How much power should the state have and why?

von sophilos

The state is both a source of power and a container limiting the exercisable power to a certain territory. It claims a monopoly of legitimate force and at the same time acts as a sovereign simultaneously outside and inside juridical order – that is to say ‘the law is outside itself’ (Agamben, 1998). How then can such a sovereign claim legitimacy? Has he not freely admitted that he does not comply with his own set of rules – why then, should the political agent submit to them? Without the agents subordination, the state loses its very authority and can thus no longer claim the Weberian ‘monopoly of legitimate force’ within its territorial borders. I argue therefore that the modern state has no legitimate authority over any of its perceived ‘subjects’.

Yet the state has evaded the consequences of this chain of reasoning with great aptitude – it seems that the state has indeed convinced the majority of its subjects that its existence is beneficial for them and hence the rule of law for them is a legitimate one. It cannot be denied however, that the benefits the state provides for its people are out of balance: on the one hand the state serves to protect ‘existing property relations from the mass of the propertyless’ (Mann, 1987, p.120), on the other hand it serves in ‘maintaining social stability, providing infrastructural support, and sustaining an appropriate labour market’ (Faulks, 1999, p.38). In Marxist terms it serves to reconcile the problems facing capitalist accumulation. Accordingly it aids but the interest of those who possess monetary control – either direct qua ‘ruling class’ equals ‘capitalist class’ or indirect by means of representatives who legislate in favour of those who exert the most influence on them. Thus it comes to pass that the state in its servitude of power relations presents itself as a negative influence on civil society. Should negative influences not be rooted out, in other words, is the state not better if nonexistent?
Agamben, Giorgio. (1998). HOMO SACER Sovereign Power and Bare Life. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 November 2011].

Faulks, Keith. (1999) Classical Theories of the State and Civil Society. In: Faulks, Keith. Political sociology: a critical introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp.32-50.

Mann, Michael. (1987) The Autonomous Power of the State: Its Origins, Mechanisms and Results. In: Mann, Michael. The Autonomous Power of the State: Its Origins, Mechanisms and Results. London: Blackwell, pp.109-136.