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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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1. The idea of the State has been under heavy criti-
cism during the last decades. Historians tend to con-
sider the State a comparatively modern phenomenon,
while some political scientists, for different reasons,
reject the notion altogether as useless and out of date.
Now, if it is certainly true that “States” have not
always existed, it is equally true that they have existed
long before being called by that name. We may hesitate
to attribute State character to the tribal organizations
of primitive peoples. But who could honestly deny that
the Greek polis was, in more than one sense, a State?
What then is needed, in order to write the history of
the concept, is to consider the reasons which prompted
its appearance, i.e., both the peculiar experience and
the particular ideal which it was devised to express.

According to a widely held opinion the merit—if
it be one—of first having brought into the limelight
the idea of the State belongs to the ancient Greeks.
It is difficult to see how this opinion can be seriously
challenged; indeed, many reasons can be given for the
special relevance given to the idea of the State in
classical Greek thought. The first and foremost may
well be a psychological reason, linked to a typical bent
of the Greek mind. The same desire for knowledge
which inspired the Greeks in submitting to rational
enquiry the nature of the world that surrounded them
was reflected in their attitude towards social and polit-
ical problems: they were a source of endless discussion,
indeed of passionate controversy at times. But along-
side this almost natural predisposition, there are other
reasons which account for the keen interest of the
Greeks in the problems of the State. They are to be


found in the particular character of Greek political
experience, with its complex variety, its very in-
stability, and its constant flux. Here was something
entirely different from the closed and static social
systems of the East. Here too was a mine of information
to exploit, of data to compare, in order to elicit the
basic laws of political development, centering around
the most efficient, the most elaborate, and the most
“perfect” type of human organization: the organization
of the polis or city-state.

Most efficient, elaborate, and perfect: thus did polit-
ical organization appear to the Greeks; different not
only quantitatively, but qualitatively, from all other
types of organized social life. Thus when Aristotle says,
at the beginning of his Politics, that the polis or politi-
cal association is “the most sovereign and inclusive
association,” he immediately adds that it is not size
nor numbers alone that distinguish political power
from all other powers that men exercise over men, but
a peculiar quality which that power possesses, a par-
ticular aim which it pursues: the attainment of justice,
that is, of a system of relations between men ensuring
certain standards and determined by law.

The idea of the State thus appears to be inspired
from the start by the awareness that, among all human
associations, there is one that stands out for combining,
however differently in proportions, might, power, and
authority: might, in order to be able to defend itself
from outside dangers and to impose upon its members,
if necessary, conformity by force; power, insofar as that
force is exercised in the name of and in accordance
with certain rules; authority, inasmuch as that power
should be considered legitimate and entail an obliga-
tion on those who are called to obey its commands.
These three properties have been stressed differently
over the centuries. The types of organizations which
possessed them have varied, and have been called by
different names. But such diversity is no excuse for
overlooking what they had in common, for it is pre-
cisely these common elements which have gone into
forging the idea of the State.

2. To the Greeks, the benefits to be obtained by
means of the State were of paramount importance and
such as fully to justify its power. Greek political expe-
rience, at least in the classic age, was summed up, as
we said, in the polis, the city-state: a small territorial
unit leading a precarious existence among a number
of rival cities and increasingly threatened by the ap-
pearance of new and larger types of States. Yet, in the
Greek view of life, this small and exclusive concern
was the very embodiment of perfection. Aristotle sums
up that view when he says that in it, and in it alone,
can man realize the “good life” and achieve the fulfill-
ment of his nature. More pessimistic views about poli
tics were certainly not lacking among Greek writers.
The importance of force was not overlooked: might
indeed seems at times to be conceived as equivalent
to right, especially in what we now call “international
relations.” Thus doubt could arise about the origin of
political power: however great the benefits which the
existence of the State entailed, how could this existence
be explained? Was it grounded on reason or force, on
nature or convention? The question, which the Sophists
asked, simply could not be raised so long as the State
was conceived (as it was by Plato and Aristotle) as the
necessary complement of man. As the bearer of the
highest values, the State stood in no need of any further

