The theory of the state. Early social organizations arose spontaneously from the needs of mankind and, for a long time, grew without conscious direction. Later a point was reached when man began to examine his beliefs and his social customs and institutions, to question their authority, and finally to plan deliberate changes and progress. Of all social institutions the state has been one of the most universal and most powerful. Some form of organization and authority, enforcing rules of some sort, has been found wherever human life existed.
Nature of Political Theory :
In the process of human development it was therefore inevitable that man should investigate this institution, should question or uphold its authority, and should dispute over the proper scope of its function. As the outcome of this process political thought arose. Crude beliefs, mingled with concepts by no means political, were followed by more reasonable theories, which, some times in advance, sometimes lagging behind, in general kept pace with actual political methods.
Increasing powers of observation and of logical analysis built up a constantly widening sphere of political speculation, and the development of the state in its objective phase of organization and activity was accompanied by its subjective phase, the theory of the state, in the minds of men and in the records of tradition and literature. Some of the greatest minds of all ages have devoted themselves to this study.
A close relation usually exists between the political though of any given period and the actual political conditions then existing. Most political theories arose either to explain and justify the authority that men obeyed or to criticize it in the hope of accomplishing change. Sometimes, it is true, political philosophers speculated concerning the ideal state, or drew imaginative pictures of political conditions as, in their opinion, they should be. Even this type of political utopia, however, will, if closely examined, prove to be based on the political ideals of its time, and will usually be aimed at certain specific evils to which the conditions then prevailing gave rise.
Ordinarily, political theories are the direct result of objective political conditions. They reflect the thoughts and interpret the motives that underlie actual political development. They indicate the conditions and the intellectual point of view of their age. At the same time, political theories also influence political development. Not only are they the outgrowth of actual conditions, but they, in turn, lead men to modify their political institutions. Sometimes theory has preceded, sometimes it has followed, the corresponding institution or activity. Political theories are thus both cause and effect. Changing conditions create new theories, these in turn influence actual political methods.
Political theory is connected not only with the political institutions of its time, but also with thought in other lines. Political thought cannot be separated from science, philosophy, ethics, religion, economic theory, and literature, or even from tradition, dogma, prejudice, and superstition. The nature of political thought depends largely on the stage of intellectual development. At one period men’s intellectual interests place emphasis on one phase at another, upon a different phase.
Accordingly the historical survey of political thought must keep in mind not only the actual development of political institutions but also the parallel progress of human thought in other fields, in order that the political principle of any given time may be understood and appreciated there are, therefore, two phases in the evolution of the state. One is the objective, concrete development of states as manifested in their governments administration of law, and their international relations the other is the subjective development of ideas concerning the state as an abstraction.
In political theory, as in actual political organization, a continuous growth may be traced. Political Principles, like devices of government, ape handed down from age to age, each state, by its experience and in the light of its conditions, modifying former concepts, and these in turn influencing the states that follow.
It remains to add that political thought is essentially relative in its nature and cannot lay claim to absolute and final solutions. Political thinking is seldom unanimous concerning the problems of its time. Intelligent men differ honestly in their opinions concerning the nature of political conditions, their causes, and the proper methods of solution. Many such differences of opinion underlie political issues, create political parties and their contests, and form the motive forces of government.
Many others are involved in the international policies of states, and lead to disputes or to warfare in which both parties to the conflict are honestly convinced of the justice of their cause. There are times when the clash of political issues is mild, when men and states agree fairly well on fundamental questions, and when governmental and international relations run smoothly and effectively. At other times differences of opinions are sharp, parties assume hostile attitudes, revolution is in the air, and international relations are strained or openly hostile.
Conservative and Radical Political Thought :
Since political thought usually aims either to support to attack existing political institutions and methods, it may be classified broadly as either conservative or radical. Theories of the conservative type arise from the attempts of men to explain and justify the political system under which they live and to maintain it against change. Such theories are usually created or supported by the class in Power and by those who benefit under the existing regime. They also represent the natural mental attitude of those who love law and order and dislike confusion and disturbance.
The best of this type of theory is the doctrine of divine right by which the religious authority of the church was added to the political authority of the state, a supernatural sanction Wag given to law and the position of rulers was made sacred and inviolable. This theory, which made resistance to the power, that he a sin as well as a crime, was mutually advantageous to the officials of the state and to the leaders of the church, and appeared frequently in the history of political thought as the support of autocratic authority and the Opponent of reform Milder forms of conservative theory were represented in the laudation of the British system of government in the eighteenth century and in the general praise accorded to the American constitution during the nineteenth century.
