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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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Contemporary states – European in particular – are great in terms of the scope of tasks of their governments, but weak in terms of their ability to carry out these tasks efficiently. This was our initial thesis. We attempted to formulate a number of hypotheses explaining why this is the case. Very significant are the expectations that are attached to a modern state which would have earlier been distributed among the church, community, different gilds, and the family. Expectations, often not very realistic, motivate the growth of the state; however various factors, or forces, act against it. We divided these into external and internal, giving a special position to human rights, which operate across the board.

As external limits on the power of the state we identified the deepening of relations within the international community, international law, European integration and the law connected with it, and also slightly less personal processes such as globalisation.

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