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June 1, 2013 / C H Thompson

State-Centered Theories

So far we’ve covered a number of perspectives of the state. We’ve seen pluralists argue society-centred theorists’ argue the state reflects the views of its people; elite theorists put power in the hands of a small minority; Marxists sees the state as being shaped by a ruling-class; while neo-Marxists argue the state has relative autonomy from the ruling class, but as the state was part if the superstructure it inevitably serves the interests of the ruling-class.

For Nordlinger all the above perspectives are effectively all society-centred because social-groups – be they large or small – influence the state in some form or other. In contrast Nordlinger’s argument is the state acts independent to its people, to the extent it acts autonomously through three mechanisms.

Type 1 – state autonomy occurs when the state has different wishes and desires to the people – usually via civil servants who can

  • set the agenda through decision or non-decision making
  • use honours system or government contracts to opponents

Type 2 – state autonomy by manipulating public opinion to support government thus wining the argument, for example Ian Duncan-Smith manipulated jobless figures in relation to benefit cap as well as the state trying to manipulate public opinion to further reduce access to legal aid

Type 3– state autonomy when the state supports policies by powerful interest groups in society for example Britain’s Israel Lobby

Another influential state-centred theorist is Theda Skocpol. Like Nordlinger she argues pluralists, Marxists and neo-Marxists all assume the state is shaped by external pressures because state’s are autonomous structures that have interests all of their own which it can act on because:

  •  sovereignty alone gives the state reason enough to do as it wishes
  • the more tax revenue it collects the power it has, therefore the richer a nation the powerful it becomes
  • the wealthier a state the better educated civil servants it can employ which deprives non-state organisations from employing more able individuals who would then challenge the state’s power.

For Skocpol then a state ability to hold power or not depends on the extent to which opposition groups in society are organised or not. Therefore a state becomes more powerful if it stops or outlaws opposition groups. But states are vulnerable to globalised terror, global markets, think of Greece and Ireland and are vulnerable to internal organised groups.

For example in United States and the United Kingdom, the last few years have seen a flood of collective action, as primarily middle class groups – affluent, well-educated white adults in the Tea Party, disaffected college students in the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy London movements – have taken to the streets. While not genuinely embracing revolutionary tactics, such protests are linked by grievances that transcend singular policies and speak to a more general displeasure with the system as it is operating, part of a grand narrative that professional politicians have lost touch with citizens and are unwilling to defy vested interests to make tough decisions.

Certainly, in terms of class interests alone, the “squeezed middle” in developed countries could feasibly make common cause with more traditionally repressed fragments of society to realise an overhaul not just of one particular regime but the system itself.  The complete article this is taken from.

You can read more on Skocpol’s thoughts in a brief interview in May 2013.


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