By establishing a widespread belief in the perfection of existing institutions, such ideas made change more difficult. Similarly, political policies may be crystallized into dogmas or shibboleths, and receive unthinking support because, by constant repetition, they become embedded in the national tradition. Those who hold conservative theories view changing conditions with emotions ranging from regret to alarm. When their theory no longer corresponds with actual conditions, they picture a golden age in the past, and long to return to the good old days. In this form conservative theories become reactionary, often dying hard in their last efforts to resist inevitable change.
Radical theories arise in Opposition to the status quo and sup port efforts to change existing political institutions and methods. Such theories range from philosophical and imaginative utopias that have little apparent connection with actual life, and no likelihood of practical application, to the concrete ideals of reformers who are aiming to remedy certain evils or to accomplish desired reconstruction.
These latter vary from attempt to change some single device of organization, or to make minor readjustments in governmental activities, to wide sweeping schemes of political reorganization or the creation of new political systems. Some of their advocates are willing to work slow and through legal channels others believe in immediate and revolutionary methods. Such theories are usually held by those who are not in power, who are not happy and prosperous under the existing system, and who hope to better their condition by change It is obvious that radical theories could not arise and be widespread until men had reached a considerable degree of political intelligence and were permitted freedom of thought and discussion.
Such doctrines are dangerous to the powers that be, and during the greater part of human history have been forbidden and suppressed. An important example of radical political thought was the doctrine of social contract and natural rights that served as the basis for the English Revolution of the seventeenth century and the French and American Revolutions of the eighteenth century. It attacked the divine right of kings and justified revolution and popular sovereignty. Modern socialist doctrines furnish other examples of radical theory.
It is interesting to observe that when a radical theory is generally accepted and becomes successful in practice, it tends to become a conservative theory, making certain concessions to practical necessity but endeavoring to maintain what it has accomplished and to prevent further change.
Thus the doctrine of natural rights, with its emphasis on individualism and on the safeguarding of personal and property rights, was a radical theory in the eighteenth century, attacking the autocratic and paternalistic governments of that day. At present the theory is used as a conservative support for vested interests, in an effort to prevent the extension of state regulation and control that the socialists demand.
Both conservative and radical theories have points of strength and weakness. Conservative theories, valuable in maintaining public peace and stability, frequently prevent or delay needed reform. Radical theories, necessary to prevent stagnation and to stimulate political progress, frequently represent the panaceas of ignorant fanatics or lead to political chaos and anarchy. The proper compromise in political thought between undesirable extremes of conservatism and radicalism is difficult to maintain, and a swing too far in one direction is likely to be followed by a reaction toward the other extreme.
Sources of Political Theory :
Knowledge concerning the political thought of the past may be drawn from many sources. The Chief contribution was made by those political philosophers who attempted to put into systematic form the political thought of their times. This includes a long list of conspicuous thinkers from Plato to the present. Some devoted their attention exclusively to political doctrines others dealt with the state incidentally, as a part of their larger interest in philosophy as a whole. The writings of these men not only crystallized the thought of those who preceded them and of their contemporaries, but also frequently marked out new lines of theory that secured acceptance later.
The chief objection to depending exclusively upon this source is that it gives a history of political literature rather than of political thought. Political philosophers are often too much removed from practical political life or too close to their own institutions to get a proper perspective, or too much influenced by past doctrines or by personal bias or prejudice to give a true picture of the political thought of their day. This source must therefore be supplemented by others.
Much political theory is never put into definite statement. It is found tacitly underlying the form of actual organization and of political practices. It is taken or granted or sometimes deliberately suppressed. The history of political institutions and of the actions and policies of states occasionally shows more clearly than words the actual principles that dominated men’s minds. Quite often in political doctrines, as in other phases of human endeavor, a wide discrepancy is found between the principles professed and those that are acted upon.
The political theory of the Middle Ages, with its belief in the continued existence of world unity in the Holy Roman Empire, was in striking contradiction to the fragmentary and decentralized nature of the feudal states then existing. And many motives that are influential in practical politics today are seldom put into party platforms or into campaign orations.
A considerable amount of information concerning the theory of the state may be derived from the writings and speeches of man who occupy official positions in government or who exercise leadership in public opinion. Such material, while often colored or public consumption, nevertheless reveals, sometimes quite unintentionally, important political principles. It has both the merits and the defects that result rum being in close contact with the realities of political life. The official documents of states furnish a most valuable source of political thought.
These includes written constitutions, statutes and ordinances, court decisions, charters, departmental reports, treaties, diplomatic, Correspondence, and the like. While these must be supplemented by observation of the actual practices of states, with which they do not always correspond, they are nevertheless an important guide to political theory.
