The state can be seen as a concept which has emerged over thousands of years in order to sustain the needs of societies growing in size and complexity. This growth in size and complexity was coupled with the growing need for authority and order, due to special mechanisms being needed for society to benefit from its increased social power and productive capacity (Petho, 2010:6). State formation passes through stages of development and hinges upon ecological, demographic, economic and political factors (Petho, 2010:2). As a result of this, not all states developed in the same way.
States which developed prior to 1945 and post-1945 experienced very different state formation as well as a changed economic environment (Spruyt, 2007:223;25). This literature review will aim to analyse the literature covering the way in which the modern state is defined as well as the two theories which discuss how it came to prominence as we know it today, additionally reference will be made to how the modern state differs from the post-colonial state in Africa.
The modern state is a concept which does not hold a universally accepted definition largely due to the inability of all scholars to agree upon a brief generally acceptable definition, as asserted by Pierson (2004); he raises the notion that even the concept of the state itself remains unresolved as the questions which surround the state cannot be answered with absolute certainty (Pierson, 2004:1). Although, the most famous definition is provided by Max Weber and it defines the state as a “political institutional organisation” whose “administrative staff can successfully exercise a monopoly of legitimate physical force in the execution of its orders” (Anter, 2014:11).
However, across the reviewed literature there are a set of common characteristics which are prevalent as the requirements a state needs to meet in order to be considered a modern state. These criterion are much influenced by the above-mentioned definition as well as Max Weber’s work in general, they are as follows: 1. Monopoly of the Means of Violence This monopoly, or control, of the means of violence is in many ways the primary characteristic which is most often cited when discussing the features of the modern state. This is largely due to it being given great prominence existing at the heart of Max Weber’s 1 above-mentioned definition (Shennan, 1974:2).
While Shennan (1974) merely explains that the monopoly of the means of violence denotes that a state possess the capacity to impose itself should its rule be questioned or challenged, Pierson (2004) elaborates by raising the notion that the monopoly is found in the fact that only the state is legitimately allowed to use coercion in order to get its way. He stresses the importance of the state as a form of organized violence (Pierson, 2004:7). Shennan (1974) however does raise the question as to how one would distinguish between the legitimate and illegitimate use of force and for this reason scholars succeeding to Weber have since dropped the factor of legitimacy from their definitions.
2. Population Samson (2012) stresses the importance of population or citizenship as the essential basis of statehood as a state cannot exist without the presence of its citizens. The modern state does not recognise nomadic practices therefore inhabitants must reside within the state’s territory in order to gain citizenship. This citizenship bestows individuals with equality within the political community (Samson, 2012:363).
However, Pierson (2004) contests this as he goes on to say that not every individual residing within a sovereignty will enjoy full citizenship rights, as citizen status is not always distributed equally and in a just manner (Pierson, 2003:22). Pierson (2004) views the concept of citizenship as one which is exclusive, rather than automatically granted on the basis of residing within the borders of a specific polity. 3. Territory Anter (2014) suggests that population alone cannot constitute a state, he cites a variant of Max Weber’s definition which expresses that the state is “a human community that [successfully] claims…a given territory” (Anter, 2014:21).
In this way Weber’s definition makes the distinction between a nation and a state, as a nation is a group of people sharing a common identity with no requirement for a permanent geographic location, whereas Weber clearly affirms that a state requires a specific location. However, Anter (2014) lacks in providing the specifics of what a territory entails and this is built upon by Pierson (2004) who elaborates on the significance of a clearly defined territoriality.
He goes on to express that territory includes definite borders, land surface, the underground wealth [minerals] , air space as well as the maritime belt. It is essential that states defend their territorial integrity ferociously and should possess undisputed control over its jurisdiction (Pierson, 2004:9). Territorial contiguity is another concept which is raised by Pierson (2004) which denotes that 2 a state should geographically be a composite whole. This concept of territorial integrity is better understood when combining the ideas of Anter (2014) as well as Pierson (2004) in order to get a complete view of the concept.
4. Sovereignty Pierson (2004) cites the definition of Hinsley who defines it as “the idea that there is a final and absolute authority in the political community, no final and absolute authority exists elsewhere”. Pierson (2004) critiques this definition as it gives the impression that the sovereign can do whatever it wants, although, it is bound within the limits of its jurisdiction. Samson (2012) considers sovereignty to be the most important factor when considering the state, as it is the defining characteristic which sets it apart from other types of social organization. He provides a more functional explanation of the expression of sovereignty.
A state can be said to be internally supreme if the large majority of its population willingly obeys its laws and has the ability to punish those who transgress, a sovereign is externally sovereign if it is free from foreign control and maintains an independent external policy of its own. This externally sovereignty is also achieved if the states authority is recognised in the international system (Samson, 2012:365-68). 5. Unit of Organization Government is the concrete expression of the state, people may reside in a particular area but that inhabited land cannot be deemed a state without common government.
Otherwise it is merely just an unorganized mass of people, a common authority is essential for the creation of the state (Samson, 2012:366). Samson (2012) asserts that the government is the agency through which the will of the state is formulated and executed. Government consists of three branches – legislature which makes the law, executive which enforces it and judiciary which punishes transgressions. This ability of the state to pass law as well as punish those who breach it is a distinguishing factor of the modern state (Samson, 2012:366).
These are the five characteristics which have made themselves most prevalent across the reviewed literature and which a modern state can be defined by; however, these features are not the only way in which the modern state can be considered. Spruyt (2002) brings forth the notion of considering the modern state as an ideological revolution free of defining criterion. 11TH CENTURY EUROPE IS WHERE THE ROOTS OF THE MODERN STATE ARE FOUND AND IT IS IN THIS PERIOD 3 where a significant shift in ideas and societal beliefs took place, this was marked by the reduction of religious conceptions of governance coupled with increasingly progressive thinking (Spruyt, 2002:131).
