MODULE – II A Theories of state

1. Theory of divine origin:
One of the well-known old/classical theories. Based on 2 premises – (i) King is agent of God on earth. Therefore, to obey king is to obey God, disobedience would lead to heresy. Thus authority of king had divine sanctions & obedience to king was obligatory. Thus God is source of all powers of king. (ii) King was agent of God on earth. Therefore was account able to God and not responsible to people. Thus king was above all laws. Natural consequence of this theory – dictatorial form of govt where people were permanently subjugated before king’s authority – political awareness of people blunted forever. In course of time, divine origin theory of state was converted into divine right of rulers. Criticisms: (i) undermined responsibility of ruler towards ruled – led to autocracy/ dictatorship. (ii) also regarded as illogical. God embodiment of virtue and goodness. Same qualities sought in king – but he had normal weakness of humans. (iii) As expln of origin of state, this theory has no place in modern political theory; because its arguments are based on faith, not reason. (iv) Acc to J N Figgis, reason for decline of this theory lies in fact that today there’s generally an acceptance of proof and reason which denies role of faith. (v) This theory lies directly opposed to democratic form of govt, where form of authority isn’t imp – consent and sanction of people v imp. Instead it propagates dictatorial regimes where king isn’t answerable to people, only to God. Significance: 1st time showed religion played significant role in evolution of state. Because only way to compel them to obey ruler was to show that he’s direct representative of God – since people weren’t completely civilised.

2. Theory of force:
Explains origin of state in terms of analysis of human nature. Acc to this theory, basic instinct of humans crave power.1 This led to constant conflict b/w humans (in history). Thus primitive society presents picture of warring clans – engaged in constant disputes among one another. Stronger clans attacked, captured, enslaved weaker clans. Absorbed them in own clans. Led to formation of tribal society. Authority of tribal chieftain considerable – within territory. Marked emergence of political authority. Nation state emerged as most modern pol instn at much later stage of pol development. Hence acc to Jenks, historically speaking, there is not the slightest difficulty in proving that all political communities of the modern times owe their existence to successful warfare. Some other exponents – Peacock and Oppenheimer. Once nation state comes into existence, continuation of use of force. For internal and external security, therefore acc to Bosanquet, the state is necessarily force. Thus theory of force xplns origin of state in terms of force and force alone. Marxist expln of state: state is an agent/organ of class rule. Therefore state is an institution which exerts force in order to see that capitalists can permanently subjugate proletariat. State helped by police, army, bureaucracy, etc. Therefore speaks of class-less society – no class distinction, no state.2 Criticisms: (i) this theory always project that humans’ are constantly craving for power. Overlooks fact that we r social beings and want to live in harmony with fellow-beings. (ii) explns origin of state in terms of force alone. Other factors – religion, pol awareness, economic consciousness, etc. also apply.
1 2

More & more of it. E.g.- Tiananmen square incident in Sina

(iii) Anti-democratic (iv) acc to some scholars, use of force in modern times is obsolete.

3. Social contract theory:
State of nature – anarchy – before state. People wanted to break away from state of nature, entered into contract to abandon state of nature, voluntarily agreed to form civil society/state. This theory developed with writings of Thomas Hobbes, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and John Locke. Hobbes: state of nature – solitary, nasty, brutish, poor, short. As a result, constant conflict among people. Life span short. Situation of chaos and anarchy prevailed. People unhappy and insecure, therefore wanted to break away from and abandon it. Therefore made contract and voluntarily agreed to give up rights to common authority – Leviathan. By this, individual beings voluntarily surrendered all rights to particular individual/common authority – became monarch/ruler or in Hobbes’ terms – Leviathan. Implications: (i) king is not party to contract. Thus he is above contract. (ii) Therefore he isn’t responsible/answerable to people. (iii) He may choose to rule in any way he wishes to, people have to blindly obey. This means, people don’t have right to revolt against Leviathan, completely under his subjugation. Therefore, absolutist monarchy. Evaluation: criticism – (i) Portrayed selfish nature of individual beings – constantly fighting with one another – not true. (ii) Hobbes’ premise that indivs r guided by their activities by sole motive of self-interest doesn’t tally with concl that contract is irrevocable. (iii) Contract usually bilateral. Here, contract is one-sided because ruler isn’t party to it. (iv) Hobbes’ legal view of rights, as H J Laski observes, is insufficient to political philosophy; because it fails to distinguish b/w rights recognised by the state and rights which require recognition as indispensable condition for development of human personality. Very conception of rights emanates from moral personality of human beings. Legal sanction for them only provided by state. (v) Hobbes paved way for absolutism which led to creation of authoritarian state – directly opposed to popular sovereignty. Significance – (i) clear analysis of concept of legal sovereignty; (ii) laid foundation for analytical jurisprudence – later taken up by Bentham and Austin. Locke:0020gives next stage of devpmt of state. Starts with state of nature – but people here weren’t unhappy/insecure, but living peacefully. In course of time, confronted with few probs. 1stly, no definite system of law. 2nd, as a result, no judicial authority to settle disputes b/w people. Therefore no ultimate authority to maintain law and order as well as security. Bcos of these probs, emerged situation where people no longer lived in peace and harmony – wanted to abandon state of nature and form a civil society or state thru contract. Hobbes spoke of one contract, Locke speaks of 2 – social contract and pol contract. By soc contract, people surrendered only part of their rights to civil society or state. By pol contr, people on own initiative decided to set up king/monarch who would hav ultimate duty of serving (welfare of) people.3 Locke’s famous work – Two Treatises of Government Implications: (i) king is party to contract. (ii) Therefore, responsible, accountable, answerable to people – in sense that he shud look after wellbeing of people. (iii) If king behaved in irresponsible manner & failed to perform duties towards people, he would be overthrown. Therefore Locke supported right to revolt.