Turning from the Greeks to the Romans, we find
the restricted vision of the city-state gradually
broadening out into that of a universal empire. We
also find a new and quite different emphasis on law
as the constituent element of the State. Last, we find
that the State itself is no longer a bearer of ultimate
values. It is, rather, nothing but a means for obtaining
certain ends. Cicero's treatment of the problem in his
De re publica is particularly significant in this respect.
The accent is here shifted from the goal to the structure
of the State: it is partnership in law (consensus iuris)
and not common interest alone (utilitatis communio)
that makes a people into a State (res publica). There
exists, in any political community, a supreme power
(summa potestas) from which law emanates. In turn,
this “positive” law is subordinate to, and conditioned
by, the respect for a higher or “natural” law which
expresses the supreme values of justice and does not
vary from city to city, but remains “eternal and un-
changeable... valid for all nations and for all times.”

The idea of law was thus definitely inserted in the
idea of the State—from which it was not to be dissoci-
ated again for many centuries. Indeed, the Roman
lawyers of the Imperial Age developed still further the
legal theory of the State by singling out, among the
innumerable rules that determine human conduct,
those particular rules which define the use and the
distribution of power in the community. They gave
these rules a name, public law (ius publicum). These
rules expressed, in their view, the very essence of the
State—the status rei publicae. Yet on the other hand,
while contributing so decisively to the analysis of
power, the Roman lawyers bear witness to the radical
change that had occurred in the general view of life
and of the role which political institutions play in it.
The contrast between nature and convention has now
become the basic assumption of political theory. And
the State, like law itself and all other institutions that
contradict or limit the “natural” equality and liberty
of men, had to be justified either by explaining its origin


or by making it an instrument for the attainment of
particular values. Both philosophy and religion were
at hand to provide the necessary ingredients. The State
would appear for many long centuries during the Mid-
dle Ages as a consequence of and a remedy for sin.

3. But was there a State, and if so, where was it
in the Middle Ages? J. N. Figgis's famous dicta are
still repeated after more than half a century: the State
in the Middle Ages might have been “a dream, or even
a prophecy, it was nowhere a fact.... The real State
of the Middle Ages in the modern sense—if the word
is not a paradox—is the Church.... The State or
rather the civil authority was merely the police de-
partment of the Church.” Such sweeping judgments
are alluring and stimulating; but they rest on a gross
oversimplification of facts. If we do not let ourselves
be hampered by the confusing terminology, we can
find in medieval sources, at any rate since the turn of
the millennium, a clear awareness of the distinctive
features of political experience and a growing effort
to find appropriate names for the particular associa-
tions in which these features appear. Thus, in medieval
political language civitas usually referred to the city-
state which flourished in various parts of Europe, and
more particularly in Italy. Regnum was used to de-
scribe the territorial monarchies in process of formation
from the close of the high Middle Ages onwards.
Respublica was reserved in most cases for describing
a wider community, the respublica christiana, which
united all believers in one sheepfold. The angle of
vision determined whether that community was the
Empire or the Church.

There is no denying that, among these different types
of social organization, the medieval Church was the
one which preserved and presented most clearly two
of the features which we have listed as distinctive of
the State. With its claim to supreme jurisdiction—a
jurisdiction universally accepted throughout Christen-
dom—the Church could undoubtedly appear as the
highest earthly power, the moderator and source of
all law; while authority, almost by definition, was the
essential attribute of its spiritual rule. But the medieval
Church avoided in most cases the direct use of might—
effective enforcement and sanctions in temporal
matters—and would in fact have been unable to exer-
cise it except in its own small territorial domains.
When, at a certain comparatively late date in history,
the ambitious Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) pro-
claimed and even tried, as other popes before him, to
establish the universal lordship of the Church over the
whole world, the attempt ended in lamentable failure.
Had the attempt succeeded, then, and only then, would
the Church have become a State.

