Dictionaries describe the kind of state discussed here as a political association sovereign across a geographic area and population. Before the 20th century it was common for states to be ruled by monarchs whose theory was that their realm, their state, their rule, was created by God. This theory of state is known as the Divine Right of Kings.
A rival theory of state originated among those opposed to monarchical rule. A couple of Englishmen in the late 1600s, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, rejected the old Divine Right of Kings theory and described the state instead as a social contract, Hobbes believing that an authoritarian monarch was the best possible head of state and Locke believing in a liberal, constitutional, monarch. In the 1700s, Jean Jacque Rousseau came along and advocated a contractural state that was a republic. And at the end of that century, revolutionaries created a contractural, federated, republican state called the United States of America.
Some in the United States were to describe their state as having divine origins, as created by God for His purposes and the American Revolution's founders as His instruments. They saw the U.S. Constitution, a contract of sorts, as a part of this. But some of them also saw the state as a necessary evil. At least some wanted God's creation – the state – to be as limited in its powers as possible.
Rival theories of the state followed the American Revolution. There was Karl Marx later in the 1800s who defined the state as the institution used by the ruling class to maintain the conditions of its rule. Marx was followed by Max Weber, who described the state as an organization with an effective monopoly on the use of violence within its geographic area. And Weber was followed by the Fascists, who viewed the state as an organic cultural and national construct.
Into the 21st century, the state continues to embody laws that smooth over conflicts. In Stone Age societies, neighbors had disputes with each other that were often exercises in violence. Clans fought clans, and tribes fought tribes, and there were cycles of revenge. In Africa today, tribal conflicts still exist and states less than half a century old are trying to impose their authority over these conflicts.
Conflicts down through history sometimes arose from religious differences or were sometimes exacerbated by religious or ethnic differences. It was state power that managed the differences and conflicts and enabled people to live together productively and in peace.
In a democratic society, state power lies ultimately with the mass of its people. It is an historical phenomenon, derived from the attitude of people who thought it best to take power away from monarchs.
There was the Jewish state more than two thousand years ago ruled by a hereditary priesthood. And there are states today that depend on a combined religious and state authority – in Iran for example.
The democratic state recognizes that its citizens have different beliefs, values and interests and in this sense is not totalitarian.
In modern industrialized and democratic societies, religion is subordinate to state power – something that humanity has worked out from experience over time. The state supplies people with various freedoms that includes religious worship, the freedom of expression of ideas and the right to be treated equally by state laws. Otherwise, freedom is limited by the need to compromise, such as stopping for red lights, paying taxes and not smoking in public places.
In democratic societies, people are free to organize politically and to vote. Regardless of religious belief, one is obliged to obey the law. And an individual cannot punish someone who behaves contrary to their morality – as in assaulting homosexuals or abortion doctors. Punishment is the state's prerogative. But people can participate in efforts to change laws as they see fit.
That is the way it is, although some people in the United States are of a different opinion. There are people who think in absolutes and unhistorically who believe that freedom is possible only with no government. But a breakdown of state power has produced nothing better than local gangsters exercising a rule that involves blocking roadways and shaking down motorists. The anarchist's belief in freedom has been a delusion.
Some people are less absolute in their dislike of government but believe that freedom is curtailed by various forms of state involvement in the economy. This is an issue that has developed and resolved by choices that have differed in different societies. The Danes have been less individualistic and accept the state taxing them more. They hold more to the view of "we're all in this together."
Others, who favor less taxation and more individualism, argue that that this greater intervention in their lives by the state makes them less free. They dislike having their earnings confiscated in the form of taxes to pay for the welfare of others, especially others who have been incompetent in taking care of their heath and in making themselves useful to society.
In the modern democratic state the majority rules and the individual holding a minority opinion is left with various constitutionally provided rights including the freedom to complain.
The modern state, whether a constitutional monarchy or a contractural republic, works only when it has the support of a good majority of its people and those who find themselves in a minority accept their minority status. Modern, democratic states contain much diversity in opinion and require tolerance regarding opinion and intolerance regarding breaking state laws – no matter how passionate one holds a minority view or associates his view with divine authority.
Copyright © 2010-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.