Review: The Modern State

5 Star, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Public Administration

Modern StateSeminal Work of Lasting Value, Still the Best Overall, October 11, 2008

R. M. Maciver

I am reliving my first graduate degree as I develop a new book, and when the occasion warrants, coming back into Amazon to comment on especially wonderous books. This is one of them.

MacIver has still not, to my knowledge, been equaled. Here is my summary of his book written in 1975, and still valid.

A pleasure to read, MacIver is the most useful focal point for the study of the modern state. An introduction defines the state as an association characterized by a limiting concept of sovereignty and the rule of law.

The first of four books deals with the emergence of the state; its origins, early empire, the emergence of citizenship (including the impact of the cities on associations and on the stratification and organization of society), a nd the formation of the country-state through feudalism and nationality.

Book two discusses the powers and functions of the state; the limits of political control, the residence of authority, might and sovereignty, law and order, and the relations betwseen political government and economic order. An excellent descriptive chart is offered that divides the functions of the state in its internal aspect into order, protection, and conservation & development. Within each category, the role of the state vis-a-vis the physical habits and social structure of the society from which it stems is seen to imply related and elaborative activities.

Book three explores the forms and institutions of the state, the articulation of governmental powers, and the party system.

The fourth and final book, dealing with theories and interpretations of the state, outlines very quickly the evolution of these theories, moving on to focus on two major issues in political thought: the issue of individualism and collectivism, and the attack on sovereignty.

In concluding, MacIver offers a very acceptable and timely reinterpretation of the state as an association among other associations–as an organ of the community and thus an organ whose power must be limited in relation to its functions, which in turn must be constrained by the state's inherent impulse, despite its dependency on its public, to encompass and dominate all that falls within its assigned territory.

MacIver remains utterly brilliant and so very relevant to our condition.

See also:
What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States
The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country
The Revolution: A Manifesto
Crashing the Party: Taking on the Corporate Government in an Age of Surrender
Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It
The Paradox of American Democracy: Elites, Special Interests, and the Betrayal of the Public Trust
The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track (Institutions of American Democracy)
Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders
War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America's Most Decorated Soldier