Medieval political writers were much nearer the
mark in tracing elsewhere the substance of the “State,”
even though they did not yet dispose of the proper
name for indicating it. Nothing is more interesting than
to watch the efforts they made to grasp the essence
of the new political reality which was beginning to
take shape during the last centuries of the Middle Ages.
They were helped in doing so both by the inheritance
of Roman legal concepts and by the rediscovery of
Aristotelian political thought which took place towards
the middle of the thirteenth century; indeed, it is
difficult to say which of these two influences was more
decisive. From their study of Roman law, medieval
writers derived the idea that what distinguished the
State from all other associations was the existence of
a supreme, “sovereign” power, of a “will that legally
commands and is not commanded by others.” They
further derived the distinction between public and
private law, which enabled them to overcome the
personal concept of power that was inherent in
feudalism, and to understand adequately the legal
structure of the State. To Aristotle, on the other hand,
medieval political theory was indebted for an entirely
new vision of the value and dignity of political life.
No longer would the State be conceived merely as
poena et remedium peccati (“the penalty and remedy
for sin”). Henceforward its authority would rest on
rational, positive grounds. Such views worked havoc
with the old idea of the unity of the respublica
A plurality of separate communities—of
civitates et regna—had already in fact taken its place.
The character of perfection, self-sufficiency, and sov-
ereignty could be ascribed to each of them individually.
But for the name, the modern idea of the State was
at hand.

4. There is a widely held opinion that the chief merit
for having definitely fixed and popularized the modern
meaning of the term “State” belongs to Niccolò
Machiavelli. This opinion is certainly in great measure
justified, but it should not be accepted without some
reservations. In fact, the word Stato had certainly
entered the Italian vocabulary of politics before
Machiavelli's times. And even by Machiavelli the word
was still used in different meanings which can be traced
to preceding linguistic usage. The word itself, philolo-
gists tell us, was derived from the Latin term status,
a neutral expression meaning the condition or way of
existence of a thing. As such, it could be used also to
describe the condition of a person (it still survives in
that sense in English: e.g., status, estate) and that of a
class (as in the phrases the “Estates of the Realm,” États
généraux, Tiers État
). A more strictly political use of
the word was the one we have already encountered
in the Roman sources, where status rei publicae is used
to indicate the legal structure of the community: it


is from here, very probably, that the Italian word Stato
is derived. Even so, however, the word was not entirely
devoid of ambiguity, since we find it used indiscrimi-
nately to indicate both the actual exercise of power—
the government—and the people or the territory over
which that power was exercised.

If we keep all these different usages in mind, we
are not surprised that Machiavelli should not always
be coherent in his use of the word “State.” All the
meanings we have listed so far can be traced in his
works, sometimes even within the same context. In The
however, where Machiavelli's language and
style are more plain and direct, and less hampered by
literary tradition than in most of his other writings,
we find the clearest evidence of the final adoption of
the term “State” to indicate an independent orga-
nization endowed with the capacity for exerting and
controlling the use of force over certain people and
within a given territory. It is in this sense that the word
came to be inserted in the political vocabulary of all
modern nations, although in some European countries
it had to compete with other terms derived from earlier
usage, or transferred from Latin to the vernacular. Thus
for example, commonwealth in English and république
in French continued to be favored for a while, and
were no doubt much closer to the Latin respublica than
“State.” It is only with Hobbes, always very careful
and precise in his use of words, that we find the three
terms, civitas, commonwealth, and State, definitely
equated. No doubt, in the course of the centuries that
followed Machiavelli and Hobbes, the notion of the
State was going to be enlarged and enriched with many
new elements. The most important of all was perhaps
the idea of nationality, which provided an emotional
basis for the new Nation-state. In view of the passionate
appeal to Italian patriotism which closes Machiavelli's
short political treatise, many authors are inclined to
consider him also on this count one of the forerunners
of the modern idea of the State.

