Forms of state

This is an attempt to list many possible categories, forms, and properties of states. Why? Because it is wrong to assume that the nation state is the only possible form of state, the result of inevitable historical evolution. There are many possible forms of state, now and in the past: this list is intended to indicate that plurality.

Only a few possible states are considered in political theory. Much writing on the subject has been done in 'strong' states - older, well-established, western nation states. The dominant liberal tradition is only marginally concerned with the types of state. It sees 'The State' from the perspective of citizens oppressed by it (by the absolute monarch, in historical terms). This is the perspective of defensive democratic liberalism, and obviously the conclusion is in favour of the liberal-democratic state. Even within this liberal tradition, however, there are different possible states, and many more outside it. Existing characteristics of state and society can be used to generate other variants, by a form of cross-tabulation. Academic study of the state does not, however, encourage this kind of speculation.

Academic approaches to the theory of the state include the archaeological/ historical approach, which asks: "How, which or what was the first state?". This approach assumes the first state represents in some way the core or essence of the state. Anthropological theories of the origin of the state were summarised by John Hoopes in 1996: Major theories for the origin of the state.

The historical-metaphorical approach asks the question: "Given the state, what is it?" There is a long tradition of metaphorical answers, the 'ship of state' is one of the oldest and best known. Alexander Demandt (Metaphern für Geschichte, München, 1978) lists these:

Staat ... als Bau, als Bild der Gerechtigkeit, als Bild der Welt, als Familie, als Fessel, als Fluss, als Gedanke Gottes, als Gemälde, als Gewand des Volkes, als Gewebe, als Hafen, als Harmonie, als Haut, als Konservendose, als Kristallisation, als Lyra, als Maschine, als Metallprodukt, als Organismus, als Produkt einer Alterstufe, als Schiff, als Spielstein, als Überbau, als Uhrwerk, als Wagen.

The age metaphor is different in that the state is not seen as a certain age itself - x years. Instead the state is compared to a person of that age: this is part of a wider life-cycle metaphor of history. Other metaphorical approaches to history also imply or generate associated metaphors of the state: health metaphors, seasonal metaphors, planetary metaphors, river or tidal metaphors, voyage or pilgrimage metaphors, circular or cyclic theories, wider theatre metaphors, and judicial or trial metaphors. No comparisons are too ridiculous, especially for nationalist historians. States and nations become sick, become the old man of Europe, are overrun by the tide of invasion, enter into the orbit of other states, go through a bitter winter of their existence, rejuvenate themselves, embark on a quest, play a new role on the world stage, face accusations, defend themselves in the court of world opinion, and return to their starting point. The metaphorical approach, by its wide use, has become a folk theory of the state.

The philosophical approach asks: "If there was no state would we invent it, and in what form?". Mainstream liberal political science has a more limited approach: it begins with the existence of the (modern) state, and it concentrates on government, its powers, and the limitation of its powers. Some sociological theories treat the state more or less as a name given to a particular exercise of power, including state theory in a general theory of power. Marxist and neo-Marxist approaches are generally functional: the state is in historical perspective the instrument of a class. Finally, there is a possible 'theory of the state' which simply denies its existence, but there seems to be no such tradition. None of these academic approaches set out to list possible states: making lists is regarded with deep suspicion in academic quarters anyway.

The sociology of the state is to a certain extent concerned with listing its tasks. Renate Mayntz (Soziologie der öffentlichen Verwaltung. Heidelberg, Karlsruhe: Müller Juristischer Verlag, 1978, p. 44) categorises 5 basic, ahistorical and abstract, 'functional goals' of the state (Staatsfunktionsbestimmung):

  1. Regelung der beziehungen zwischen einer Gesellschaft und ihrer Umwelt: dies heisst mindestens Sicherung der Systemgrenzeen nach aussen (= aussere Sicherheit), kann aber auch Expansionsbestebungen einschliesen. Im übrigen gehört hierzu das ganze grosse Gebiet der internationalen Beziehungen.

  2. Regelung der Beziehungen unter den Systemmitgleidern, und zwar sowohl zwischen Individuen wie zwischen Gruppen (= innere Ordnung).

  3. Sicherung der Handlungsfähigkeit des politisch-administrativen Systems, vor allen durch Sicherung der nötigen Ressourcen; hierzu gehört die Eintreibung von Steuern, aber z.B. auch das Aussehen von Wehrpflichtingen.