This shift sparked a development of a sense of individualism as humans came to understand their importance as individuals as opposed to merely being part of large social entities. Spruyt (2002) cites these factors as the reason as to why the state became to be considered as an idea, an idea of a contractarian environment through which there are constant social and economic transactions between ruler and subject. Reference is made to the social contract of John Locke which declares that rule is only deemed legitimate if the people approve, citizens therefore realized their power recognizing that they did not just form part of some pre-ordained order (Spruyt, 2002:133).
Spruyt (2002) provides us with an alternate definition of the modern state which provides a new perspective rather than attempting to classify a state according to a set of characteristics and is therefore way less rigid a definition. Across the reviewed literature, the postcolonial state is not defined in such detailed and explicit terms; however, before we can understand the post-colonial state we need to briefly discuss the concept of post-colonialism as proposed by Childs & Williams (1997).
Post-colonialism is a field of study which attempts to address matters of knowledge pertaining to the post-colonial identity of a decolonized people, it is best understood as the globalization of capitalism (Childs & Williams:19). The post-colonial state lacks a concrete definition and is essentially just described as a state which has previously been subjugated by a foreign entity and has since gained political independence through revolutionary or other means (Freyhold, 1977:75).
This is then substantially different to the way in which the modern state has been defined. Freyhold (1977) raises other differences as well, such as the fact that the post-colonial state is not as much under the control of the classes it rules as opposed to the modern state. In this way the state stifles the activities of the middle class by imposing strict restrictions, the state also imposes itself in the economy of the country and assumes economic initiatives which would otherwise be left to the private sector in the modern state. Another major difference raised by Young (2004) is that the post-colonial state finds its power entrenched within traditional authority which allows the state to enjoy robust domination over the population, state power is highly personalized through cults devoted to the ruler (Young, 2004:35).
Young (2004) even goes so far as to assert that state power is paternalized, as the relationship between government and its citizens is like that of a father and his children. It is in this manner through which the ascendancy of the ruler is maintained 4 (Young, 2004:35). This type of power and authority differs significantly to that of the modern state where much of the power is derived from legal-rational authority in which clear rules and regulations form the basis of authority. However, one of the major differences between the post-colonial state and the modern state is the way in which they formed and spread, which will be discussed below.
The modern state is now a common feature of the international system, and a widely globalized political form across the world. With regards to the way in which the modern state developed in Europe, there are largely two theories which seek to explain this occurrence: the warfare theory and the economic trade theory. This is considered to be the European model of development (Krohn-Hansen & Nutstad, 2005:12). Whereas the literature on how the post-colonial state developed outside of Europe is largely pinned down to colonial, cultural and political pressures of the 1800 and 1900s.
The warfare theory which emphasized the importance of military development, this explanation rests on the notion that warfare had a great impact on state capacity. As military equipment improved the scope of warfare was increased and therefore military contingents became larger (Barkely & Parikh, 1991:527-528; Spruyt, 2007: 214). These large armies did however come at a steep price and due to the constant warfare within Europe, there was an issue of raising enough capital to fund these wars. Therefore, the need for the imposition of a new political order, or the modern state, was due to external conflicts.
Barkely & Parikh (1991) suggest that there was a bargaining between the state and its population and even the suggestion that European state makers threatened to wage war unless ‘protection’ money was paid. Thus, the concept of the modern state presented state makers with the opportunity for development of taxation structures as well as the coercive structures to enforce them; additionally the state could provide its population with a guarantee for safety in order to win their approval (Spruyt, 2007:214-215). According to this theory, this is how the state formed in Europe.
However, in contrast, the economic trade theory acknowledges the impact of warfare but rather points to economic changes which marked the end of feudalism and the move to early capitalism and politically consolidated states. Spruyt (2007) stresses that states which did not possess the means to increase and modernize their economies beyond the feudalistic agricultural model were left behind. Countries which could not develop at a fast enough rate were displaced by more powerful states and lost their share in the world market trade. Spruyt (2007) proposes that because of this, states realized that they had to advance 5 their economies in order to compete with other nations and the model of the modern state was the appropriate way to achieve this.
The post-colonial state in Africa developed in a much different way to that of the modern states in Europe. Southall (1974) remarks that the most striking feature of the post-colonial state development is its progression from a colony through to one-party states and military dictatorships; this in many ways characterizes the post-colonial state in Africa. The leader who was responsible in heading the liberation movement in the quest for liberation, is often the one who maintains control in a form of dictatorship after independence is achieved (Southall, 1974:157).
This leader will then fend off opposing parties by increasing the capacity of the armed forces in order to maintain control in a one party state; however, the military quickly realizes that they actually possess the power and consequently overthrow the current government and in many cases establish a military dictatorship (Southall, 1974:158). Post-colonial states did not experience the same type of conflict as modern states, as opposed to external conflict African states experienced a greater degree of civil war and internal conflict (Southall, 1974:156).
This is a general overview of how the stages a post-colonial state in Africa is likely to go through, some states in Africa still do not enjoy democratic rule. According to the literature reviewed, defining the modern state is a controversial issue as there are a vast number of differing perspectives regarding the concept of the state. Although amongst the sources analysed, there was ample common ground found specifically pertaining to the features of the modern state as opposed to a single universal definition. The literature brought to light the two main theories discussing state formation in Europe as well as how the post-colonial state differs from the modern state. 6 Reference List: Anter, A. 2014. Max weber’s theory of the modern state. [S. l. ]:
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