In Machiavelli's thought, however, the idea of the
State was bound to be deeply influenced by his sharply
pessimistic and realistic view of human nature in poli-
tics. Force, and force alone, was to him the constituent
element of the State. Indeed, force seems to be not
only the condition of existence, but also the ultimate
justification of the State, since it is force that in the
long run creates authority. Machiavelli had primarily
before his eyes the petty Italian tyrannies of his day,
which had no solid foundation in old loyalties, and
where the only element of cohesion was the virtù of
the leader, the Prince, and his ability in wielding effec-
tive control of both internal and external matters.
Hardly any mention is made of law in Machiavelli's
short political treatise; it is only in the much lengthier
Discourses on Livy that the importance of sound legal
institutions (buoni ordini) is adequately stressed, and
characteristically enough, the reference is to the
Roman republic of old and only cursorily to contem-
porary Europe.

5. It is to a French writer, Jean Bodin, that we must
turn for an analysis in terms of law of the political
experience which Machiavelli had considered in terms
of force alone. It was a matter of making good that
claim to independence of individual States which, as
we saw, marked the end of the medieval idea of the
respublica christiana. It was a matter also of defining
exactly the nature of the power which, within its terri-
torial boundaries, represented the cohesive element of
the State. Bodin's chief merit was to coin an appro-
priate name for that particular element which, from
the legal angle, was the distinctive attribute of the
modern State. Others before him—the Roman lawyers
particularly—had already noticed that what gives po-
litical power its special characteristic is the use of force
in the name, or on the basis, of law, i.e., of a binding
standard of regular procedure; and hence they had
proceeded to identify the ultimate location of that
power from which the law emanates, the summa
“which legally commands and is not com-
manded by others.” Bodin called this power sover-
eignty, and with the help of this concept he set out
to unravel the nature of the State with a precision and
clarity that have left a lasting mark on subsequent
political theory.

Sovereignty is, according to Bodin, what distin-
guishes the State from any other kind of human associ-
ation. This means that it is neither size nor might that
counts on the international plane: a State remains a
State as long as it is sovereign. It also means, on the
internal plane, that social standing is irrelevant to the
impersonal bond of subjection that ties the citizen to
the sovereign. Sovereignty determines the structure of
the State: it may be exercised in different ways accord-
ing to the variety of governments, but it is basically
unitary and indivisible. Whether in the hands of one,
of a few, or of many, sovereignty remains qualitatively
the same, for it entails the monopoly of power—power
in the sense of control and creation of law—and not
only of factual supremacy and independence.

Thus was Bodin paving the way to the modern
conception of the State as the supreme arbiter of
human life—the conception which finds in Hobbes's
Leviathan (1651) its completest expression. Non est
potestas super terram quae comparetur ei
(“There is
no power on earth that compares with him”): the words
from the Bible (Job 41:33, Vulgate version) with which
Hobbes inscribes his great work sum up most concisely
what was henceforth to be the claim of the State over


both individual and society. No doubt the model which
Hobbes provided was bound to be corrected and
modified in many ways, and even in part discarded,
in the course of the centuries. Hobbes taught, with
Bodin, that sovereignty could not be divided. But he
overlooked Bodin's important distinction between the
location and the exercise of power. Later political
theory, without abandoning the idea that sovereignty
is the exclusive possession of the State, emphasized the
different ways in which the power of the State can
manifest itself and be brought to bear upon its subjects,
and thus developed the doctrine of the division of
power which has become the mainstay of the modern
notion of the constitutional State. Hobbes further
conceived State-law as the only possible type of law,
and he was certainly right in maintaining that the
jurisdiction of the State is supreme within its own
boundaries. But his notion of law, framed after an
authoritative, voluntarist pattern, was unable to explain
the existence of other laws, not “positive” in the sense
in which the law of the State is positive, and yet, in
their own way, “valid.” Last, Hobbes believed that a
unified society—one where no groupings should be
allowed that might foster divided allegiances—was
necessary to the well-being of the State. Here too, his
prophecy has been belied by later events: the modern
State has successfully adapted itself to the existence
of a pluralistic society. And yet the fact remains that
sovereignty in Hobbesian terms is still the basic
attribute of the State to the present day: of the State
that combines supreme power at home with inde-
pendence abroad—the “national State,” under whose
banner the world has moved, for good or for evil,
during the last three centuries.

