Key Thinkers on the State, Nation, Sovereignty and Globalisation

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Karl Marx

(2 – Perspectives on the State): They view the state as a means by which class oppression is achieved – it supports unequal class power.

(2 – Theories of State): “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (THE CAPITALIST STATE). Marx believed that the state could be used constructively during a transition from capitalism to communism; it could be used as a ‘revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat’.

(2 – Globalisation): He recognised that capitalism was an international phenomenon and globalisation can simply be seen as an extension of capitalism.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel – German Philosopher, Marxism

(2 – The State): Identified the state to be three moments of social existence:

  1. The Family – we become altruistic for the benefit for our children or elderly relatives.
  2. Civic Society – we tend to place self-interest above helping others.
  3. The State – we share mutual sympathy and therefore are prepared to sacrifice what he calls ‘universal altruism’


Criticism: It is defined in purely ethical terms and takes a totally uncritical view of the state and its actions – what actually constitutes the state remains unclear.

Antonio Gramsci – Neo-Marxism

(2 – Theories of State): He argued that the ruling class use ideological manipulation rather than just coercion to keep control. (THE CAPITALIST STATE)

Ralph Miliband – 20th Century, Neo-Marxism

(2 – Theories of State): He portrayed the state as an agent of the ruling class, stressing the extent to which the state elite are disproportionately drawn from the ranks of the privileged and propertied. The state would therefore favour capitalism.

Nicos Poulantazs – 20th Century, Neo-Marxism

(2 – Theories of State): He suggested that, although the state had a degree of autonomy, its sole function was to ensure that capitalist society ran smoothly and therefore benefited the capitalist class, even though concessions were made from time to time to the working class.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

(2 – Sovereignty): He believed that sovereignty ultimately lay with the people, which he described as the general will. But the general will was indivisible and that a legislator should be used to articulate the general will. This was known as Popular Sovereignty – also called “Sovereignty of the people/Voice of the People”. It is closely associated with the Social Contract Theory and other theorists such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

Francis Fukuyama - Liberalism

(2 – Globalisation): Britain have become involved in globalisation wars to spread the doctrine of liberal democracy

John Stuart Mill (J.S. Mill) – 19th Century, ‘On Liberty’, Liberalism

(2 – Sovereignty): He said “Parliament can do anything except turn a man into a woman”. He believed that Westminster had unchallengeable legal power; it can make, change or revoke any law that it chooses (this is a similar argument to A.V. Dicey). The main reason for this is that it lacks a written or codified constitution that specifically defines the power of each institution.



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