Theories on the Nature of State

Essay Contents:

  1. Essay on the Organic Theory
  2. Essay on Sir Herbert Spencer’s Theory
  3. Essay on the Idealist Theory
  4. Essay on the Marxician Theory

 

1. The Organic Theory:

The nature of the state is to be gleaned from the organic theory which compares the state to a biological organism. The state is likened with a living being. The relation between the state and the individuals is one of the biological organism and its different cells.

The state is not a composition of its people but an organism having parts and organs which are related to one another as the different organs of an animal arc related to one another.

The earliest political thinker who propounded the theory compared the state to “A” and the individuals to “a” and he called the state as an individual magnified. According to Plato, the rulers stood for wisdom, warriors represented courage, and the working class symbolised appetite.

The other Greek philosopher who believed in this organic theory was Aristotle who drew an analogy between the state and the human body. Among the Roman thinkers was Cicero who shared the view of organism as a nature of the state. He found a parallelism between the head of the state and the spirit that rules the body.

The English thinker Thomas Hobbes compared the state to a huge monster called the Leviathan. This artificial being was of great strength and stature. Hobbes went to the extent of asserting that like human beings suffering from plague, fever and injury, the Leviathanis also subject to similar ailments.

The French philosopher Rousseau drew a comparison between the body-politic and human body. As the state has got legislative power, the human body has “will”. The German thinker J. K. Bluntschli considered the state as a live mechanism.

The state has both life and spirit. The state is not a mere building to have only bricks and mortars. It is something more. Similarly, the state has its own identity which is independent of the individuals comprising it.

Criticism of the Organic Theory:

The comparison of the state to a living organism is erroneous and open to serious objections.

The Organic Theory as a nature of the state is attacked on the following grounds:

First, the theory gives rise to the assumption that the individuals who comprise the state are completely subordinated to the state in the same way as the cells of the body for their existence solely depend on the organism as if the individuals if separated from the state will have no existence. But the individuals in the state are independent of it and may survive even by separation from the state. So this theory is a misleading one.

Secondly, by giving no importance to the individuals as independent or self-conscious units this theory runs counter to democracy and liberty.

Thirdly, the theory erroneously gives the impression that the state is a biological unit. In reality the unity in the state is social and psychological.

Fourthly, the theory – by considering the state as one of biological nature – demolishes the social contract theory, according to which the state is a human institution. Thus the organic theory has completely wiped away the human aspect of the state.

Lastly, by making the state all-in-all and by relegating the individuals to insignificance, this theory indirectly makes the state rather totalitarian and leads to the idea of the establishment of a totalitarian state like Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. So the theory is a dangerous one. Thus we have to discard the organic theory as totally unacceptable.

We may safely conclude with the words of J. W. Garner:

“The Organismic Theory of the state is neither a satisfactory explanation of the nature of the state nor a trustworthy guide to state activity.”

Value of the Organic Theory:

Even the darkest cloud has its silver lining. So we find some utility of the organic theory. It underlines the importance of the unity of the state and at the same time insists on the interdependence of its individuals. Again, it emphasises the evolutionary nature of the state by stressing upon the growth and changes in the state.

According to R. G. Gettell, the summum bonum of this theory is that it is the antidote to the eighteenth century social contract theory which considers the state as an artificial creation of man.

2. Sir Herbert Spencer’s Theory:

We have just analysed the concept of the organic theory as handed down to us from the different political scientists, right from Plato to J. K. Bluntschli. But none gave a detailed analysis of the affinity between the state and the living organism. This was done for the first time by Sir Herbert Spencer.

He is the most important political thinker as the exponent of the organic theory of the state. He drew close similarities between the state and animal organism. This merits a detailed study:

I. The process of growth of the state is like that of an organism. Both start from simplicity to complexity. A foetus in the womb of the mother is just a lump of flesh. It develops into a baby with all organs of human being. It’s inside story comes to an end when the mother gives birth to the baby.

Same is the case with the state. In the beginning, the state was a primitive and crude institution which gradually grew into the modern complex organisation. Both the state and the human body have internal and external growth by adjustment and cooperation from outside.

II. Like an organism, the state has also three main systems, namely a sustaining system, a distributor system and a regulating system. Like the sustaining system of an organism – which is in actuality the digestive system by which the body sustains its continuity by the process of digestion of food – the state has also its sustaining system by the process of agriculture and industries. Like the circulating system – by which blood is circulated throughout the body – there is a corresponding circulating system in the state by the process of transport and communication.

