The State and the Political System

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The modern-day social life in the developed industrial countries is connected to the modern state, representing the quintessential form of nearly all types of human activity. The state appears as omnipresent, regulating the conditions of life from the registration at birth to the death certificate.

Modern states appeared in Western Europe and on its colonial territories in the 18th and 19th centuries, whilst their origins reach back to the 16th century. Since their earliest days, they have differed from any previous forms of political governance in exercising a differentiating symmetry of accord between sovereignty, territoriality, and legitimacy.

The modern national state reached its climax in the late 20th century, when it rested on new mechanisms of international regulation such as the universal human rights regime, and was supported by the development of multilateral forms of international co-operation and co-ordination in international organisations, mainly the United Nations (Held, McGrew, 2000).

Theory distinguishes between two principal approaches to this modern form of the state: the functionalist and the organisational. The former considers the keeping of social order the central function of the state. The latter concept sees the state as a complex of institutions responsible for the collective organisation of social relations and funded from a public budget (Heywood, 2004). To be able to explain the effect of globalisation on the changing functions and organisation of the national state, the relationship between the state and the political system must be explained first. First of all, the state is considered part of a political system in modern political theory (Prorok, Lisa, 2002), not its embodiment. The political system then encompasses all the political entities, chiefly political parties and the ever emerging non-governmental interest groups (NGOs). These non-governmental (non-state) entities expose social, economic, environmental, cultural as well as political problems, make them political topics, which are then resolved by the state within the given legal and financial frameworks. Since the end of the 19th century, the state has accepted a growing number of functions, developing its institutional organisation accordingly. In the latter half of the 20th century, the state performing such functions was titled the ‘welfare state’ or the ‘social state’ (Luhmann, 1998). The all-encompassing functioning of the national state was based on the notion of sovereignty, however relative the meaning of this term might be in any specific historical circumstances. One of the typical manifestations of the omnipotent state was the post-war surge – however often temporary – of nationalised industries, absolute in its totalitarian forms, above all in the countries of the Soviet Bloc.

The post-modern development, as manifested after the collapse of the bipolar world in many post-totalitarian and developing countries, but not only there, has led to a phenomenon termed by political science the ‘hollowing out’ of the state (Heywood, 2004), partly in consequence of globalisation, partly due to implementation of the key instruments of the neo-liberal politics: privatisation, de-regulation, and liberalisation.