The origins and evolution of States

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What is a "state"?[edit | edit source]

Despite the political and social transformations observed since the end of the Cold War with the challenges of transnational corporations, social movements and the emergence of cities as political organizations, the State remains the primary organization. Most of what determines standards and rules originates in the state.

Political World Map in 2010.

This map is the vision of the world divided into states. Issues such as the emergence of a new state, the division of an existing state seems difficult to resolve. According to UN statistics among the list of 206 sovereign states, 16 are contested like Palestine, Armenia, the two Koreas. There are more and more independence movements such as in Scotland.

The modern state is a fairly recent appearance. The first political organization in terms of state was rather in the form of a city. Outside the city-state, empires were known as political organization. The evolution of States raises the question of whether it is really possible to explain the emergence of States by a single theory. Generally, the answer is "no" because there is a diversity of states. Instead of trying to advance a single theory of emergence, the emphasis is on training processes.

The definitions of States as they exist are extremely broad:

  • Painter and Jeffrey in Political Geography: An Introduction to Space and Power published in 2009 propose a broad definition:"(1) complex networks of relationships between a changing set of institutions and social groups; (2) the product of their own processes of institutional development and historical change.
  • In Coercion, Capital, and European States published in 1990, Tilly also proposes a broad definition: "organisations other than family groups, exercising coercion and having clear priority over all other organisations within a substantial territory".

Many authors wonder whether the state is a myth, an idea or a social construct. On the one hand the answer can be "no", on the other hand a qualified "yes" from the perspective that myths can be understood as social phenomena that give structure to everyday practices. The State manifests itself and is translated by our habits and practices in everyday life. When you cross a border, you bring a state into existence. According to Painter and Jeffrey, the state is not unified, but the effect of social processes makes it appear that the object exists.

From a political geography perspective, Painter and Jeffrey identify five characteristics :

  • precise boundaries;
  • substantial territories, administered through territorial institutions such as, for example, local and regional governments;
  • an institutional geography that translates into the location of agencies, parliaments, courts, military bases, etc...;
  • a state apparatus that allows it to monitor, govern and try to control the population;
  • although never complete, surveillance has always tended to increase.

Origins of States[edit | edit source]

Explanatory framework[edit | edit source]

To try to systematize the emergence and formation of States, we must refer to Charles Tilly who introduced in Coercion, Capital, and European States published in 1990 a diagram in order to divide the different explanations. He asks two questions:

  • Is the formation of the state independent or is it derived from the economy?
  • Does the influence on the formation of states come from inside or outside?

Through these two questions, which bring together the main factors, we have a diagram that allows us to target the explanations.

Source : Charles Tilly, 1990, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1992.
Source : Charles Tilly, 1990, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1992.

State theories are the most popular among historians. Training is considered independent of the economy according to internal factors. Political change is seen as precedent to economic change and the institutionalization of the state is the product of internal factors such as the preparation and conduct of war. For example, Samuel Huntington talks about "cultural differences" while Paul Kennedy talks about "unequal economic growth".

Geopolitical theories are theories that consider that the formation of states is independent of the economy, but this time the factors that drive the formation of states come from outside. State formation is a response to the international system. James Rosenau identifies four types of response: consenting, intransigent, promotional, conservative. These responses have different implications for state dimensions.

Source : Charles Tilly, 1990, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1992.

The theories of the mode of production emphasize the mechanisms of feudalism, mercantilism or capitalism within a Marxist perspective. For example, Perry Anderson studies the relations between aristocrats, peasantry and cities. The impetus for state formation comes from outside.

The theory of the world system postulates that sovereignty must be built through an interstate system of mutual recognition. Immanuel Wallerstein is interested in the extension of the division between capital and labour on a global scale within the framework of centre-periphery relations.

For Tilly, there is no positioning. On the one hand it emphasizes military coercion, which is the sovereign's interest in controlling precise borders, and on the other hand capital with the interest of cities, which has constituted the predominant form of state. In each corner of this pattern, there is a predominance of certain factors.

Military aspects[edit | edit source]

To explain the emergence of states, Geoffrey Parker in The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West published in 1988 speaks of "military revolution. The introduction of firearms in China in the 12th century, in Arabia as well as in Europe in the 14th century and in Japan in the 20th gave advantages to infantry. The borders equipped with fortresses participate in a military construction of the territory just like the European expansion overseas. According to Claval in Les espaces de la politique published in 2010, the military construction of the state has led to the creation of a space that is under uniform law. Blurred boundaries become geographical realities. Social competition began to be exercised by means other than the direct use of force, newly monopolized by the absolute power of the prince.

Economic aspects[edit | edit source]

With the increasing monetarization of states, monetary unification is indispensable for raising taxes. For production, economic exchange requires the definition and guarantee of weights and measures and the fixing of conversion rates. It is a new responsibility of the absolute sovereign. For Claval, there is no economic notion, but we speak of mercantilism: "In all this, there is not the slightest economic consideration in the modern sense of the term... his point of view is strictly mercantilist.

