The State Hinders Understanding
See the current issue of the Comparative Politics Section Newsletter of the American Political Science Association.
Jean Léca said...
You are quite right, at least on one count: the state has never covered and does not cover all the conceivable polities. I think that the European Union can be a federation or an empire (yet not both), but not a state. However, I beg to differ on the following points
1/ To state that Western European States survived in the international arena thanks to their colonial empires is somewhat exaggerated. Let's suppose that Germany was an empire under Bismarck (most of the specialists in federalism hold that it evolved into a full fledged sovereign state). How about Sweden, Denmark, Norway? As for Turkey, it became a state when it was relieved of the Ottoman empire.
2/ The US are no longer a federation but a (federal) State (I am using the "French" capital letter on purpose). Federation implies that member states stand on an equal footing with the federal state since the sovereignty is divided (on this point see Olivier Beaud, "Théorie de la fédération", 2007 who states that in a federation, there are "co-member" states, the "federal state" included). It has no longer been the case since the New Deal and possibly the first Roosevelt's era. Oh! and the US did not have and still have not a colonial empire unless one considers the conquest of the West as an empire analogous to the conquest of Siberia by Russia.
3/ By the way, the concept of federation needs the concept of state (with a small "s") that is a co-sovereign political unit, whether it is itself centralized or decentralized, entitled to claim the monopoly of legitimate physical violence.
4/ You seem to overlook the implications of the "Welfare state" which, more often than not, is linked to the concept of state (from T.H. Marshall to Claus Offe, this opinion is widely shared)
5/ Last but by no means the least: you do not take into account the "legal" facts and first and foremost the United Nations Charter and its article 2 (I think) on the "sovereign equality" of states. True, "legal" constructs are necessary "fictions" and legal language is not scientific language since it is performative, whatever the status we choose to give to "scientific". But, as legal constructs they become social facts, or at least social phenomena, and we have, qua social scientists, to take into account those special empirical "facts". So, the question becomes: how to reconcile what the lawyers call "a state" today (it is possible that this use appeared only with Machiavelli if Skinner is to be believed and certainly with Bodin) and what the scientists call "a state"? "Social nature" is not "physical nature", it speaks! "To speak or not to speak is not the question"...Unless we decide, following the hard liners of "Law and economics", that what the lawyers call "public law" is not law at all and that the International Court of Justice is a bunch of romantics.