The Importance of the state

Whether the state is an end in itself or merely a means enabling individuals to attain their ends has been a much-disputed question.

1. Theories emphasizing the state:

Ancient writers generally regarded the state as the highest aim of human life and as an end in itself. The usual belief in its divine origin was sufficient justification for its existence and authority. The idea that there were individual interests distinct from general interests did not exist. Accordingly, ancient writers ignored or minimized the concept of individual freedom and exalted and glorified the importance of the state. Plato and Aristotle taught that the best life of the individual was possible only in the state.

The nature of man destined him for political life, and the state was a necessary institution for the development of his powers and the satisfaction of his needs. The state was more real than the individuals. It included living a personality, absorbing in its life all other personalities; man and state were bound together in a social whole, neither having interests contrary to the other. Since only through the state could man achieve his highest ends, no limit could be set to the state’s activities. Whatever was for the best interests of man was a legitimate public function.

German and English idealist philosophers held a similar view of the high importance of the state. Influenced by the nationalist doctrines of the nineteenth century and reacting against the revolutionary principles of natural rights and the emphasis on individual freedom, they pointed out the value of collective responsibility and control through governmental agencies. The state was justified because it was a natural, historical growth.

In Germany, Hegel taught that the state was a natural organism, representing the highest phase of the historical “world process.” It was the real person, and its will was the manifestation of perfect rationality. Only as a member of the state had the individual reality a perfect life consisted of living following the universal will. The citizen existed for the sake of the state.

In its external relations, the state was subject to no will, but it’s own. The ordinary rules of morality obtained among individuals could not be applied in the relations among states. Hegel developed the idea of will as the ultimate element in politics and glorified the state’s sovereignty.

Under this theory, the individual’s value was ignored, and attention was directed to political authority’s attributes rather than to citizens’ rights. Bosanquet, in England, linked Rousseau’s theory of the general will with the German metaphysical idea of the state as the ultimate moral being and insisted that there could be no conflict between state and individual. As an organism with a personality and will of its own, the state absorbed the individual will and stood forth as the supreme achievement of human organization.

Pervasive and positive state action was thus justified. An extreme modern example of the state’s glorification from the point of view of realistic politics rather than idealistic philosophy is found in the writings of Treitschke. He viewed the state as an end in itself and as the highest thing in the eternal society of men. Emphasizing the idea of will, he viewed the state as power and argued that might is the supreme right.

The utilitarian philosophers, who aimed at the greatest good of the greatest number, and the rationalists, who believed in the ability of man to perfect his institutions through the use of reason, paved the way for many reform movements which led to extensive legislation and increased emphasis on the value of the state.

Likewise, those thinkers who, influenced by the scientific theory of evolution, drew analogies between the state and a biological organism and viewed the state as an inevitable historical and evolutionary growth usually tended to consider the state as more real and important than the individuals who compose it and who are mere cells in the body politic.

While the state socialists aimed at the welfare of individuals, rather than at the aggrandizement of the state and viewed the problem in its international aspects, rather than in terms of the national state, nevertheless their doctrines tended to increase the importance of the state because of their emphasis on collective responsibility and extensive state action. The state socialists wished to reorganize the existing state system to control laboring classes, but the new state, thus organized, would be important and powerful.

Communist theories, as applied in present-day Russia, work in the same direction. The social unit, rather than the individual, is considered important. The Fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany also viewed the state as an end in itself, placed it above the individual, who existed for its purposes and placed stress upon the ideals of state power and political destiny.

2. Theories emphasizing the individual:

on the other hand, there have been thinkers who attacked the state and wished to minimize its value. Anarchistic doctrines5 of various types have attacked the state and proposed its immediate or ultimate destruction. In the Middle Ages, many ecclesiastics arguing for the supremacy of the church viewed the state as a necessary evil, the result of man’s imperfections, concerned with the lower material interests of men and distinctly inferior to the church, which was concerned with the more important spiritual aspects of life.

The revolutionists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Opposing the paternalistic monarchies of their time, viewed the state as an artificial creation of man rather than as a divinely established institution or a natural organic evolution. They emphasized individual freedom and the natural rights of man and Opposed extensive state action. The individual, rather than the state, was the unit to be given chief consideration. As men became more rational and improved their institutions, the state’s need, and the scope of its authority would diminish.

In recent years the state has been attacked on various grounds. Internationalists, interested in world organization and cooperation, oppose the importance of state sovereignty and independence in the rise of the national state, emphasizing state will and power. Individualists oppose the expansion of state functions and the increasing socialistic interference with individual rights and freedom.

Pluralists, interested in the rights of various groups and associations within the state, Oppose its assumption of supremacy over them and assert their independence within their own fields. The modem Opposition to the state thus represents in part a reaction against the tendencies of the past century to overemphasize the importance of the state and of its power to regulate human life, and in part, a nevi tendency, especially of economic associations, to take over the large measure of the control formerly exercised by the state.