Sovereignty and the social contract[edit | edit source]

Absolute sovereignty[edit | edit source]

With the consolidation of sovereignty the social contract will emerge to legitimize the states in rupture with the feudal world. Machiavelli published The Prince in 1532 assuming that the Prince assumed the monopoly of power, received from God in delegation, in order to make peace reign within the territory he controlled.

The first theorists of sovereignty to legitimize this power were Jean Bodin (1530 - 1596) and Hugo Grotius (1583 - 1645) who proposed a definition of the state: "a perfect body of free persons who joined together to peacefully enjoy their rights and for their common utility".

It is in the context of a transition from a medieval monarchy to an absolute monarchy that sovereignty separates from the individual and moves towards a sovereign state. The Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 is an important moment in the process of state building, postulating that the right to conduct one's own diplomatic affairs remains with the territorial states and not with the empires of which they are a part.

The social contract: origins[edit | edit source]

In Les espaces de la politique, Claval emphasizes the social contract. In this period and in the works of the main instigators of the thoughts around the social contract, there are many elements that are still important today in the construction between space and political facts.

The social contract emerged in the context of the Reformation in the 15th and 16th centuries in the context of the emerging egalitarian ideologies of rationalism and criticism of religions: "the thickness of the social fabric is finally recognised by those in power". The answer proposed by the puritans is that the State and the authority were born from a covenant which testifies to the will to assume a common destiny. Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679) deprived the traditional religious hierarchies of their political influence and delivered the prince from the moral magisterium of the Church. Hobbes is also known for the notion of Leviathan as a metaphor for the state that protects societies, but also to whom one submits. By submitting to Leviathan, citizens create a new order that ensures harmony among all. We go from the State of nature to the Civil State.

The social contract: liberal versions[edit | edit source]

For John Locke (1632 - 1704), the parties of the social contract must be independent for the agreement to be valid. It emphasizes the right to property, which predates the social contract and finds its justification in work as an essential part of being. Ratzel also places a strong emphasis on the ground. The social contract does not install power in an absolute, but gives for mission which is to allow the blooming of each one.

Locke argues that there is a dual requirement that sovereignty is grounded only in the population it concerns[1] and that government must be aware of social problems and ensure public representation in developing the law on its behalf[2]. Locke proposes a division of power between executive and legislative.

In the liberal versions, nation is placed as the foundation of sovereignty. It is a geography of authority and legitimacy that is being shaken. For a power to be legitimate, it must be the emanation of a community, of a social entity that pre-exists it. Political territory must merge on the nation. The distribution of groups with a common consciousness makes it possible to draw the boundaries. The liberal regime that meets the expectations of all is the administrative system that is coupled with an autonomous circuit, namely popular representation through an elected Parliament and electoral constituencies.

The social contract: revolutionary versions[edit | edit source]

With Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 - 1778), the social problem was not to defend humans against themselves, but to protect individuals from the harmful influences of group life. The social contract serves to save what is religious, emotional or mystical in nature and not to exclude it.

Kant (1724 -1804), Hegel (1770 - 1831) and Marx (1818 - 1883) brought these arguments which were already opposed at the time to the liberal and dominant versions which contributed to the formation of the State. For Kant, in order to think the world, the political space must orient itself to the individual and to all humanity. Hegel postulates that the state is the instrument of pure reason, all becoming is explained and is justified by the future state. For Marx, the end of history is man finally realized, the proletariat is the instrument of the last phase of history.

The State and Society[edit | edit source]

The social contract focuses on the relationship between the state and society. It is a crucial element that is regularly found in the ways in which the State enters into a relationship with society, conceives the separation or unity of society and the State, the reciprocal influences of the State and society and the ways in which societies fit into the State within the framework of spatial perspectives.

For Ratzel in Géographie politique published in 1897, the State and the People are a unit referring to Hegel for whom the State is a realization of the spirit manifested in the people. In The Nature of Geography: A Critical Survey of Current Thought in the Light of the Past published in 1939, Hartshorne rejects the Razelian notion of the state as an organism, but accepts its definition of the state as a selection of lands and a selection of organized humanity as a singular unity. Harvey published Monument and Myth in 1979. For him, the State is part of society and integral to the functioning of capitalist societies. In Du Gouvernement des vivants published in 1979, Foucault approaches governmentality with the fact that the State begins to be interested in the "population" in the 20th century outside the survival of the State, "the art of government" becomes "political science", the supply of public goods requires new resources and knowledge. Jessop published Liberalism, Neoliberalism, and Urban Governance: A State-Theoretical Perspective in 2002. He refuses the commodification of the state by emphasizing the relational and procedural nature of state formation.

High politics, low politics[edit | edit source]

Haute politique et basse politique 1.jpg

High politics is about politics of war, peace, diplomacy, everything about the existence of the state, the primary concerns of states. This guard summarizes military expenditures as a percentage of GDP.

Low politics concerns politics, transport, health expenditure, education, social benefits in particular, which emerge in the context of a transformation of the relationship between the State and society. For Foucault, states are beginning to better understand societies to better control them refers to the concept of low politics.

The indicator on the left represents per capita health spending. The indicator on the right represents per capita spending on higher education.