7. Let us then examine briefly the different argu-
ments that have been employed in turn, during these
three centuries, in order to “legitimize” or justify the
power of the State, in order to endow its commands
with the chrism of authority. Some of these arguments
were very old, some new and original: but what links
modern political theory to the past, what indeed gives
political philosophy a peculiar degree of continuity and
makes it into a philosophia perennis, is the quest for
an answer to the query: Why should one obey the laws
of the State?—the problem we shall henceforth call
that of “political obligation.”

It is obvious enough that the problem of political
obligation is a meaningless question to those who con-
ceive the State as a pure expression of force. Should
Machiavelli be put among them? It would certainly
seem to be the case if we consider Machiavelli's endless
repetition of the need for ruthless discipline, and his
apparently unshakable conviction that consent always
follows constraint. But on closer examination it is not
altogether too difficult to find in Machiavelli a clear
awareness of bonds which prove even stronger than
the iron hand of the ruler, and make for the willing
subservience of the citizens to the State. Such are
traditional loyalties, sound institutions, love of liberty,
patriotism; and even where, as in the Italy of Machi-
avelli's days, such precious goods were irretrievably
lost or conspicuously absent, there still remained (ac-
cording to Machiavelli)—as a possible justification of
the rule of even a Caesar Borgia—the benefits which
stable power entailed: union, allegiance, and peace.
Machiavelli, the theorist of force, certainly deserves
to be remembered among the earliest “political scien-
tists” for his detached and objective analysis of political
phenomena. But he should also be given a place among
political philosophers, were it only because he was
keenly aware that force is not enough, and that how-
ever great the power of the State, it must, in order
to last, be endowed with authority (i.e., be recognized
as legitimate).

This does not seem to be the case, however, with
more recent theorists who refuse to see in the State
anything else than “the organized use of force by one
class in order to bring another into subjection.” This
well-known definition is from the Communist Mani-
Indeed, Marx and Engels proclaimed that the
modern State was nothing more than the form of orga-
nization set up by the bourgeoisie for the defense and
the guarantee of their property and interests. But the
idea that the State is merely a monopoly of force is
not restricted exclusively to the Marxists. It is, in fact,
shared by many contemporary political theorists, and
has gained wide support in connection with another
theory (also of remote Marxist origin) that provides an
explanation of the fact that obedience is in most cases
the result not of force alone, but of acceptance. This
theory stresses the importance of “ideologies” in poli-
tics; and political ideologies are described as the means
by which the use of force is disguised and made
acceptable in the name of beliefs and emotions widely
shared in a given society. Political ideologies, so the
theory goes, respond to a social need, and they are,
in a way, indispensable. But at bottom and in their
essence they are deceits, and the task of the political
theorist is to “unmask” them and show them for what
they are: skillful instruments for the domination of a
particular class or a particular man; at best merely
rationalization of an existing state of affairs, where
force still remains the decisive argument. If coherently
applied, there is not one single political ideal of the
last three hundred years that would escape the stric-
tures of this theory. Individualism as well as socialism,
egalitarian as well as liberal democracy—all can be
shown to be transient ideologies, destined to be dis-


carded or rejected once they have played their part.

8. A very different interpretation of such ideals can
be given, however, if we look at them not as devices
to cloak the brutal facts of political life, but as attempts
to interpret and give meaning to those facts, and to
pass judgment upon them on the basis of a precise
standard of value. From this point of view, what strikes
the observer is the predominance, in what we currently
call the “modern” as well as the “western” world, of
one particular standard, which from the turn of the
seventeenth century onwards is resorted to more and
more exclusively in order to account for political obli-
gation, and to justify the existence of the State. This
standard is drawn from considering the nature of man
himself. Indeed, it seems almost a paradox that at the
very moment in which the modern State, as the sole
holder of both force and power, emerges as the su-
preme arbiter and controller of man's life in society,
there should have taken place the unprecedented
assertion of the paramount importance of the “rights
of man.” Classical thought had conceived the State as
logically prior to the individual, as the condition for
the fulfillment of his nature and destiny. Christian and
medieval thought had turned to the will of God or
to the consequences of sin in order to prove the neces-
sity of political institutions. But now, and henceforth,
political theory would have to start, so to speak, from
the bottom: it was going to be progressively and sys-
tematically humanized and secularized. What took
place was a revolution in political philosophy; it might
be called a “Copernican revolution,” to paraphrase a
famous simile of Kant's.