Limited form of monarchy – earliest proponents of Parliamentary form of govt.

(iv) Locke intro’d concept of limited monarchy as form of govt, where powers of monarch not absolute & limited by consent and sanction of people. Therefore ruler in power as long as people want him to be there. Evaluation: Significance – (i) intro’d doctrine of consent, which acc to Laski occupies a v. imp position in English politics. Govt acc to Locke must fulfil requirements of people. Therefore, accepted democratic ideals. (ii) Locke supported natural right of property. Thus 1 of earliest thinkers of economic individualism. Criticism – (i) Basic defect as Willoughby observes – he didn’t sufficiently distinguish b/w community as simply social aggregate and as political body, & that sov.ty in its true legal sense resides in latter and not former. (ii) Acc to Ernest Barker, Locke had no clear view of nature of sov.ty. Contradictory – spoke of supreme power of people, also attributed supreme power to legislature. Rousseau: final stage of soc contract by this French philosopher. Begins with state of nature. Didn’t speak of conflict – more or less harmony. In course of time, people face 2 probs. 1 st – overpopulation. Bcos of this, some amt of chaos. Life became disorganised. 2nd – emergence of pvt property. Divided people into 2 distinct economic classes – propertied class and property-less. With emergence of these classes – constant clashes, conflicts. Therefore, people wanted to abandon state of nature & form civil society/ state thru contract, but acc to Rousseau, people didn’t surrender rights to any king or monarch but surrendered to General Will. Implications: (i) General Will is an abstract concept and considered to serve general/common interests of society and not pvt interests of any particular section of population. (ii) No individual supreme power in society. Therefore against instn of monarchy. (iii) Rousseau completely denies representative/indirect form of democracy, accepts direct democracy. (iv) Imp advocate and initiator of concept of popular sov.ty.

Rousseau’s ideas found in his bk – The Social Contract. His ideas of liberty, equality, fraternity, justice inspired 18th and 19th cent movts for democratic rights, particularly French revolution of 1789. Another famous bk – On Equality. His concept of General Will has been exploited to serve the purpose of a totalitarian state. Strange to find adherence to both democratic and totalitarian rights in Rousseau.
Evaluation: (i) Rousseau had a passion for democracy. Emphasis on popular sov.ty served purpose of democratic upsurge against arbit rule. Endowed people with ultimate power. Moreover, his distinction b/w state and govt & effort to erect govt based on consent & sanction of people are in agreement with democratic creed. But this initial democratic promise ultimately eclipsed. In R’s view, General Will is always right. Hence state which is custodian of G W is always right. Thus he assigned moral primacy to will of state. In any conflict b/w will of state and will of individual, R’s theory always decides for the former. (ii) G W when translated in practical terms (acc to some scholars) is will of the majority. Minority must accept this majority will as G W or else they will be coerced. (iii) R didn’t make distinction b/w society and state and thus made possible total control of human life by state. For these reasons, R’s G W is regarded as Hobbes’ Leviathan with its head chopped off. (iv) R supported direct or primary form of democracy which speaks about direct legislation by the people. Not in conformity with size of modern nation state. Today they are mostly large, thus not possible for direct democ to operate there. Today legislation also complex, requiring technical knowledge & intellectual discipline. Therefore specialised people need to be employed.