If the nerves and brains are the regulating system of the animal-body, the government and the army and the police are the regulating system of the state. Thus there is a close affinity between the organism and the state.

III. While the organism is composed of cells, the state is composed of the individuals. In both cases the whole depends upon the component units.

IV. The well-being of the organism depends on the condition of the cells composing the body. So also the health of the state depends on the health of the different cells. If the cells are diseased, the body is bound to be diseased. Similarly, if the citizens are not well-disciplined, intelligent and law-abiding, the state cannot progress.

V. Like the cells of any organism are subject to the process of decay and death, so also the individuals in the state attain old age and die. When a cell dies, a new cell comes in its place. The same is the case in the case of the old and dead individuals, after which new individuals are born to take their place.

It is not that the organism and the state are similar or alike in all respects. There are some points of difference between the two.

Even Herbert Spencer admits of these dissimilarities as mentioned below:

(i) While organism is concrete, the state is discrete. By drawing an analogy between organism and the state one is led to believe that – like the cells are closely interconnected with the organism – the individuals are also so with regard to the state. It is common knowledge that the individuals in the state are independent of each other and they are never cobbled together to form a single whole.

(ii) In, the organism it is the brain and nerve that singularly control all the parts. But there is no central brain or nerve to control the affairs of the state. In the state every individual has his own independent consciousness and thinking.

(iii) While the organism has its birth, growth, decay and death, this is not the case with the state. A state is permanent and knows no death.

(iv) The organism and its cells are inter-dependent. A cell will die without the organ. The individuals, on the other hand, will not die if they leave the state. They can live in some other state.

(v) For its growth the organism need not exert its own will. It grows as a law of nature. But the state cannot grow without its own volition. Since the state is a human institution it can grow only by human will and action.

(vi) The controlling power of the organism over its cells goes on increasing with the growth of the organism. But the controlling power goes on the reverse gear with the growth of the state. It ceases more and more controlling power as the state grows from stage to stage.

(vii) The origin of an organism is by union of male and female beings. This is never the case with the state.

Criticism of the Theory:

The comparison of the state to a living organism is erroneous and open to serious objections.

The Organic Theory as a nature of the state is attacked on the following grounds:

First, the theory gives rise to the assumption that the individuals who comprise the state are completely subordinated to the state in the same way as the cells of the body for their existence solely depend on the organism as if the individuals if separated from the state will have no existence. But the individuals in the state are independent of it and may survive even by separation from the state. So this theory is a misleading one.

Secondly, by giving no importance to the individuals as independent or self-conscious units this theory runs counter to democracy and liberty.

Thirdly, the theory erroneously gives the impression that the state is a biological unit. In reality the unity in the state is social and psychological.

Fourthly, the theory – by considering the state as one of biological nature – demolishes the social contract theory, according to which the state is a human institution. Thus the organic theory has completely wiped away the human aspect of the state.

Lastly, by making the state all-in-all and by relegating the individuals to insignificance, this theory indirectly makes the state rather totalitarian and leads to the idea of the establishment of a totalitarian state like Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. So the theory is a dangerous one. Thus we have to discard the organic theory as totally unacceptable. We may safely conclude with the words of J. W. Garner: “The Organismic Theory of the state is neither a satisfactory explanation of the nature of the state nor a trustworthy guide to state activity.”

Value of the Theory:

Even the darkest cloud has its silver lining. So we find some utility of the organic theory. It underlines the importance of the unity of the state and at the same time insists on the interdependence of its individuals. Again, it emphasises the evolutionary nature of the state by stressing upon the growth and changes in the state. According to R. G. Gettell, the summum bonum of this theory is that it is the antidote to the eighteenth century social contract theory which considers the state as an artificial creation of man.

3. The Idealist Theory:

Origin of the Idealist Theory:

The Idealist Theory came into prominence through the writings of the German philosophers Friedrich Hegel and Immanuel Kant.

The English philosophers like Thomas Hill Green and Bernard Bosanquet developed this theory which is also known as the Absolute Theory, Philosophical Theory, Metaphysical Theory and Mystical Theory.

But the most common nomenclature of this theory is the Idealist Theory because its central theme is to idealize and glorify the state. It is called the absolute theory since it encourages an omnipotent or totalitarian state where the individual has no voice.

The philosophical nature of the theory is responsible to call it the philosophical theory. The naming metaphysical and mystical theory is due to the profusion of abstract and unrealistic approach.