Both the view that the state is an end in itself without regard to the interests of individuals, groups, and other states, and the view that the individual is all-important and that the state is merely an artificial contrivance of man to promote and safeguard separate individual interests, is somewhat one-sided. The former theory assumes a common will, which represents the real and rational will of all the members of the social group.

This will is represented in the state; hence men obey the state because it most truly represents their best selves. In reality, they are free, under the authority of the state, even though they may not realize it. While there are elements of truth in this theory, in that individuals are often ignorant of their own best interests and that the will of the state, enforced by compulsion, may promote their welfare against their opposition, it is fundamentally fallacious. The only real will is the individual will, and individual wills are by no means identical. Even When a common will exists, it does not always find its expression in the state but may appear in various social organizations.

The state’s will is formed by the conflict of many divergent individual wills, which contend with each Other for the mastery of social control. The state’s resultant will is not based on unanimous agreement, nor is it always determined by rational considerations, nor is it always goodwill in intention or consequences. The importance and value of the state can be judged only by its results.

The state differs from other associations in that membership in it is compulsory and in that it can, in last resort, enforce its rules upon its members. The extent of its power and the width of its functions give to it a significance greater than that of other associations. Usually, the state’s welfare and that of its individuals coincide, but sometimes they diverge somewhat, and occasionally they may be altogether opposed.

The state may be compelled, either for its own preservation or in the interest of future generations, to man heavy sacrifices from its present members. At other times the needs of individual welfare call for extraordinary aid and support from the state, which thus incurs serious obligations or imposes them upon future generations.

The state may refuse to allow certain individuals to practice their religion; it may tax their property out of existence it may even compel them to give their lives in a war that they believe to be morally wrong. The state is an organization for enabling humanity to realize social welfare on the largest possible scale. Its value depends upon the degree to which it accomplishes this purpose.

The Ends of the State:

Various attempts have been made to set forth the purpose or ends of the state. These attempts show differences in detail and emphasis, depending upon whether state or individual is given chief attention, but show certain fundamental similarities of conception. John Locke stated that the end of government is the good of humanity. Still, he believed that the great and chief end of men uniting into commonwealths and putting themselves under government is preserving their property.

Adam Smith declared that the state has three great purposes first, that of protecting society from the violence or invasion of other independent societies second, that of protecting, as far as possible, every member of the society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice third, that of erecting and maintaining certain works and certain public institutions which it can never be for the interest of any individual or a small number of individuals to erect and maintain.

Among German writers, Holtzendorf held that the state has a triple end. The first is the development of national power. The state may preserve its existence and position against other states and its authority over all individuals and associations of individuals within itself. The second is the maintenance of individual liberty or that sphere of freedom that the state marks out for the individual and protects against encroachment on government or individual. The third is the promotion of the people’s social progress and civilization, which the state secures by educating and aiding its subjects.

Bluntschli believed that the state’s direct end consists of the development of the national strength and capacity and the perfecting of the national life. The indirect end consists of the maintenance of the freedom and security of the individual. He attached importance to the theory that the state’s aim should be the promotion of general welfare. Still, He pointed out that there is great disagreement about what constitutes the general welfare and that this aim might lead to arbitrary and despotic action on the pan of the state.

Many American writers have attempted a formulation of state ends. Burgess separated the proximate from the ultimate ends of the state, arranging them as primary, secondary, and ultimate purposes, each end becoming, in turn, a means or the accomplishment of the succeeding end. On this basis, the first, or proximate, end of the state establishes and adjusts government and liberty. The state must maintain peace and law, even if it crushes both individual freedom and national genius.

However, as soon as the disposition to obey the law and observe order is established, the state must mark out a sphere of individual liberty and must, from time to time, readjust the relation of government to liberty, widening the latter as civilization develops. The secondary aim, growing out of the first, is the perfection of nationality in the state and the development of the national genius. For this purpose national states, resting on natural geographic and ethnic foundations, are the best instruments.

The final aim is the perfecting of humanity, the civilization of the world. In a universal world state, human reason, perfectly developed, would attain universal control. The ends of the state, in historical order, would thus be first, the organization of government and liberty, to give the highest possible power to the government consistent with the highest possible freedom to the individual; to the end, secondly, that the national genius of the different states may be developed and perfected and made objective in customs, laws; and institutions from the standpoints furnished by which, finally, the world’s civilization may be surveyed upon all sides, mapped out, traversed, made known, and realized.

