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State as a Giant with Feet of Clay

Edited By Jan Kysela

Many contemporary states, even the European ones, resemble a giant with feet of clay. They tend to be greater in terms of the scope of governance, rather than in terms of their territory or population. Since they are great, they are also costly, though often very limited in various respects. One perilous alternative is the state-giant of Thomas Hobbes. But there are other possibilities as well, such as the liberal state, effective, yet small or lean; or the dreamt-up state of the conservatives, based on the principle of subsidiarity, acting only as a complement to civil society. The fundamental thesis in this book is that the states in which we live are great, however weak. The book then discusses the main categories of limits on state power, such as human rights, international law, EU law and societal changes.
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The image of a giant with feet of clay seems to be an apt metaphor for contemporary states, and even more so for European states. Such states tend to be greater in terms of the scope of government and its work, rather than necessarily in terms of their area or population. Since they are great, they are also costly, however often not very strong, and hence limited in various respects. Clay feet are susceptible to excessive humidity on the one hand and excessive aridity on the other – that is to say, they may often prove to provide insufficient support for the body of the giant. A recumbent giant without the ability to move is a powerless giant. And a powerless state is a useless state. One alternative to a weak giant or failed state - a phenomenon more often found in Africa - is the effective state-giant of T. Hobbes, a bloated version of which was exemplified by the totalitarian systems of the 20th century. An alternative of another kind is the liberal state, also effective, however small or lean; and possibly also the dreamt up state of the conservatives, based on the principle of subsidiarity, acting only as a complement to civil society.

Our fundamental thesis is that the states in which we live are great, however weak. This is not necessarily a very original idea. We will, nevertheless, attempt to summarise the causes and symptoms.

I.Contemporary scepticism about modern state

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