Genesis of the Idealist Theory:

The idealist theory proceeds with the assumption that the state is a moral institution or an ethical organism which has a will and personality of its own. The state is the embodiment of God on earth and the state progresses from strength to strength as if it is the march of God in history.

Since the laws emanate from the state, these should be taken as moral perfection of the state. So the laws are to be considered as “true moral consciousness”. Obedience to the state will be the obedience of the best self of man.

The moral personality of man will grow in external actions by unqualified support to the state. Man’s right and liberty can exist only if there is the state. In a word, for the fullest expression of the personality of the individual the most indispensable thing is the state. The state alone can provide his “station” and “duty” in the state.

According to the idealists, an individual cannot have rights, he will have only duties, because he will have no place outside the society which is personified by the state. So it is by unflinching obedience of the laws of the state that the individual can attain his moral perfection. The state is the end and the individual is only a means. The state stands for “social morality” of all its individuals.

Thus the state is an institution having a social and moral organism. It is for the state to decide what is moral and what is immoral and as such the state alone is competent to tie the individuals to the chariot-wheels of its own moral code of conduct. The state is absolute, infallible and the symbol of the national will.

The state is omnipotent and omnicompetent and has the authority which is divine in character. The state is equal to God. So the God-state cannot do any wrong. The state is the embodiment of the society, social consciousness and God.

Chief Exponents of the Idealist Theory:

As the nature of the state, the idealist theory is more important than the organic theory. Tins theory was in vogue all over the ages. It is as old as the days of ancient Greece of the time of Plato. According to Plato, the state stood for the society and through the state alone an individual is capable of realising the highest ideal.

Aristotle too glorified the state which, being a self-sufficient institution, was capable of providing highest good to the individual. The state is a perpetual organisation and it continues for the sake of good life. For Aristotle, the state is not a more political and economic institution but a moral association where man strives for a moral life. Man cannot live only by food, cloth’s and shelter.

He seeks also a life of reason and goodness through the state. In modern age, the theory found staunch supporters in Germany and England. Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Hegel, Neitzsche, Bernhardt and Treitschke of Germany and Thomas Green, Bernard Bosanquet and Francis Herbert Bradley of England were the chief exponents of the idealist theory.

According to Kant, who got his inspirations from C. Montesquieue and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the state is infallible and omnipotent. The individual has no option but to obey the will of the state. Liberty of the individuals must be equated to the obedience of the laws of the state.

The other German thinker Hegel glorified and deified the state which stood for the collective will of all. Liberty of the individual lay in the obedience of all the laws of the slate which has a personality of its own with an independent frame of mind.

It will be a moral sin to disobey the state. Hegel was the champion of the establishment of totalitarian state which alone was capable of tightening its utmost control over the individuals. The other political thinkers who are associated with the idealist theory are Neitzsche, John Bernhardt and Treitschke who elevated the state to an extreme height.

They tightened the screw upon the individuals with the words- “The state is power, fall down and worship it”.

The pith and substance of the idealist theory are Neitzsche, John Bernhardt and Treitschke who elevated the state to an extreme height.

They tightened the screw upon the individuals with the words- “The state is power, fall down and worship it”.

The pith and substance of the idealist theory is best couched in the words of Hegel- “The state is an entity over and above the people who compose it with a real will and personality of its own.”

In England the most shining advocates of this theory were Thomas Hill Green and Bernard Bosanquet. The English idealists differed from their German counterparts by slackening the rigour of their German school. The extreme idealism of Kant and Hegel were subdued in the hands of Green and Bosanquet by putting certain limitation on the authority of the state.

They did not admit that the state is omnipotent and absolute transcending and including the personalities of the individuals. Bradley was the other English idealist who did not accept the extreme form of idealism as propounded by the German philosophers.

Criticisms of the Idealist Theory:

The idealist theory as the nature of the state cannot be accepted.

The following are the jarring criticisms, to which the theory is subjected:

First, the theory is devoid of reality and is purely an abstract and metaphysical one. This notion, which has no nexus to the realities of life is simply to be ignored.

According to William James, it is “a rationalistic philosophy that indeed may call itself religious, but that keeps out all definite touch with concrete facts, joys and sorrows”.

Secondly, idealising the state is a tactic of conservatism. The theorist of this doctrine idealised the stark realities. So we find Aristotle idealising slavery, Kant and Hegel glorifying war and brute force and Green idealising private property and so on.

Thirdly, the idealist theory obliterates the distinction between the state and the government by confusing the functions of the government with those of the state. The stat and the government might be the same in ancient Greek city-states which were very small. But modern states are very wide and the government is a microscopic unit of it. In modern states the government does not include the population.