Willoughby, while distinguishing between the highest conceivable purposes that may be subserved by the state’s existence and the aims of a given state that are practically attainable under given conditions of civilization, states the former as follows first, those that are concerned with the power of the state, aiming at the maintenance of order and the preservation of the state’s independence in the family of nations second, the creating and maintaining of the widest possible degree of liberty, including the perfection of its governmental machinery for this purpose, and the education of its citizens so that they may become progressively more capable of exercising this freedom; and, third, the promotion of general welfare, economic, intellectual, and moral.

Garner also makes a threefold classification of state ends, as follows: First, the state must maintain peace, order, security, and justice among the individuals who compose it. This involves establishing a regime of law for the definition and protection of individual rights and the Creation of the domain of individual liberty.

Secondly, these states must look beyond the individual’s needs to the larger collective needs of society. It must care for the common welfare and promote the national progress by doing for society the things which the common interests require, but which cannot be done at all or done efficiently by individuals acting singly or through association. Finally, the ultimate and highest end of the state is the promotion of humanity’s civilization at large, its aim thus becoming universal in character.

An able group of modern writers, in considering the purpose of the state, attempt. To avoid abstractions, to apply pragmatic tests to the accomplishments of the state, and to view it in the light of the functions it performs.

Laski, representing this group, argues as follows: To live with others is the condition of rational existence. Therein is implied the necessity of government since a civilized community’s activities are too numerous and too complex to be left unregulated.

The state is an organization for enabling men’s mass to realize social good on the largest possible scale. Its functions are confined to promoting certain uniformity of conduct, and the area it seeks to control will shrink or enlarge as the experiment seems to warrant. The state, therefore, does not set out to compass the whole range of human activity. It may set the keynote of the social order, but it is not identical to it. The state possesses Power because it has duties. It exists to enable men, at least potentially, to realize the best that IS in themselves. It is judged, not by What it is in theory, but by what it does in practice. The individual is a member of the herd, but he is also outside it, passing judgment upon its actions.

It is evident to any thoughtful student of political science that the purpose, or ends, of the state cannot be stated in an exact or absolute form for all times and peoples. Much depends upon the degree of civilization, the stage of political development, and the nature of the period’s problems. Much again depends upon what interests are considered of most value and importance.

The welfare of the state itself may be given chief attention if the state is believed to subserved a purpose in human history so important that individuals’ interests, separately or collectively, may be disregarded so that the state’s strength and security may be advanced. The welfare of those in charge of the government may be given first place if a proprietary conception of political authority is accepted or if a divine right of rulership is held.

The welfare of some particular class or classes in the citizen body may be aimed at if it is believed that such persons possess certain inherent rights. The idea that all men have equal rights is a comparatively recent dogma. The welfare of the entire citizen body may be viewed as the end of the state, but this still leaves open to discussion the questions of what are the true interests of the governed, who shall determine them, what relations exist between the welfare of a given individual and the welfare of other individuals or the community as a whole, and how far the welfare of one political group may be harmonized with that of other political groups and with that of humanity as a whole, including future as well as resent generations.

Just as opinions have differed concerning the best form of governmental organization because men do not agree as to who should determine and administer the policy of the state, so opinions differ as to what the state should do to fulfill its proper purpose; no phase of political speculation today is more important or leads to such wide divergence of Opinion as that concerned with the functions of the state.

The Nature of the Functions of the State:

Whatever may be the philosophic basis upon which the state is justified, or whatever view may be held to its ultimate aims and purposes, the question of what functions the state should perform is one of immediate and practical importance to politicians. While capable of exercising the full measure of their sovereign powers, all states find it desirable to limit their activities and leave a free action field to their individuals. Accordingly, constitutional and legal restrictions are placed upon the unlimited exercise of state authority, although, especially in time of war, a legal method is provided for the extension of state activities if needful for its people’s safety and welfare.

Attention must be given to those functions that the state must perform and those for whose performance the state is essentially fitted—the aims which, under given conditions of civilization, are desirable and practically attainable. Obviously, changing social conditions and tendencies cause corresponding changes in ideas concerning state activities’ proper scope.

Furthermore, the growth of political consciousness and the widening of the government’s popular control have created new concepts of the desirability of state action and the possibility of social reform. Governmental activity opposed by popular opinion when most people have no voice in government may be enthusiastically favored when the government is in the hands of the people.

In undertaking functions for the general welfare, each state must decide, following existing conditions, whether the advantages derived from public control will more than company ate for the possible weakening of the self-reliance of its people for the encroachment upon their personal freedom, and for the danger of corrupting the government itself as it expands its power

The functions of the state are usually classified into

  • Those which are necessary or essential to state existence and
  • Those who are nonessential or optional.

The first result from the state’s very nature may or may not be considered desirable. From the point of view of their general aim, the activities of the state include

  • Those concerned with the power of the state,
  • Those concerned with the legal rights and liberties of its people, and
  • Those concerned with the promotion of the general welfare. Of these, the first two falls mainly under the heading of essential functions; the latter, under that of optional functions.