In former times political thinking was limited to a comparatively small part of the population. The masses were ignorant and indifferent or-suppressed. More recently public opinion has come to play an important part in political thought and to exert a powerful influence on government. Accordingly, methods have been devised to influence it or to give it means of expression.
Newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, posters, cartoons, and other forms of publicity and propaganda have thus become important sources of political theory. Finally, literature, in its narrower sense, often deals, directly or indirectly, with political life and problems. This is especially true of the essay, poetry, diction, and the drama. Because they are less self conscious and less partisan than the writings of political publicists, the truest pictures of the political thought of a period may often be drawn from such sources.
Problems of Political Theory:
If an analysis be made of the questions with which political theory has been concerned, it is found that emphasis has been placed at various periods upon widely different types of problems. The Greek thinkers were interested in the ethical basis of politics, and gave attention to the nature of justice and to the best form of government. In the medieval period, controversy centered in the contest for supremacy between spiritual and temporal authorities, and political theory was closely associated with theology. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the dominant interest was in the contest between monarchic and democratic theories of political Organization.
At present the extent of state activities has come into prominence, and the connection between political alt economic interests is especially close.
Considerable attention has been given to the origin of state. In the uncritical past, when historical knowledge was slight the state was usually viewed as established by the authority of good or as the result of the “political nature” of man or as deliberate creation by means of the voluntary agreement of individuals or as the outcome of the forced subjection of the weak to the strong.
Even now our knowledge of the early period of political life is incomplete, and many important points a, in dispute. In general, however, the modern evolution theory views the state neither as divinely created nor as the deliberate work of man through either conquest or agreement. It sees the state coming into existence gradually as the natural result of many and diverse forces resulting from the need of men for order and protection.
Ideas concerning the proper size of the state have undergone marked changes. The Greeks considered the city to be the desirable type. After the establishment of the Roman Empire, the ideal of a world state dominated men’s minds for centuries. In modern times the national state has been considered natural, although some that modified by the imperialistic conception of colonial empire. In recent years the ideal of world federation has appealed to many.
Many thinkers have given attention to the nature of the state and to the source and rational justification of its authority. The anarchist finds no justification for the existence of coercive authority and would abolish the state completely. Most writers justify the state, either as a necessary evil or as a desirable thing in itself. The bases of their justification show wide variation. Some have viewed the state as divinely ordained others have considered it the result of the innate political character of man.
Some have justified the state because of its Obvious utility, holding that obedience to the state secures the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Others have rested its authority on the consent involved in the assumed compact by which the body politic was created. Still others have personified the state, either as a legal person or as a real and living organism which represents the highest stage in the process of social evolution. Many writers have found an ethical basis for the slate, and have considered political life essential to the highest development of human personality.
For several centuries political theory has been dominated by the idea of sovereignty. The rise of national monarchies was accompanied by the theory that in each state there was a sovereign and independent authority. The state was personified in the ruler, and its essential relationship was considered to he that between sovereign and subject. The king was the sovereign, the ultimate source of all political power. Attacks on royal prerogative led to the theory of popular sovereignty, attributing final authority to the general will of the entire body of citizens.
The concept of sovereignty was associated with the state as a legal person rather than with the ruler as an individual. The indefinite nature of popular sovereignty led, during the nineteenth century, to elaborate attempts to locate sovereignty in various organs of government, usually the legislature or the constitution amending body. Bitter controversy was waged over the location of sovereignty in a federally organized state.
More recently the concept of the absolute, supreme, and indivisible sovereignty of the state has been attacked, both because of the existence of organizations within the state which seem to have a juristic life and authority of their own, and because, in the relations among states, the theory of the equality and independence of the state conflicts with actual inequalities and with various degrees of dependence. Some writers believe that the concept of sovereignty has outlived its usefulness others argue for a number of sovereignties, denying the supremacy and omnipotence of the State over other social organizations.
The conception of law has undergone various transformations. Originating as custom, supported by immemorial tradition and the prevailing belief in divine sanction, law was later considered as existing in nature, to be discovered and applied by human reason. When strong monarchies were established, the will of the sovereign became the source of law. Finally modem democracies have attained to the idea that law, as the will of the state, should be formulated and administered by popular governmental organs and should be modified as occasion demands new rules to meet new social needs.
What form of government is best has been a source of endless Controversy in political theory. Whether political power should be centered in a single head, or limited to an aristocratic few, or widely distributed among the democratic masses has much discussed. The Greeks favored aristocracy after the formation of the Roman Empire it was generally held that monarchy was most desirable in recent years democracy has been generally supported. Many thinkers have tried to establish the normal cycle in which these different forms appear and succeed one mother, and the causes and nature of the revolution that periodically disturb states.
