AEGEE International Politics Journal

Why state still matters?

The post was written by Ivan Bielik (email

In recent times we are witnessing diminishing role of state in the society. There can be various reasons for this process. Globalizing economic relations that surpass national borders, emergence of supranational organizations or international justice all mean that state slowly loses its competencies. But before we accept this notion, try to look back on the context and causes which encompass such case. State is still necessary for organizing society within its borders and guarantee of, what some ethical philosophers call, social justice.


However, before building case for state existence, let’s look at historical lesson from the times when state was too-embracing. There is a period of history, especially in Europe, when state became totalitarian tool for managing society. Fascist and Communist regimes utterly controlled people. Especially one thing is similar to every totalitarian state – the endeavour for erasing all parts of civil society which stand between the political power and individual citizen. That means various unions of workers, artist associations or non-governmental organizations were constantly under pressure during dark history of totalitarianism in Europe. These parts of society provided services and ideas which were in contrast with all-embracing state ideology. Thus, they were shut and persecuted, because of their intermediary role in society.

What the link between this historical lesson and present? In fact, nowadays state becomes such intermediary actor in global relations. Of course, globalization is not the same as totalitarian state. Nor is it, a priori, bad thing. It only creates similar circumstances which favour state as an intermediary actor. Just consider dogma of economics about “invisible hand of market” or reluctance of interventions from any form of community (there is only individual being in economic perception of world). To sum up, nothing should stay in the way of economic forces for growth and production. Obviously, such approach is dangerous. I will try to explain it in three points.

First, state is not preserving only culture, but also social cohesion of population. Through taxation and social policy[1], society shares solidarity and cohesion. Economic and social relations are two distinctive elements of society. While in economic field everything is fluid, quick and based on cost-benefit analysis, in social sphere most of the processes are slow, rigid and based on harm-evaluating effect. This notion is not new. This is, however, important in the view of economic effects which are too quick for adaptation of society. It is not so easy for people to move for better job, because they are influenced by various causes which are not applicable for capital or money. Capital does not have emotions, language or relatives. It is only a thing. Instead of people who have to overcome language difficulties, separation from the close family and friends and challenges accompanying assimilation in other country. They are humans, not emotionless thing. Therefore, it is much easier to move capital than people. That division creates poverty, lack of jobs or excluded workers who are not able to find decent job. We will be blind if we claim that such effects do not exist. And in this case, the role of state is important. The state complements services which modern economy cannot offer. It is called social policy. Therefore, state becomes intermediary actor and mitigates consequences of global economy.

Second, there is also ethical question. Mostly, modern neo-liberal teaching does not contain ethical questions. Ethics is quite different from rational calculations which dominate modern economy. But the existence of human and community is directly connected to the question of ethics. Is individual responsible for himself only? Does not their behaviour influence others around? What should human do in order to preserve community where it belongs? Such dramatic questions are missing in economic theory. That means such ethical questions should be answered by something else. Again, state can fulfil such role and produce very good results when it takes to regulating society and guaranteeing social peace.

Third, preserving state is linked with preserving democracy. This point directly infers from previous ethical argument. The notion of democracy, the style how society is governed, is incompatible with economic global relations. In the economic world, there is hardly place for rule-of-law, voting procedures and community. Democracy is not about cost-benefit analysis and profit or graphs and numbers. It is about people who constitute it and are involved in its retaining. So far, democracy works only in state. It would be foolish to think that globalizing economy could substitute democratic procedures, because the nature of such relation is not similar to notion of democracy. Thus, democratic rights and freedoms could be sustained only with regulating role of state.

All in all, the times of withdrawal of state has not yet come. Even if there will be persuasive evidence that state is corrupt, inefficient or bureaucratic, do not forget that state is still essential for managing human society. Till these days, nothing better was discovered, no plausible alternative. We should find proper balance between economic activity and social needs. But I am more and more afraid that the world is slipping to the age of injustice and extreme poverty (just see the figures of South Europe). State role could prevent such consequences if we dare to make case for the appropriate role of state in economy.

[1] E.g. unemployment benefits, vocational training or tax reductions for poor or students.


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  1. Hei

    Since this article aims more or less for the same direction as the one about the EU loosing controll to lobby parties I like to reply.
    First of all I do not believe that most states are strong enough to withstand the temptation of bribe and lobbyism and hence the influence of economical parties in most gouvernments grow. Plus, we are already experiencing corporations accumulating more power than whole states – this power has to be balanced in two ways.
    First the power draining from gouvernments by economical influence has to be reversed, second the power accumulation in the hands of structures not legitimated by elections has to be limited, maybe even reduced.
    Power drainage can, for instance, be reversed by more active citizenship and strict separation of state and economy (similar to secularisation) – it must become harder to influence policy by waving with money bundles.
    Power accumulation can be limited indirectly by keeping economical structures at a certain size (limiting its value and employee number) or directly by introducing democratic organs in corporations of a certain size (election of CEOs etc. by the workers).
    I would not say that states are the best solution to handle the problems of a society (this highly depends on the state and its policy), but actually up to now they are – in the normal case – the most practical solution in order to counterbalance any other power accumulation (which are either global players or banks); but they still (or again?) need great improvements on balanced gouverning (even our model states).
    [Here I refer to Colin Crouch – Postdemocracy]


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