Why should we have a state or why shouldn’t we?
Module: Introduction to Political Ideas PO1IPI
Andrew Levine defines a state as ‘regimes that invest supreme authority over particular territories or populations in a unified set of coercive institutions.’[footnoteRef:1] There are various arguments for and against having a state, however, those that are in favour of a state appear to be more convincing. The protection that the state can offer its citizens and examples of the stateless societies throughout history convey how society is better off in the form of a state. This argument has been backed up by Liberal and Pluralist theorists who argue that the state is neutral and offers a balance of power between differing groups in society. Despite persuasive arguments against the state by Neo-pluralist and Marxist theorists of anarchism and a lack of consent by citizens to the state, the arguments by those in favour of a state appear to be the dominant. Thomas Hobbes puts forward a strong justification for the existence of a state in his work ‘Leviathan’, where he sets out the idea that political obligation is necessary in order for society to function properly and for stability to be maintained. [1: A. Levine, ‘Political Keywords’, Wiley, 2007]
Firstly, some argue in favour of the state due to the protection that it offers its citizens. ‘We forfeit the right to protect ourselves as the state will do what is necessary for us.’[footnoteRef:2] This can be viewed as the ideal situation that a country could be in, however, in many cases states do not live up to this; states often fail to protect their citizens – for instance, many states ignore the needs of unfavoured ethnic minorities, as was the case in the alleged ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999 in which the former Yugoslavian government planned to expel the Albanian population of the state through inhumane measures.[footnoteRef:3] The failure of protection in some states has led to citizens having a lack of faith in the state that is supposed to shield them – for example, in the US, ‘citizens claim the right to own guns in self-defence.’[footnoteRef:4] This is a clear example of how no state can monopolise force and therefore will inevitably fail in their key responsibility as a state. Although this could be an argument for why we shouldn’t have a state, they still do offer more protection than having no state at all, even if it is only minimal at times. Moreover, examples of stateless societies exhibit why society is best off in the form of a state as it provides stability making it less likely of a breakdown in society.[footnoteRef:5] A state can collapse when its claim to exercise sovereign power is successfully challenged by another group or body. Examples of this include the stateless societies of the Lebanon in the 1980’s and what was Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s; both countries display the chaos that can erupt in a state, supporting the argument in favour of a state. [2:...