Fourthly, the theory wrongly considers the state as a person. No doubt, the state consists of a vast number of persons. It does not mean that the state itself is a person. It is the same mistake as confusing the college with the students or confusing the footpath with the pedestrians.

Fifthly, the theory makes the mistake of considering the individuals existing for the well-being of the state, while the correct position is that the state exists for the well-being of the individuals.

Sixthly, the theory is opposed to democracy and liberty and contains the portent of totalitarianism. The total subjugation of the individuals’ independent personality and will and by exceedingly raising the status of the state as infallible, and all-pervasive there is the danger of making the state as dictatorial and totalitarian as the Fascist regime in Italy and the Nazi regime in Germany.

Value of the Idealist Theory:

The following are some of the cardinal plus points of the idealist theory:

In the first place, the theory is a happy blending of politics and ethics. The institution of the state stands on moral legs. It corrects the defects inherent in the Machiavellian conception of the state, according to which the state has nothing to do with morality and it must be as clever as the fox.

It is common knowledge that Machiavellianism is a discarded theory. On the other hand, there is a greater advantage in making the state based on or at least consistent with morality. The idealistic theory goes to support Mahatma Gandhi’s saying- “Politics divorced from ethics is a farce.”

In the second place, the theory is good because it emphasises the need of cohesion between different individuals and also different associations as if they are members of the same whole under the supervision of the state. It brings the lesson of obedience and encourages the individuals to cultivate the habit of “live and let others live” which is essential in a state.

In the third place, the theory underlines the fact that the state is the source of all laws and its violation will compel the state to take to a tougher line like using force against the law-breakers. So this theory is disciplinary in nature.

Lastly, the theory keeps before it some ideal which may not exist in reality but must be the path-finders for all states. All ideas are dynamic and need not be static. What is important is that without some ideal we may not attain the fruits of civilisation.

 4. Marxician Theory:

The Marxists give us a quite different picture about the nature of the state. The Marxists think that the state has been created to protect the interest of the most dominant class that controls over the means of production. It has not been created for maintaining law and order in the society as it is the common belief about the nature of the state.

It is created with the class’ struggle and it will vanish away with the class struggle.

To say in the words of Fredrich Engels:

“The state is, as a rule, the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class which, through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class. Thus the state of antiquity was above all the state of slave-owners for the purpose of holding down the slaves, as the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasants, serfs and bondsmen, and the modern representative state is the instrument of exploitation of wage labour by capital.”

Thus the state is an organisation of the possessing class to protect itself from the non-possessing class.

So V. G. Afanasyev wrote in his book Marxist Philosophy- “The state is a product of class society. It arose with the appearance of classes and it will vanish, wither away, with the disappearance of the classes.” Thus the state is a condition of class exploitation.

Unlike the conventional nature of the state, the Marxician theory is that the state is an instrument of a particular class and it exists for the benefit of only a section of the society.

The second nature of the state is that it is not natural but a creation of man, i.e., a human institution.

The third nature of the state is that force is the basis of the state.

The fourth character of the state is that it is a part of the superstructure that grows upon the productive forces.

The fifth habit of the state is that the laws of the state are the wills of the dominant class in the society to protect their own interest against the oppressed ones.

Last but not the least, the institutions of the state function like a machine to crush and repress the exploited lot.

In his book The Marxist Theory of the Slate, H. M. Chang considers the following as the basic elements in the nature of the state:

(i) The state makes a division of its members by way of territories;

(ii) Force is the essence of the state;

(iii) The state has a right of imposing taxes and sign contracts for public debt;

(iv) The officialdom of the state consists of an elite privileged class.

The Communist Manifesto give, out the following as the nature of the state:

(i) The state is the executive of the bourgeois class;

(ii) The state is the instrument of oppression and exploitation by the dominant class over the other class, the dominant class being one which controls the means of production;

(iv) The state is a superstructure created by the possessing class;

(v) The state is transitory. It is born with the class and it will die with the class.

Criticism of the Marxician Theory of the Nature of State:

It is not possible to accept the theory that state represents the oppression of the most dominant class that holds control of the means of production. As a matter of fact, the state is a symbol of the welfare of the entire people.

It is a harsh proposal that the state is concerned with the protection of the interest of the dominant class, far less that it will die with the death of the dominant class. The state is permanent, the context between the classes, if any, must be very temporary. Thus the Marxists have painted a narrow and shallow image of the state. This view is unreasonable and so unacceptable.

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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