EAGLE St.- to Index

THE MISSING CONCEPT OF STATE

In the debate about the "Decline of the State as Historical Agent" there is a strange omission. Dr. Tuija Pulkkinen asked: "If the Lockean tradition of liberal thought never embraced the concept of a doubly abstract state, the state as an agency, then how can it be in decline?"

"My suggestion is that what is at stake here is a reaffirmation of the absence of the concept of state in this discourse. To assert a 'decline' is to reinforce the absence. My hypothesis is that the Locke-based liberal tradition originally denies the term 'state', and later translates this term into the almost synonymous term 'government'. This allots it a negative place while the strong notion of popular sovereignty is present in the notion of 'Civil Society'".

"What does this lack of the doubly abstract concept of state mean in practice, then? One might -- provocatively -- say that, because it is connected to a certain kind of utopianism, it shows not only a failure to grasp that states exist, but also a failure to face the political issues of what to do with and about states. In this sense, one could claim, it suggests a certain political impotence. So, I conclude with this provocative thought: might it not be a case of wishful self-deception on the part of the Lockean strand of the liberal tradition to claim that there is occurring something like 'a decline of the state as historical agent'? And are we, perhaps, just routinely repeating truisms of the Lockean tradition of liberalism: the non-existence of the state as an agent?"

Tuija Pulkkinen works at the Department of Philosophy, the University of Helsinki. Her doctoral dissertation "The Postmodern and Political Agency" will soon be published in Britain.

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