have been formed whose main purpose is to utilise the resources available at regional levels for the rapid progress of the areas. ‘In this regard no nation has any scope to act or behave in accordance with her sovereign power; circumstances force the nation to make compromises.
At the beginning of the twentieth century political scientists envisaged that the individuals could not live alone, they must form groups. After the 1960s the nation-states at regional level are turning to the formation of groups or small organisations. Apparently this tendency is innocuous, but it poses problems for the modern state.
The states, who are members of particular regional organisations, are to sacrifice sovereignty otherwise regional organisations cannot survive. Simultaneously, national interest demands compromise and, more specifically, sacrifice. This creates problem.
Problems of Right and Duty:
The question of right and duty poses serious problem for the modern state. The citizens claim rights for the realisation of their inherent qualities and the state is (both morally and legally) bound to meet those rights. We can say the state must recognise its obligation to the citizens in respect of the rights.
But this issue need not be treated as a one-way traffic. The citizens have also obligations to the society and state because they get their source of sustenance from the society and naturally they must perform certain basic duties in exchange of the rights they receive from the state. If the state and the citizens perform their duties in accordance with certain settled norms no problem could arise.
But the real situation is at variance with the ideal situation and it is the vital source of problem. The citizens are particularly conscious of their rights but are indifferent to the performance of duties. In many modern constitutions (such as constitution of India, China, Russia etc.) there are both rights and duties and unfortunately the constitutional declaration has considerably failed to make citizens dutiful.
This creates a complex situation. Citizens’ lack of sincerity to do duty creates not only complex situations but also vacuum. The complexity of situation and vacuum multiply problems. Social progress is affected, law and order gets a raw deal from the undutiful citizens. Law and order is disturbed and the authority is forced to take coercive measures. This is again strongly resented by many.
Relationship between State and Civil Society:
State and Civil Society makes a modest attempt to throw sufficient light on various aspects of state and civil society, including the relationship between the two, the problem arising out of the relationship has been deliberately avoided. We now focus our attention on that.
A civil society embraces the areas of social life such as the private life of individuals, their cultural and political affairs, functions of voluntary organisations etc. These are viewed as remaining outside the jurisdiction of the state.
But the problem as regards the jurisdiction of state and civil society is that there is no hard and fast rule. What is today private affairs of individual, may, in some other day, be affair of state. In the second half of the nineteenth century J. S. Mill made an attempt to distinguish the self-regarding activities from the other- regarding activities.
But subsequently that distinction evoked a lot of criticism. It is very difficult to draw a clear-cut demarcation between the civil society and the state so far as their role is concerned. In a dynamic society the role is bound to change. The dynamism demands, a reformulation of the relationship but the idea of reformulation is a vague term. Reformulation of what? The relation between the two envisages many aspects and does reformulation mean the inclusion of all of them? After the fall of former USSR the civil society has been re-emphasided but, at the same time, its role is being renewed which creates problems. The libertarians argue that the functions of the state should be reduced to the lowest level while this contention has been contested by the anti-libertarians. The renewed role does not specify the exact role.
The State Is Viewed both Negatively and Positively:
In recent years (particularly after the 1960s) there has developed two opposite and peculiar tendencies in the minds of common people. One such tendency is that the state should do minimum functions so that individuals can get largest amount of freedom. Another tendency is the state should ensure the maximum amount of welfare services for its citizens. In such services are included old age pensions, unemployment allowances, expansion of education and health care services.
To discharge these varieties of services, it is the duty of the state to expand its role in an increasing rate and this will invariably erode the liberty of the individuals. Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister (1979-1990) announced certain new policies that reversed the role of the state and this invited the wrath and objection from many segments of society.
Our central point is we do not conceal our love for freedom and, at the same time; we invite the state to take more and more responsibilities to ensure social services so that weaker sections of the society can get benefit. The problem is more state intervention and maximum freedom cannot coexist.
The problem is further aggravated by the fact that these two opposite tendencies are irreconcilable. In fact, many modern states in today’s world are to some extent helpless. It is not possible for them to meet both ends simultaneously. We can say that the state is faced with dilemma and it is unavoidable.