The theory of representation also has undergone changes. At first the social classes nobility Clergy, and commoners sent their delegates. The idea of human equality and popular sovereignty led to the representation of territorial-population groups, approximately equal in numbers. The present importance of economic organizations within the State has given rise to various theories that favor the representation of occupational groups.
Wide differences of opinion have arisen over the proper scope of state activities. At one extreme is found an individualism that would limit the state to the narrowest exercise of authority and leave to its individual citizens the widest possible sphere of free action. At the other extreme is a paternalistic socialism that would extend state action to the widest limits and subject the individual to extensive governmental control and regulation.
Between these extremes all shades of opinion are found. Certain activities are recognized by all as essential to state existence, but over a wide range of optional functions a great controversy is Waged. Those who glorify the state and view it as a desirable end in itself are willing to in-trust it with large powers those who view the state as a dangerous necessity emphasize, rather the importance of individual freedom.
A considerable section of political thought has been devoted to the relations among states. At first states held the belief that they owned no obligations to any except peoples of their own race and religion. Strangers were enemies and had no right hence the existence of principles to regulate the relations among states was not admitted. After the establishment of the Roman Empire the ideal of world unity and of supreme authority vested in Emperor or Pope prevented of centuries the rise of a sound theory of international relations. The rise of modem national states, with increasing diplomatic and commercial intercourse and the waging of international warfare, gradually developed the customs and principles of international law.
Peace under generally accepted rules, rather than unregulated war, came to be considered the normal relation among states, and the concept of a family of nations engaged in constant intercourse under recognized regulations was generally accepted. The idea of law was widened to include relations not only among individuals but among states as well, and peaceful and legal methods were devised for the settlement of international differences. Much present-day thought is devoted to the effort to improve the external relations of states.
Theories of the Nature of the State:
Much attention has been given by writers on political theory to the nature of the state and from their different conceptions of its nature divergent conclusions have been drawn concerning its proper sphere and purpose. The most important attempts to answer the question of what the state is are the following:
1. The juristic theory:
This theory, put forward mainly by jurists, regards the state from an abstract point of view as an entity or concept of legal thought. It views the state as a legal person existing for the creation and enforcement of law and the protection of legal rights. From this point of view the state is the people politically organized into a sovereign corporation with a collective will of its own and with rights and interests apart from those of the individuals that compose it. Like other corporations, the state is a permanent and enduring association, concerned with the interests of future generations as well as with those of the persons existing at any given time.
According to this theory the qualities that belong to natural persons are, by a fiction of law, attributed to the state. While some jurists push ?this conception of the state to the extreme of considering it a teal person the majority are agreed in viewing the state only as a juridical person. In law the possessor of legal rights and duties is viewed as a person, and in this sense the state is envisaged by the jurist as possessing legal personality. States own property, direct economic enterprises, appear as plaintiffs in civil and criminal cases, and permit themselves to be sued in the courts in certain matters. The state differs, however, from Other artificial persons in that its legal authority is supreme and is inherent, not derived from the legal will of any other legal person.
2. The organismic theory:
In contrast to the juristic theory, which views the personality of the state only as a legal fiction or mental concept, the organismic theory conceives the state to be a living organism, the plants and animals possessing organs which perform specialized functions, and, like them, subject to the laws of development and decay. Individuals, whose existence is merged in that of the state, are the basic cells of which the organism is composed, each dependent on the others and on the whole or its continued existence.
Like other natural organisms, the state develops in its environment, its organs becoming more distinct and definite, and at the same time more closely interrelated. It is a social organism so unified that its individual members have no real independence. The organismic theory is a biological conception which describes the state in terms of natural science and which draws elaborate and ingenious analogies between the state and living beings.
Comparisons between the state and human beings were drawn by many early writers. Plato saw a resemblance between the functions of the state and those of an individual. Cicero likened the head of the state to the spirit that rules the human body. The analogy was popular with medieval writers, both church and state being viewed as organic unities, similar to living creatures. Hobbes characterized the state as that great leviathan which is but an artificial man, though of greater strength and stature than the natural, and compared the weaknesses of the state to human diseases.
Rousseau called the legislative power the heart of the state, and the executive power its brain. In the early part of the nineteenth century a meat impetus was given to the organic point of view by the rise of concept of evolution and by the reaction against the eighteenth-century theory of social contract, Which made the state a deliberate and artificial creation of men. Many writers, especially in Germany pushed the biologic analogy to absurd extremes. Tracing identity even in the detailed functions of political and biological life.
