States are essential elements in the constitution of our freedom. Discuss.

Essay, 2002

9 Pages, Grade: 1+


The moral standing of states is one of the most essential issues in contemporary international relations. Wars have been fought and lives have been lost in the name of the state. A majority of people seems to value states very highly, or they would not be prepared to give their lives for the protection of the state. Being a member of a state must thus have a number of valuable advantages and generally be regarded as a good thing. But is also evident that not every state will do for every group of people. In the struggle for a state of their own many groups and nations have fought and still fight violent wars[1]. Different states are valued differently by its citizens.

However, the question about the moral standing of states is not a simple one and cannot be answered with reference only to taste and preference. The state is a fundamental concept of the international order since the 17th century and has been internalised by every actor in international relations. An international order without the state is hardly to imagine from a classical point of view. And even critical thinkers have problems explaining what comes after the state, how does the world look like without the state?

It seems appropriate to firstly look at what the views on the state of different groups of thinkers is. Namely, the far right and the far left (Marxism), the communitarians, the liberals and the ‘secular hegelians’ as well as cosmopolitans. The view on the state is fundamentally different among these groups. Interestingly, only the far right and the Marxists want to see the state abolished completely as for them the state limits individual freedom and exploits its people.

To explore the positive features of the state in more detail, this paper will secondly look at the advances citizenship has over civilianship. A number of the rights we all hold as members of civil society have been developed further in the state. And although Marxism claims that the state is merely a superstructure to facilitate exploitation of the working class, we will show that being a member of a state adds a whole new set of rights to the set of rights – consisting of first generation rights – we already have.

The question is, whether states are of any distinct value to us or whether states just stand in the way of our individual freedom. Therefore, this paper shall conclude that the state is an ethically valuable institution. The state might not be a perfect institution, nor is it an ideal solution for everyone everywhere[2], but it seems there is no real alternative to the state. Even critical thinkers have not been able to find a satisfactory description of how our world would look like without states.

Interestingly, only two schools of thought deem the state entirely unethical and seek to abandon it completely. These can be found at each end of the political spectrum: the far left (Marxism) and the extreme right. Both groups certainly have totally different reasons for denying the state any ethical value, but reach the same conclusion: that states must be replaced.

Marxism for example accuses the state of being nothing but an instrument of exploitation. The state is seen as an artificial superstructure, created by the ruling class for which it has obvious benefits. But the vast majority of the population is oppressed by the state and cannot enjoy personal freedom. Pointing out that it is not the state that oppresses and exploits the people but the capitalist system, will lead not very far, for it is the state that supports the capitalist system and facilitates its success. In order to undermine the power of capitalism it is only appropriate to seek overcoming the state.

The far right also regards the state as an unethical institution. However, the far right points out that the state limits personal freedom on a day to day basis. States demand certain things from their citizens, for example paying taxes, serving in the military or obeying laws and rules of the state. Thinkers of this tradition regard this as too much limitation of personal freedom and thus deem the state as an unethical construct.

Liberals argue in a similar way to the far right but conclude that the state is, nevertheless, the only appropriate institution to protect our individual freedom. The liberals recognize that without a state system we would live in a Hobbsian state of nature. Individuals would be free to do whatever they want to do in the state of nature but must constantly fear that other individuals or groups will be stronger than they are themselves and are thus entirely occupied protecting themselves. The state of nature thus only gives individuals a form of pseudo-freedom not worth anything.

It is only the state that can provide enough power to protect its citizen efficiently so that the individuals can enjoy their personal freedom. The only problem that occurs is that of balance. How does one get the maximum protection from the state without handing in too much individual liberty? Locke has suggested a contract that would lay out the limits, rules and conditions of being a citizen in a particular state. These imaginary contracts between rightsholders of civil society to form a state are the moral basis for the state and protect individual rights.


[1] Current examples would be the Palestinians, the Basques in Spain, the IRA in Northern Ireland, the Chechnians in Chechnya, the list could be extended.

[2] Particularly in the Third World states seem to be an inappropriate institution. The number of failed states among the newly independent states of Africa is extraordinary high suggesting that the Westphalian State cannot be the correct solution.

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States are essential elements in the constitution of our freedom. Discuss.
University of Kent  (Department of Politics and International Relations)
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States, Discuss
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Patrick Wagner (Author), 2002, States are essential elements in the constitution of our freedom. Discuss., Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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