Assess what should be the role of the state

The issue of the role of the state, and the activities it should therefore undertake, is one that has long been contested by political theorists and commentators alike. The enormous span of permutations of what the state's role may involve leads to much dispute over definition, and with this, overlapping views from different thinkers and ideological groups. There is of course no real-life example that can be cited as the 'perfect' state – each society has its own unique requirements and conflicts – but human experience of the 20th century has seen the basic discrediting of some theories of state role, whilst giving credibility to others.

For example, totalitarian regimes have essentially been rejected outright by the free-thinking world since the Second World War, whilst communism had very publicly fallen by the 1990s. However, the debate over what should be the role of the state continues, and seems unlikely to subside. A quite extreme view on the subject of the role of the state is one whose modern roots lie in the first half of the 20th century. Obviously, many nations in the developed world lay in a dire politico-economic situation – for example, Italy and Germany following the First World War.

That liberalism appeared to have failed these nations gave a newfound credence to the view that the state should take absolute authority over the country (possibly going so far as to become an oppressor). The commentators Friedrich and Brzezinski identified a six-point-syndrome1 necessary to be adhered to for the state to have effective, absolute authority. However, the syndrome's points were notable in their undesirability. A solitary, unopposed party with one official ideology1 can surely only mean an inescapable democratic deficit of the worst possible kind.

This problem is merely exacerbated by the need for a terroristic police force, monopoly on communications and a monopoly of weapons1. It is difficult to understand how anyone could feasibly suggest that, with the possible exception of safer streets, these aspects of state rule might be beneficial to the everyday life of citizens. The view's economics lie in a centrally directed economy1- although theoretically sound, practical examples of command economies suggest it usually serves as a catalyst for shortages and poverty – again, undesirable and unpleasant connotations.

Ultimately, this project of suppressing civil society2 sees all personal freedoms removed: everything and everyone must be dedicated to the common goal; that is, the survival of the state at all costs. Effectively, Individuals and communities possessing divergent values and beliefs, may no longer coexist in peace2. This is surely a depressing situation for mankind to find itself in. Nonetheless, it must be made clear that this view of state role is not inherently 'bad'. In times of national crises, often when totalitarianism has been able to emerge and flourish, a state taking absolute authority may indeed be just what a nation requires.

It is the exploitation of power, apparently inextricably linked to totalitarianism, which makes it so unacceptable. The aftermath of Marx's revolution would, he emphasised, require the newly-installed authority to take what could be seen as oppressive levels of control, in order to deconstruct the capitalist system they had inherited. However, in practice, the oppressive nature of Stalinist Russia did not end there, and Russian lives continued to be fundamentally controlled by the state as an absolute authority.

Communism's basic discrediting as a feasible politico-economic system of administration by the end of the 1980s must show that this form of state role has very little hope of practical success, let alone any moral justification. More recently, the fact that Western authorities recognised the disgraceful behaviour of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and intervened accordingly, is surely testament to the opposition to the belief that a state can operate fairly and humanely whilst possessing absolute authority.

Indeed, that fascism and nazism, two ideologies with totalitarianism at the heart of their doctrines, brought with them such unacceptable interpretations of social Darwinism, did much in seeing the effective discrediting of totalitarianism after the Second World War. Acknowledging these severe flaws in the arguments for absolute state authority, a strong case has been offered suggesting that rather than take absolute authority, the state operates best serving as a paternalistic figure, providing strong enforcement of law and order.

Those who champion this view have a tendency to uphold an opinion of human nature reminiscent of Hobbes. That is, their pessimism towards mankind dictates that a strong legal system, backed by (the threat of) coercion, must be in place to keep the people in check and ensure their social contracts are upheld. Barry is in agreement with this view – Those who believe in the organic state must establish legitimacy through authority rather than approval3. From this, it is obvious that this is a view ultimately conservative in its rootings.

The view is packaged with a strong association towards the free market; although Smith's ideas on the subject often appear wholly desirable, their practical use has displayed severe shortcomings towards poorer citizens. States providing no welfare whatsoever, such as South Africa, simply do not succeed: they bear witness to crippling problems of poverty and infrastructural weakness. These problems, combined with the reduced personal freedoms of stronger law enforcement, have seen this view of state role become a progressively unattractive one.

In recent times, the state as a paternalistic provider of law and order has been a vision adhered to by both 'One Nation' Conservatives and the 'New Right. ' The fact that Europe is currently dominated by administrations who are far removed from these, instead looking to social democracy and the third way for their rule, suggests that although this view of state role has not been entirely discredited, popular opinion currently lies elsewhere.

It seems electorates do not generally see social disorder as enough of a problem to necessitate the election of a party prepared to deal with it severely. That is not to say that the opinion is by any means dead – many would argue that hitherto, George W. Bush has displayed a penchant for the reinforcement of law and order, passing substantial legislation in the pursuit of increased security. Certainly, despite the aforementioned undesirable associations, the strong enforcement of law and order is a state role seen by many as a just one, especially in the current international climate.