1. Essential functions:

So that the state may exist as a sovereign political organization, it must exercise certain functions. These functions are determined by the threefold relations of the state to state, of state to the individual, and of the individual to individual. The state must determine its relations to other states in peace and war. It must determine its relations to its own citizens as to their share in political power, their freedom from governmental interference, and their dangerous actions to the state. It must regulate the dealings of its citizens with one another to secure order and justice.

In carrying out these functions, the maintenance of army, navy, police, and many officials, the raising and spending of vast sums of money, and the exercise of extensive and varied powers are essential. These functions aim to maintain internal peace, order, and safety, the protection of persons and property, and the preservation of the state’s own existence and external security.

These are the original functions of the state, and they persist under any form of government. A closer examination of the State’s essential functions shows that they follow naturally from the state’s definition and its essential attribute, sovereignty. Consequently, they must adjust the relation of sovereignty or independence, its external aspect, to other states, and, in its internal aspects, to individual liberty; these functions are therefore concerned with the state’s sovereignty in its two aspects of power and liberty.

a. Based on state power:

Under the aspect of power are the diplomatic and military relations Of a state to other states, the maintenance of state existence by the rights of taxation and eminent domain, and the maintenance of order and security utilizing the police service and the criminal law. These functions emphasize the authority of the state.

b. Based on individual rights:

Under the aspect of liberty are included the determination of the rights of citizens to sham in governing, the education of citizens in political methods, and improvements in state organization and administration on its negative side this aspect of state functions includes a guaranty, within a certain field, maintained by the laws and the courts, against interference on the part of either government or individual with the life, liberty, or property of citizens. These functions emphasize the political and civil liberty of the individual.

2. Optional functions:

Optional functions are exercised not because they are essential to the state’s existence and the maintenance of its power or the liberty and security of its citizens but because they are expected to promote general welfare in its moral, intellectual, social, and economic aspects. While optional, they are of great importance; in many cases, the boundary line separating them from the essential functions is extremely difficult to determine. They include activities, many of which, if left to individuals, would be inefficiently or unjustly performed or not performed at all. Accordingly, they may be subdivided into nonsocialist and socialistic functions.

a. Nonsocialistic:

Nonsocialistic functions are those who, though not essential, is natural and normal for the state to perform since, if neglected by the state, they would probably not be performed at all or would be performed less effectively by private enterprise. Therefore, the activity of the state in this field does not, to any considerable extent, limit or interfere with individual activities.

They include such functions as the care of the poor and incapable, the maintenance of public parks sanitation, elementary education, and a large amount of investigating and statistical work. The purpose of which is to improve the environment and give information by which further improvement may be made. They also include the operation of the postal service, the construction of roads, bridges, canals, harbors, a similar instrumentality of trade and commerce, and the regulation of occupations and businesses with a public interest.

b. Socialistic:

Socialistic functions include such activities as could or would be exercised by private initiative, but which the state may choose to take over, wholly or in part, because it desires to prevent certain evils that result from private control or because it believes that they can be more effectively managed by governmental authority.

Examples are the ownership and operation by the state of railroads, telegraph and telephone lines, of gas, water, and electric light and power works, the maintenance by the state of theaters, lodging houses, pawnshops, universities, and museums, the encouragement of certain industries by bounties or tariffs, the maintenance of employment bureaus, the granting of old-age pensions, the regulation of labor, and many other activities that aim at social improvement or at equalizing the distribution of wealth and opportunity.

The line that separates non-socialist from socialistic functions is difficult to draw, and shifts as social and economic conditions change. Activities that are viewed as wholly private in one period may be viewed as natural and normal for state action in another period. In some respects, modern states are narrowing the scope of their activities. Individuals private lives and their intellectual and religious beliefs are seldom interfered with, and the family and the church, once merged in the state, are now separate institutions. Even these, however, are legally subordinate to the state, and some of their most important powers have been transferred to it.

Marriage and divorce are civil functions rights of kinship and inheritance are regulated by law. In cases of the orphanage of parental neglect, the state undertakes the care of children. Similarly, the state dispenses charity, regulates morals and amusements, provides education, and undertakes a scientific investigation, which was all at one time under the church’s control. The development of modern industrial conditions has been largely responsible for expanding state functions in the economic field. As society becomes more complex and interdependent, general welfare demands that the individual’s interests be increasingly subordinated to those of the community.

The growing confidence of humanity aids this tendency in its ability to reform its institutions and the state’s democratic basis, as a result of which action by the state is welcomed rather than opposed or regarded with suspicion. A wide difference of opinion exists concerning the desirability of extending state authority in the optional held. Various theories have been put forward concerning the proper basis for the state action and the proper scope of its functions.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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