There is a general trend of transition towards lower policies. The type of state that emerged at the end of the 19th and at the end of the 20th century was a state that would invest more in low politics. This does not mean that high politics is disappearing. In general, the trend is for state investment to focus on low politics. We generally talk about the emergence of the welfare state.

The welfare state and its geography[edit | edit source]

What is a welfare state?[edit | edit source]

The welfare state is a system of administrative units providing health, education or a type of state that is a unifying concept that emerges after the fragmented evolution of services. The concept of the welfare state is used to describe liberal states of origin. The welfare state system is a political compromise as part of a radicalisation of society in order to reduce the attractiveness of more radical solutions. It is a political compromise that serves as a force against communism.

The development of the welfare state took place in Europe from the 1890s to the 1920s through social security systems in the event of industrial injuries, incapacity to work, or the introduction of retirement pensions. In the United States, the welfare state emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and with the establishment of the "New Deal" in the 1930s following the Great Depression.

John Maynard Keynes: 1883 – 1946[edit | edit source]

The concept of the welfare state has become synonymous with Keynesianism. It advocates greater state involvement in the economy. Keynes published in 1936 The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money which postulates that government can influence the demand for products and services which affects the employment rate. During a recession, the government must stimulate demand by reducing taxes or increasing government spending. Debt is repaid when the economy recovers. Social security payments provide a minimum of economic consumption to prevent a recession from becoming a depression. Keynesianism works best when national economies are relatively independent. During the 1970s and 1980s, Keynesian states began to experience problems.

There are several types of welfare states with liberal variations as in the United States and Canada, conservative-corporatist as in Germany, France, Great Britain or Italy and social-democratic in the Scandinavian countries.

The geography of public services[edit | edit source]

There is a whole geographical reflection behind the emergence of the welfare state with a strong political commitment to geographical universalism which aims to ensure access to services to be guaranteed regardless of where one lives. All low policies imply a strong spatial dimension. In practice, inequalities are common. With the concept of "territorial justice" involving a strong spatial dimension, the aim is to analyse the location of public services such as universities, hospitals or public transport networks.

Crisis and change[edit | edit source]

Claval highlights a number of elements that lead to the crisis of the welfare state. The level of taxation by the political system after the war was made possible by an economic configuration favourable to industrialized countries. There is a whole series of international elements and structures like the Bretton Woods system that allowed the welfare state system to be put in place.

For Claval, the crisis of the State comes from the upheavals of the world economy and the loss of sovereignty from above, from below through decentralization and deconcentration and from the lateral with multinational and plurinational companies as well as with non-governmental organizations.

What remains for the state is surveillance, postulating that "contemporary evolution leads to the despoiling of state systems of almost all of their prerogatives. They keep only one: the power of coercion. Thus, "what is called into question today is a conception of politics that is insensitive to today's difficulties and sufferings". Consequently, authority is granted only for very short mandates and must be renegotiated on a permanent basis, according to the principle of good governance, with the various groups in the territory. The State's authority to enforce the law is revocable, the law becomes provisional in nature: "The nation-state is dead".

New land management problems are emerging. The crisis of the welfare state is based on decentralisation with a need to maintain national coherence and competition between territorial entities. There is also increasing economic competition with spatial implications, in particular increasingly marked spatial distributions, such as the emergence of growth poles around metropolises. This crisis is also characterized by the concept of "Not in my backyard" whose challenge is to locate incineration plants, waste dumps, parks, reserves, nuclear centres, etc. These are challenges that pose problems for the welfare state.

For Claval, "the disappearance of the State is not an option". The issue is the transformation of the state. The welfare state has not disappeared, but it has been restructured on neoliberal foundations. What has changed is the way public service budgets are allocated and the nature of service delivery. The state becomes more interventionist targeting particular groups with an increase in conditionality. Workfarism is the fact that beneficiaries must "earn" benefits through behavioural changes.

Summary[edit | edit source]

State establishment is a complex social process, not a unilinear development towards a "modern state" that is more efficient, more democratic, or more enlightened. There is no theory of the state. The social contract can be understood as a myth that is created to deliver sovereignty from its religious tradition. In the new political organization of the sovereign State, legitimacy comes from the people. For the liberals, the state can already assume responsibility for all choices; for the revolutionaries, responsibility belongs to the minorities that are the intellectuals and the proletariat. The geographical dimension of the formation of States is reflected in the precise delimitation of borders, the exclusivity of territories, the location of the State apparatus and the development of population monitoring tools.

The welfare state appeared in Europe after 1890 and in the United States after the Great Depression. It aims at the provision of services in education, health, housing, etc. with a universalist geographical perspective. Although its forms vary, the welfare state is found only in the richest countries. The welfare state began to suffer in the 1970s with the upheavals in the global economy leading to a loss of sovereignty from the top, from the bottom and from the side. This model suffers from internal contradictions: its activities threaten the inputs that are essential for its survival; administrative processes become too complex. The welfare state is changing towards workfarism which is the fact that the individual becomes responsible for his well-being, benefits are subject to conditionalities.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]