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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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Societal limits on the state

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This chapter, which deals with societal limits of contemporary states, will chart those actions originating from society itself that limit the power of states and their representatives. We have identified two main groups of these limits. The first may be summarised under the heading of the distrust of people in (their) state. Irrespective of whether this takes the form of distrust in state institutions, political representatives, or the possibility to formulate a common public interest, this reflects the attitude of a considerable part of society that does not consider the state in which they live to be their state. There are many reasons for such an attitude, however the effects are quite similar: alienation from the state and low motivation to become involved in state administration and decisions both of legal and political character. The distrust limits political representatives by making their ideas and power more difficult to implement because they must be prepared for a certain degree of resistance on the part of society.

The second group relates to how the many activities formerly carried out by the state or at least kept under the close supervision of the state are now often taken on by specific groups of citizens or organisations which cannot be simply subordinated to the state. These are activities of civil society with its initiatives, associations, not-for-profit organisations and also direct participation in state decision-making in the form of referenda, and also the effort to introduce elements of corporativist organisation and...

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