Actually, this process of secularization and human-
ization of politics can be traced along two sepa-
rate lines, depending on whether the interest of politi-
cal theorists was focused on the ground or on the
purpose of the State. To provide a ground for the State,
now that natural growth or providential design were
no longer considered sufficient to legitimize power,
political theorists turned to the notion of the “social
contract”—an abstract notion for which some con-
firmation could be found in historical facts, but whose
rational value was entirely independent of that con-
firmation. The notion of the social contract underwent
several versions. It could be used to set up a framework
for constitutional government (as with Locke) as well
as one for absolute monarchy (as with Grotius and
Hobbes). It could provide an argument for resistance
and revolution, and at the same time one in favor of
the complete surrender of the individual to the State
(as is the case with Rousseau). But, however different
its uses, its basic elements remained unvaried, and these
in turn have become part and parcel of modern man's
attitude toward the State, long after the social contract
model had been discarded. These elements consist of
two propositions which are best stated in the very
words with which Jefferson gave them immortal
formulation, viz., “that all men are created equal,” and
that “governments derive their powers from the con-
sent of the governed.” Neither of these propositions
was entirely new or unheard of. The equality of men
had been proclaimed in the past by religious as well
as by philosophical currents of thought. Consent (or
acceptance) had been stressed throughout the Middle
Ages as the ultimate ground of the validity of law. But
if the bottle was old, the wine was an entirely new
one. What was new was the vindication of an equal
“right” in each individual to be respected both as a
person and as a citizen. What was new was the close
association of the respect for that right on the part
of the State and the duty of obedience on the part
of the individual.

But before we assess the final impact of such notions
on the idea of the State, one word must be said of
the theories concerning the purpose of State action.
Here, to put it briefly and in what may well seem at
first sight a paradoxical vein, the suggestion could be
made that the task assigned to the modern State was,
from its very inception, one of emancipation. To prove
the case one example should suffice, that of an author
who is usually considered a theorist of obedience and
certainly not one of liberty. One has only to consider
the contrast which is drawn in a famous passage of
Leviathan between the “state of nature” and the “civil
State,” in order to realize what benefits, what “values,”
according to Hobbes, are attained in the State. These
values are both material and spiritual; they concern
the comforts of life as well as the improvement of the
mind. They are what in modern terms we would call
“cultural” values; but cultural values are always, in
some way or other, associated with liberty, with the
free display of human initiative and energy.

It was left to later political theory to define and to
assess the means of securing that liberty, so as to make
it not a concession but the very aim of the State.
Liberty soon appeared as a complex and multi-faceted
concept, depending on whether greater importance
was given to the citizen's freedom from outside inter-
ference, or to his participation in basic decisions, or
to the removal of the obstacles which made of that
freedom and participation a sham. “Negative” liberty,
“positive” liberty, “social” liberty: such are the names
by which these different facets have come to be
currently described; and to each one of them there
does correspond in fact a different type of political
structure—the “liberal,” the “democratic,” and the
“socialist” State. But on closer inspection it is not all
too difficult to discover the common root of what at


first sight appear as widely contrasting theories, not-
withstanding the fact that in actual experience they
tend to be more and more intertwined and combined.
That common root is, once again, the paramount
importance given to the individual, the respect of
whose personality and rights has become part of the
modern idea of the State.

