Hegel's Theory of the State
For Hegel (1991), the state is the most progressive form of social relations because unlike the state, other forms of social relations (e.g., the family and civil society) do not represent universal altruism. Universal altruism forms solidarity among all individuals out of their collective will. The family, on the other hand, promotes selective altruism (i.e., forming solidarity among selective individuals due to familial relations). Civil society (i.e., historical periods before the establishment of a state) represents universal egoism, where people are related because of self-interest rather than the common good. The state serves the function of relating individuals through universal altruism. As such, the state is able to shape society and unify diverse collectives. According to Hegel, state managers are the group most likely to act through universal altruism because they do not have concrete economic self-interests like other groups in society.
Hegel saw the state as a way for individuals to achieve higher degrees of freedom. For Hegel, society is constantly progressing to achieve more and more degrees of freedom. The state is the result of this progress, developed to regulate self-interests and represent the common good. As such, the state works to reconcile the will of society with the will of the individual.
Marx's Theory of the State
Marx's historical materialism led to a historical concept of the state; this is also opposed to Hegel's conception. Whereas Hegel saw the state as something that transcends the collective, Marx viewed the state as an entity subjugated to historical materialism. Society is shaped by the relations and forces of production and it is society that shapes the state. The state is the result of class conflict and provides the means of class reproduction, exploitation and dominance.
Whereas Hegel viewed the state as representative of collective wills, Marx viewed the state as representative of the ideology of the ruling class and a repressive arm of the ruling class. According to Marx (1982:26): "The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance." For Marx, super-structures (e.g.,ideology and the state) are forms of organization that are representative of the mode of production. Still, the structure of society is based on material relations. The state is reflective of class relations and provides the means for capitalist dominance.
Weber's Theory of the State
Weber's theory of the state emerges from his conceptualization of legitimate authority. Legitimate authority (i.e., accepted rule) can be characterized by three ideal types: legal authority, traditional authority and charismatic authority (Weber 1982). Legal-rational authority is rule based upon formal rules and regulations. Traditional authority is rule based on the sanctity of tradition. Charismatic authority is rule based upon devotion to an individual based on their perceived exceptionalness. According to Weber, modern society is becoming increasingly characterized by legal-rational authority.
Bureaucracies and officials are key aspects of legal-rational authority (Weber 1946). There are six key characteristics of bureaucracies: (1) set jurisdictional areas, (2) formal authority to give commands, (3) officials are held responsible to fulfill duties (4) a clear organizational hierarchy, (5) individual activities are based on formal rules, and (6) expert training is required to administer rules. Bureaucracies are administered by officials. The ideal type of the official is: (1) a vocation, (2) a position in a hierarchy which guarantees a set rank and prescribed rules, (3) an appointed position, (4) a position usually held for life, (5) compensated with a fixed salary, and (6) set for a career path. For Weber, the modern state is a form of legal-rational authority made up of bureaucracies and officials. As such, it is a power structure establishing legitimized repression.
Like Marx and unlike Hegel, Weber does not view the state as freeing for individuals or representative of universal altruism. Weber believed that the state provided a way to develop policies to better benefit society. However, he did not believe that the democratic state could achieve its goal of political equality. In modern society, the state owns a monopoly on legitimate force and the means of administration within a given territory. Legitimacy is maintained on legal-rational grounds, but the irrationality of rationality derails the state from achieving its goals (Weber 1946). The state’s ability to achieve goals of political equality is hampered by the political system and the nature of elected political officials. Although the state operates though legal-rational authority on formal-rational grounds, the state is embedded with forms of charismatic and traditional authority. For instance, elected officials employ charismatic authority to become elected (Weber 1946). Rather than campaigning on public policy and facts, political demagogues use the prejudice and passions of citizens rather than rational argument to achieve their self-interest (Weber 1946). Administrative staff also obtain their positions through forms of traditional rationality. Through allegiance to the political demagogue and the political party, administrative staff are appointed to positions of power. Although the state was designed to prevent the favoritism associated with monarchies and the age of feudalism, this has not occurred. Instead, the development of the state has expanded and centralized power structures creating a new form of monopoly of power. In conclusion, Weber theorized the democratic state as a bureaucratic power structure that legitimately dominates citizens and is incapable of achieving goals of political equality.
Lenin's Theory of the State
Like Marx and Weber, Lenin sees the state as a form of coercive power. However, he goes beyond prevailing theory by explaining how the state reflects class relations: through instrumental control. According to Lenin, the state is a mechanism of class dominantion. Democratic governments facilitate capitalist control through two primary mechanisms: (1) legitimizing capitalist order and mystifying the masses, and (2) allowing capitalists to make decisions behind the scenes (Lenin 1982). As such, democratic governments are not representative of collectives but serve as an instrument of the capitalist class.