  4. Versorgungs- und Dienstleistung: Befriedigung kollektiever Bedürfnisse über die innere und äussere Sicherheit hinaus.

  5. Steurung der gesellschaftlichen Entwicklung auf bestimmte Ziele hin; zolche Ziele können u.a. sein: nationale Integration, soziale Gleichheit, Aufbau des Sozialismus, Demokratiserung, aber auch wirtschaftliches Wachstum, bessere Volksgesundheit, Erhöhung des Bildungsniveaus.

So why is it useful to conceive of possible states and state tasks? First, because it undermines the passive acceptance of the nation state, and of existing nation states. That is especially relevant in Europe, where a number of geopolitical alternatives to these states exist, even in the short term. Secondly, because a plurality of states opens possibilities, which may be impossible within any single state. Asking what the state is for, may make internal politics within single states irrelevant. The answer to a political issue inside a state may simply be: create a new type of state. The longer the list of possible states, the more likely that is to be true.

State forms are listed below by their characteristics and functions: that assumes that state and society are at least partially separate. Four categories are used, with some inevitable overlap. The first includes non-functional qualities of the state, that take society as it is: in themselves, they imply no alteration of society. The second category includes states that structure society, particularly by arbitration and administration. The third category includes externally oriented states, oriented to for instance historical process or the natural environment or other nonstate factors. The fourth category is for state functions primarily oriented toward other states, and the list ends with the best known and most controversial of these: war.

First category taking society as it is, not altering society, non-functional qualities

Second category - structuring of society

Third category - external orientation, but not to other states

Fourth category - international, directed at other states

To determine the category for any possible state, several questions can be asked about it. Firstly, can such a state exist without other states? If the answer is No, then it belongs in category 4. Can such a state exist if there is nothing outside its boundaries? If yes, then it belongs in category 1 or 2; if not, then in category 3 or 4. Can such a state exist if there are people but no states outside its boundaries? If not, it belongs in category 4. Can society remain unchanged under such a state? If yes, then it belongs in category 1, 3, or 4; if not then in category 2. And could such a state exist without doing anything, or if it stopped doing anything? If yes then it belongs in category 1. In many cases, however, the tags in the first category simply refer to qualities of the state, rather than its functions.


_______1- non-functional qualities of the state, not altering society

_1.1 - properties

1.1 - personification (monarchy), glorifying the rulers 1.1 - decadent, collapsing, "sick man" states

1.1 - depth, complexity, elegance (of structure), self-perfection, divinity (divine monarchies)

1.1 - unicity, rarity of states

1.1 - state's position in serial order of states: archetype or first state, 'mother state', derivative states, successor states

1.1 - indeterminancy, vacant, dormant

1.1 - far-reaching, "strong"

1.1 - gender, femininity, grammatical qualities (mood)

1.1 - gigantism, megalomania

1.1 - having a purely collective quality (population density)

1.1 - limited in scope, range

1.1 - legitimacy

1.1 - seasonality, seasonal change of forms of government, cyclic of structure

1.1 - emergence, renaissance, birth, becoming, crystallising 1.1 - impermanence: interim states, mandate territories 1.1 - self-awareness, sentience

1.1 - smallness, "small is beautiful", community states

1.1 - styles of state: architectural style, literary style, art style, Baroque states 1.1 - possessing something, possessing territory, intestacy (not possessing anything)

1.1 - conspirative, closed, secretive

_1.2 state functions which in themselves do not alter society

1.2 - achieving numerical structures of the state itself 1.2 - regression to an earlier form of state

1.2 - visualisation of social structures

1.2 - professionalisation of itself

1.2 - loyalty to one person

1.2 - prison states

1.2 - self-selling, self-legitimising

1.2 - accounting for its own doings, accountability, access to itself

_______2 - structuring of society: state tasks, goals, and functions with effects on the population

2 - achievement of social structures, or structure metaphors of the state 2 - achieving other structures or forms 2 - achievement of metaphors of history with the state as a part of that metaphor 2 - amplification, diode or triode states, trend-advancing, damping, catalysation, stirring up, adjusting 2 - assembly of a society from parts (usually a metaphorical process) 2 - promoting or stabilising a basic unit of society 2 - demobilisation, demilitarisation

2 - dividing internally

2 - gradation, creation of internal gradients 2 - mixing (through migration), multiculturality, hybridisation

2 - any purely collective task or goal, by definition inaccessible to an individual

2 - purification of structures and/or metaphors of society

2 - release of energy, potential in society

2 - demographic: natalist, contra-natalist, managing demographic transitions and population decline

2 - spatial structuring 2 - oscillation between two forms of government, of society, bistable states

