Power and the State

Power and the State

Every political theory which does not recognize the autonomy of politics vis a vis socio-economic history rejects out of hand the following propositions:

that the problem of political power in a socialist economy is not fundamentally different from the same problem in a capitalist economy; that political power in a socialist economy offers comparable or even greater possibilities for tyranny; and therefore that public controls as strict as, if not stricter than, those imposed in capitalist societies are necessary under socialism.

The autonomy of politics—for which I shall argue in this essay— seems to me to consist of two characteristics. On the one hand, politics embodies a human relationship which is not reducible to class conflict or socio-economic tensions in general. Even the state that is most in subjection to a dominating class is also a state precisely to the extent that it expresses the fundamental will of the nation as a whole. Moreover, the state as such need not be radically affected by major changes in the economic sphere. Through this primary characteristic, man’s political existence develops a specific type of rationality which cannot be reduced to economics.

On the other hand, politics develops evils of its own—evils specific to the exercise of power. These evils cannot be reduced to others, particularly not to economic alienation. Consequently, economic exploitation can disappear while political evil persists. The very means developed by the state to end economic exploitation can provide the occasion for abuses of power, abuses which while new in expression or effect are nonetheless essentially the same in their irrational force as those perpetrated by previous states.

Specific rationality, specific evil: such is the double and paradoxical character of politics. It is the task of political philosophy to educidate the paradox….