Parkin's Theory of the State
Parkin employs Marx's concept of system contradiction to explain why some revolutions in industrial societies failed. System contradiction occurs when there is poor system integration (Parkin 1972). System integration is the degree of connectedness between the forces of production and the relations of production. When the forces of production do not adequately represent the relations of production, social change is likely to occur. However, if revolution occurs before the revolutionary class has matured within the old mode of production, the pre-mature revolution will result in weak system integration and social instability. Because the Russian Revolution occurred before capitalism was given a chance to become advanced, the Russian Revolution resulted in weak system integration and social instability. Disequilibrium established out of lack of integration between state bureaucrats and the intelligentsia was harmful to the productive forces of society, causing the Russian Revolution eventually fail.
For Parkin, the state is a historically contingent stratification structure; it is not and instrument determined by elites. Who holds power in the state varies over time and has implications for society. Revolutions are more likely to occur when there is power disequilibrium (i.e., those who are economically dominant are not politically dominant). Social stability occurs when those who are economically dominant are also politically dominant. The state is the core mechanism for distributing political power. Inconsistencies between those who hold political power and those who control society's productive forces affect the historical development of society.
Poulantzas' Theory of the State
For Poulantzas (1973), the state is reflective of the social relations of capitalist class factions. State bureaucracies represent the historically contingent relations among different class segments. According to Poulantzas (1978:132): "Each state branch or apparatus and each of the respective sections and levels frequently constitutes the powerbase and favored representative of a particular fractions of the bloc, or of a conflicting alliance of several fraction opposed to certain others" (Poulantzas, 1978:132). Dominant capitalist class factions join a coalition, creating a power bloc necessary to push public policy that facilitates capitalist reproduction.
Poulantzas is different from Lenin in two key ways: (1) Poulantzas' state is relatively autonomous, whereas Lenin's state is instrumentalist, and (2) Poulantzas' state is influenced by a power bloc whereas Lenin's state is influenced by a cohesive dominant class. The state policy mediates conflict between competing factions of the capitalist class. For Poulantzas (1973), the state maintains relative autonomy meaning it is separate from but tied to the means of production. The state is not an instrument of a unified capitalist class, but representative of capitalist class factions that mobilize to form a power bloc.
O'Connor's Theory of the State
For O'Connor, the state grows because it facilitates capital accumulation. Due to contradictions of capitalism (as explained by Marx), the economy is prone to periods of crisis caused by overproduction or underproduction. The state attempts to manage these crises because it requires continued profits to survive and maintain the legitimate rule. The state tries to overcome capitalist crises through social expenditures and social capital spending (O'Connor 1973). In the process of managing economic crisis, state bureaucracy and debt expands. This leads to a crisis of the state that is is distinct from but related to economic crises.
Whereas Lenin views the state as an instrument of the capitalist class, O'Connor claims there is a continuous struggle between the state and capitalist groups. According to O'Connor (1973:9): "The socialization of costs and the private appropriation of profits creates a fiscal crisis, or "structural gap," between state expenditures and state revenues." This enhances conflict between the state and the capitalist class.
Offe and Ronge's Theory of the State
Whereas Poulantzas argues that the state is part of society working to mediate class conflict, Offe and Ronge (1975), like O'Connor, claim that its role as mediator separates the state from society and provides it with the capacity to act autonomously, yet still support capitalist accumulation. Offe and Ronge focus on the power structures created by autonomous state action. The state and capitalism are related in that the state seeks to preserve the value of commodities. However, as the state functions to preserve the value of commodities, it is of economic, structural and ideological threat to capitalism. State run organizational power structures compete with monopoly capital.
Frankel's Theory of the State
Like Offe and Ronge, Frankel (1979) examines the internal divisions between the state and economic system. The state must continuously become involved in the economy in order to maintain its legitimacy. However, the legitimacy crisis of the state is ongoing, as no state in capitalist society has been able to reconcile the inherent contradictions associated with capitalism. Regardless, the state continuously becomes involved because its survival depends on it. The state threatens capitalists, as they do not hold absolute power of the state. The state is able to act autonomously in a way opposed to capitalist interests because its function is also ideological and not limited to the capitalist system. For Frankel (1979), the state is not determined by capitalism; instead it is an institutional development representative of the historical dynamics of class struggle.
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