9. One last point must be stressed before terminating
this article: the view of the State which we described
in the last paragraph is a view of the State as endowed
with authority, not as the holder of power nor as a
pure phenomenon of force. It is the view which nowa-
days prevails in the West with regard to the legitimacy
of power and the grounds of political obligation; but
it is by no means the only “ideology” that has gained
currency in the modern world to ensure discipline and
obedience. Some of these ideologies are in fact new
religions (for example, Hegel's theory of the State as
the visible revelation of God in history), and hardly
deserve to be considered by the political theorist except
for the tragic consequences they have wrought. Others,
to be sure, are squarely and precisely what, as we have
seen, ideologies purport to be—mere disguises of a
cruel reality, of the fact that always and everywhere
there have been, and there are, some who command
and others who obey. This is certainly the case with
a theory which encounters much favor at the present
day, the theory which explains and justifies political
dependence on the ground of the basic inequality of
men. Once again, there is nothing new in a theory of
this kind. One can find it in the Politics of Aristotle.
The superiority of race or intelligence has always been
invoked as an argument by those who happened to
have the upper hand. In a more sophisticated vein,
the doctrine of inequality has been recast of late as
the doctrine of the elites, which, in some of its versions,
teaches not only that all governments have always been
of the few, but that the few who govern deserve to
do so because of their special gifts and mettle.

The trouble with the “elitist” doctrine is that it is
inadequate by itself to provide a ground for political
obligation, and hence to confer “authority” upon the
“governing class” of relatively few individuals who are,
according to that doctrine, the State. In fact, there are
two alternatives: either the elite is “imposed” or else
it is “proposed.” In the first case, clearly it is not the
merits or the intrinsic superiority of the elite that
matter, but its capacity to seize power, if necessary
by force. In the second, which is obviously the case
in modern societies, since those merits and that superi-
ority call for recognition and acceptance on the part
of those on whom the elite is to exert its power, there
must be one point at least where rulers and ruled are
on a footing of equality. In neither case does the
“elitist” doctrine offer a third solution, in addition to
the old alternative of force or consent—of might or
of right.

If a conclusion may be drawn at the end of this brief
enquiry, this can only be that the idea of the State
does not allow a single, precise definition, but varies
according to the different levels on which political
phenomena can be approached. We must be aware of
how greatly the idea of the State has varied in time,
and of the likelihood that it will vary considerably
again, even in the near future. In fact, the “national
State,” with its jealous assertion of sovereignty, its rigid
boundaries, and also its emotional patriotism, is fast
appearing to modern eyes—at any rate in Europe—as
becoming a thing of the past. A new, a supra-national
State, is invoked and longed for by many, one which
will be the signal of the disappearance of those nation-
alisms which have brought Europe to the brink of ruin.
But will this mean the disappearance of the State, its
“withering away”—to use the familiar Marxist phrase?
So long as there will be an organization capable of
controlling force, regulating power, and securing
allegiance, one thing seems certain: whatever its size
and its shape, whatever the name by which the men
of the future will choose to call it, that organization
will still be a State.


A. P. d'Entrèves, The Notion of the State, 2nd ed. (Oxford,
1969), includes an extensive bibliography, and is a source
used with the permission of the publisher, The Clarendon

For the history of the word “State,” an article by H. C.
Dowdal, “The Word 'State,'” in the Law Quarterly Review,
39, No. 153 (January, 1923), is still extremely useful. In
general, besides the “classics” referred to in the context,
any good history of political thought, like G. H. Sabine,
A History of Political Theory, 3rd ed. (New York, 1961), does
throw light on the idea of the State, its content, and its
historical development. One very stimulating book on the
subject deserves special mention: E. Cassirer, The Myth of
the State
(London, 1946). J. N. Figgis' much quoted descrip-
tion of the State in the Middle Ages appears in the intro-
ductory lecture of his Political Thought from Gerson to
(London, 1907). For a destructive criticism of the
idea of the State from the point of view of modern political
science, perhaps the most significant texts are to be found
in D. Easton, The Political System (New York, 1953), Ch.
4, Sec. 4, and Ch. 5.


[See also Authority; Church as Institution; Constitution-
alism; Democracy; Equality; Freedom; Ideology; Law, Con-
cept of; Liberalism; Machiavellism; Nation; Nationalism;
Social Contract; Socialism.]