Therefore most modern nation states hav adopted indirect/representative democracy. Criticism of soc contr theory: (i) Sir Henry Maine – there was no evidence of soc contr theory historically, and the fact that contract was beginning of society. (ii) Tom Paine – conception of contract criticised, b’cos it was externally binding & in consequence a dead wt on wheel of progress. Bcos very notion of contract binds succeeding generations to a particular set of ideas and notions. (iii) Acc to some scholars, this th is highly mechanical. Bcos state isn’t an artificial instn, emerging out of a mechanical contract. Rather, pol instns are natural instns which evolve and r not made by an artificial agent. Aristotle had a similar notion in Politics. (iv) Th quite illogically postulates existence of natural liberty & rights in state of nature. Rights are partly product of developed social consciousness and partly of laws. In state of nature, acc to contractarians, pol awareness was non-existent. Moreover, there was no pol authority armed with laws to guarantee enforcement of rights. Hence liberty and rights cudn’t prevail in state of nature. (v) Soc contr th, by reducing reln b/w state and indiv to some sort of partnership agreement encourages a sort of anarchy. Signif: (i) Acc to Willoughby, contractarians laid down early foundations of democracy. (ii) Th acted as antidote to divine origin th. (iii) Led to devpmt of modern th of sov.ty. laid foundation fo analytical school of jurisp – found in writings of Hobbes, later taken up and developed by Austin and Bentham. (iv) Concept of pol sov.ty discovered in Lockean writings. (v) Rousseau – exponent/champion of concept of popular sov.ty. (vi) Theory of separation of power – bulwark of political liberty – indirectly present in Lockean writings. Later taken up and developed by famous French philosopher Montesquieu in his famous Spirit of Laws.

4. Evolutionary/historical theory:
Acc to this theory, origin of state can’t be explnd by 1 element. Rather, this th xplnd that state emerged out of interaction and combination of no of elements. Therefore state is a product of steady process of evolutionary devpmt where 5 historical factors played v imp role. These r – i. Kinship – acc to McIver, kinship creates society and society at length creates state. Sociologists provided proof of fact that kinship played v imp role in evolution of state. Literally it means blood relationship. Primary unit of human society was family. In it, members were united by blood relnship. From family thread of blood relnship expanded leading to clans – formed tribes – then came nation, consolidated into nation state – final stage of devpmt. Also historians supporting view regarding ties of blood. ii. Religion – earlier stages of human history – people ignorant, semi-civilised, unaware of natural phenomena. Believed – unseen divine force to these phenomena. Taking advantage of their superstition, grp of people emerged as social superiors claiming they held power to prevent these natural phenomena. Primitive people out of superstition submitted before these social superiors and gradually started to obey them. In course of time, these social superiors estd their pol authority over society. This way, religion played imp role in formation of state, since religious fears united primitive people by common bond of respect for social superiors. iii. Force – used by primitive people to obtain basic necessities of life. Also used by tribal leaders to maintain order and discipline among members and also to maintain pol authority over entire tribe. Force also used by tribal members to defend themselves from attacks of other tribals. So from primitive tribes we can see that force was used as a means of selfpreservation & self-defence.


Economic activities – eco activities of people over long period of time led to emergence of society. In early simple economic sys, people’s eco activities confined to fulfil own basic necessities. In course of time, this transformed into more complex eco sys characterised by splsn of labour, which led to emergence of diff professions. State was reqd at this time bcos emergence of pvt property divided society for 1st time into 2 grps – propertied and propertyless classes. They constantly engaged in disputes. So new laws and regulations became necessary to control and regulate economic activites of indivs. v. Pol consciousness – by this we mean pol awareness reqd to establish a pol orgnsn which wud control their pol activities and give them proper direction. This pol awareness/ consciousness wasn’t present in primitive people. Grew with advancement of human civilization. Significance – regarded as one of the most obj theories of origin of state. More or less accepted by many political powers. Reason – this th isn’t partial or one-sided. As we know, divine origin th only explnd origin of st in terms of divinity. Th of force xplnd origin of st in terms of force and force alone. In contrast, this th has taken into consideration the above-mentioned 5 historical factors. Acc to some scholars, the state is neither the handiwork of God, nor the result of superior physical force, nor the creation of revolution or convention, nor a mere expansion of the family. So acc to this th, the state isn’t an artificial creation, rather it’s a natural instn which emerged out of a natural process of historical devpmt.

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