The State can be seen in many shapes and forms, from military dictatorships to direct democracies. But as we enter the modern-day, certain types of states and their principles become irrelevant. To be able to keep with the progress of time without analysis of the current political world, we need to understand what is relevant and what has died off. In our current political world, democratic governments are no longer diamonds in the rough, as they are numerous. These governments serve not to empower themselves but to serve the people they represent (Kennan, 1985). The thing that allows for these democratic governments to remain relevant in today’s day and age is the consent from the people they represent. The people give control to these governmental structures and thus their power. The power of the state is given and legitimized by the people who consent to be governed, and while there are those willing to be governed, state power shall stay relevant.
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The power of the state and its monopoly on the use of violence is legitimate and relevant today, but only legitimate and relevant while it has the consent from the people to be governed. Max Weber, a political thinker, said that democracy is, “characterized by the gradual emergence of a fourth form of legitimacy, a domination which derives its legitimacy from the will of the ruled’” (Schroeder, 2016). The State maintains this legitimacy, and thus its relevance, while the people it governs allow it to have power. This power generally consists of the monopoly on the use of violence and control of the aforementioned governed people. The State can lose its relevance by falling so out of touch with the governed that the governed take away the State’s monopoly on the justified use of violence. An example of such cases is the American revolution against the British Monarchy. The colonists had been subject to multiple taxes and policies that they believed were passed without their consent, which is shown by John Otis, who was an American political activist during the revolution, saying, “Is there the least difference, as to the consent of the Colonists, whether taxes and impositions are laid on their trade, and other property, by the crown alone, or by the parliament? As it is agreed on all hands, the crown alone cannot impose them” (Otis, 1766). Otis’ words back up this theory that the State’s relevance is based on the consent of the governed. Eventually, the American colonists broke the Monarchy’s monopoly on force, thus taking the Monarchy’s power and relevance. But the consent of the governed is not just aligned with a state’s relevance.
The State’s relevance is not the only aspect which is influenced by the consent of the governed, as a State’s power can also be connected with the consent. Democratic states, especially those after the second world war, tend to be the most powerful. This is in part due to how the economy of a state influences its power. A strong economy grants a state more power than one with a weaker economy, as the gains from a strong economy can be put into things such as the military, or negotiations (Dahl, 1999). Curiously, democracies tend to have stronger economies, as the “polyarchy is highly correlated with socioeconomic levels and the nature of the socio-economic order” (Dahl, 1999). A state’s power benefits from the strong economy, as it increases said power and allows the state to remain relevant. However, there is an argument that even today autocracies are relevant, and therefore the consent of the masses is not necessary due to the nature of autocracies. They argue, that since autocracies still exist today, they remain relevant. While it is true that in 2012 of all the states structures in the world, about 40% were autocracies, this pretense that since autocracies exist they are relevant is incorrect (Mattes and Rodríguez, 2014). As it has been mentioned before, in today’s world democratic states fare far better than non-democratic states. The source of the power that these autocracies lack comes from the consent of the governed, thus disproving the argument that autocracies are still relevant today.
The relevance of the modern state has been shown above to rely on the consent of those governed by the said state. Through the strength of a State’s economy, which is amplified by the consent of the governed, the state can be a stronger player on the world stage. This, along with being consensually given the monopoly on violence, keeps democratic states relevant and in power today. These points lead to the conclusion that; yes, state power is still relevant today.
- Otis, J. (1766). The rights of the British colonies asserted and proved. [London]: Boston, New England, printed, London reprinted, for J. Williams … and J. Almon …, p.76.
- Schroeder, R. (2016). Max Weber, Democracy and Modernization. London: Palgrave Macmillan Limited, p.2.
- Dahl, R. (1999). Democracy and human rights under different conditions of development. Belgrade Circle Journal, p.4.
- Kennan, G. (1985). Morality and Foreign Policy. Foreign Affairs, [online] 64(2), pp.205-206. Available at: https://www.law.upenn.edu/live/files/5139-kennanmoralityandforeignpolicyforeignaffairswinter.
- Mattes, M. and Rodríguez, M. (2014). Autocracies and International Cooperation. [online] Oxford Academic. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/isq/article/58/3/527/1794875 [Accessed 28 Jul. 2019].
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