2 - contraction, compression, adaptation to loss of territory

2.2 - conservation of (ethnic) identity, museum states

2.2 - dissolution of contract or obligation

2.2 - promoting self-interest, liberal morality, end of ideology 2.2 - statistical convergence within the population, quota enforcement, elimination of discrimination

_2.1 - structuring of society/...arbitration

2.1 - appropriation of property, redistribution

2.1 - interethnic states

2.1 - legal codification

2.1 - monopoly of force

_2.2 - structuring of society/...administration, government and development

2.2 - internal amusement, fun states, Disneyland states 2.2 - classification of citizens [apartheid South Africa]

2.2 - facilitating actions of individuals or groups

2.2 - internal exploitation by elite [Sklavenhalterstaat]

2.2 - vigilance, warning of general threat, astrology, explaining the unpredictable, forecasting, warning of trends

2.2 - suppressing change, stagnancy, conservative states

2.2. - religious

2.2 - secularisation

2.2 - imposing linguistic uniformity (or diversity)

2.2 - meeting basic needs/tasks (in a hierarchy) 2.2 - mobility in itself, immobility in itself 2.2 - communalisation (of social activity, meals) [kibbutz]

_2.2.1 - pure administration

2.2.1 - assignment of tasks and job descriptions to (selected) citizens

2.2.1 - state as apparatus of collective decision-making for an existing (nonstate) group

2.2.1 - falsifying data or statistics [weather report DDR]

2.2.1 - specification, specifying mutual wishes of citizens

2.2.1 - setting of standards and norms 2.2.1 - assessment, valuation (of citizens), e.g. for medical ethics, moral grounds, religious

_2.2.3 - "development"

2.2.3 - educating, Erziehung

2.2.3 - economic and social development, with or without modernisation

2.2.3 - economic growth, prosperity, economic management

2.2.3 - public works

2.2.3 - modernisation as such

2.2.3 - civilising, civilising process, decivilisation

2.2.3 - corporatism

_______3 - external goals, external to the state itself

3 - knowledge 3 - self-preservation

3 - causation (of long-term historical processes)

3 - expansion, conquest

3 - facilitation of robotics, automation

3 - adaptation, "evolution"

3 - meta-functions, meta-states

3 - reproduction of itself, duplication, multiplication 3 - isolation of itself 3 - structuring the nonstate 'outside' 3 - control of a hostile environment, protection/avoidance of natural disasters

_3.1 - external direction/... history

3.1 - chiliasm, awaiting the end of the world

3.1 - conforming to the style of the time, Zeitgeist

3.1 - cycle facilitating (hypothetical)

3.1 - finding roots, ancestors, laying claim to history

3.1 - fulfilling a prophecy, god's plan

3.1 - predictive states, models of the future

3.1 - recreation of the past

_3.2- external directions/...nature

3.2 - ecology 3.2 - genetic 3.2 - nature: helping nature, more than restoring, promoting evolution

_______4 - international, directed at other states

4 - nationalism: the nationalist functions of the state 4 - trade, import-export 4 - channel between states 4 - translocation to another territory [Nauru]

4 - monumentalism, making an impression (on foreigners)

4 - external control, occupation 4 - abundance, scarcity 4 - advocacy of third parties

4 - arbitration among other states

4 - assembly of other states from non-state material, nation-building nations

4 - being part of a larger state, federal states

4 - neutrality, non-intervention

4 - circumvallation, withstanding siege, shelter building

4 - consequence of another state, inevitability, residual 4 - debate, ritualised conflict or exchange, rhetorical, orational, discourse 4 - defence of boundary of larger state, marches 4 - delegation and devolution as prime task: federal states established by external powers [postwar Bundesrepublik]

4 - ecological niche in an order of states

4 - exercising human roles or functions, towards or for other states (usually metaphorical)

4 - exemplary states 4 - external exploitation, colonialism [Sparta and helots] 4 - expiation [Widergutmachung]

4 - facilitating international order, balance

4 - hegemony: structuring orders of states 4 - helping: treatment, cure, doctor states, teacher states 4 - open / closed, xenophobia / xenophilia 4 - level in a hierarchy of non-state groupings 4 - meta-functions with respect to relations with other states 4 - obeying (Newtonian) laws, for instance gravity models of interaction among states

4 - part of an order or structure of states with internal effects on the population in each state, such as neo-feudal orders of states

4 - reactive/unreactive to/with other states

4 - repressor, inactivates other states, inducing fear by existence

4 - role playing toward other states, international theatre

4 - sign states: marking, brand ['plate glass window' West Berlin in Cold War]

4 - uniting, re-uniting broader groups, pan-states

4 - virus states, 'colonising' others internally, liberated zones 4 - war states [Preussen]

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