The organismic theory has a certain value in emphasizing tin unity of the state, the independence of the individuals that compose it, and the gradual and continuous evolution of it‘s his topical growth. In this respect it was a useful antidote to the eighteenth century theory that viewed the state as a mechanical and artificial creation of man which could be remade at his pleasure, regardless of history and tradition. The state, however, is not in reality a living organism, and even the analogy is open to serious objections.
The resemblance between individuals and the cells of a living organism is exceedingly superficial. Individuals have a separate physical life, with wills of their own, and with many interests and activities unregulated by the state. The cells of an organism have no independent life, no power of thought and will, and no purpose except to support and perpetuate the life of the Whole. A living cell cannot be a part at two distinct organisms at the same time, but an individual member of the state may also be a member of many Other associations. All natural organisms owe their origin to preexisting organisms, deriving from them their life and characteristics.
The life of the state comes from within its origin cannot be compared to the procreative process through, which living beings come into existence. Moreover, decline and death are inseparable from the life of an organism, though they are not necessary processes in state life. Finally, the organism grows unconsciously. independent of volition, entirely dependent upon its environment and the natural laws of the biologic world. Its parts have no power to direct its growth or add to its stature. The state, on the contrary, changes rather than grows and, while influenced by external conditions, reaches a point in its development where this change takes place largely as the result of the conscious action of its individual members.
Moreover, this theory throws little light on the practical question of what the state should do. In emphasizing the fact that the state results from natural growth, it can scarcely mean that men in the state are to take merely a passive part in the process. In fact, this theory has been used to support views on state functions ranging from individualism to socialism. According to Herbert Spencer government has been evolved for the purpose of maintaining peace and order and of giving protection to its citizens, and it should, like other organs, limit its activities to those particular functions for which it arose.
According to many German writers, Bluntschli for instance, the state, as the highest organism, is the important unit, and collective activity is the ideal of social progress. These writer’s use the theory as the basis of an argument that would magnify the state and sacrifice the individual to society. While the life of the state and the life of an individual show certain resemblances, the organismic theory is neither a satisfactory explanation of the nature of the state nor a trustworthy guide to state activity.
3. The contract theory:
The theory that men lived originally in a pre-political state of nature, and that by voluntary agreement, of contract, they deliberately created a political association, was used not only as an explanation of the origin of the state1 but also as a theory of the nature of the state and the relation of those who govern to those who are governed. This theory had its origin in Greek philosophy at the time when the independent Greek city states were being overthrown by Macedonian and Roman conquest. With the loss of civic independence the Greeks were forced to seek a field of activity outside the state, and their philosophy became concerned with the means by which the individual might secure happiness rather than with civic welfare.
The Sophists taught that the state was the result of a voluntary agreement among men that it was a barrier to self realization and therefore Opposed to nature. The Epicurean school taught that the state rested upon individual self interest and defined law as an agreement of utility entered into among individuals in order that they might be secured against violence and injustice. The theory that the state rested upon the deliberate agreement of men was here foreshadowed. Later the system of Roman law, with its clear and elaborate development of the conception of obligation by contract, supplied further material for the theory.
A modification of the theory was concerned not so much with the origin of the state as with the source of the power of its ruler. This took the form of the governmental contract, according to which the authority of rulers rested upon an original contract with their subjects. This theory was held by the Roman jurists, who based the power of the Emperor upon the consent of the Roman people.
The Old Testament refers to a covenant made before the Lord by King David and the Elders of Israel. The feudal system was saturated with the idea of contract and contained many examples of agreements entered into between ruler and subjects. The idea of natural law, emphasized by the stoic philosophy, was incorporated into the philosophy of the churchmen and, often identified with divine law, was viewed as superior to any human enactment.
In the fifteenth century the Conciliator movement in the church, which aimed to replace the authority of the Pope by that of a church council, revived the concepts of natural rights, social contract, and popular consent. Although this movement failed the principles then put forward were used later in the contest between king and people and in the effort to replace the power of kings by that of representative parliaments.
In opposition to the theory of divine right, put forward by the royalists the revolutionary thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries used the social contract theory to support. Popular sovereignty, individual freedom, and the right of revolution. In the writings of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau these ideas found their chief expression and in the Civil War in England.
The French Revolution, and the American Revolution they were applied in practice.The leading expounders of this theory differed in their conceptions of the state of nature and of the effect of the contract on those who made it and on the authority created by it. Hobbes viewed man as naturally brutal and selfish, and the state of nature as one of aggression and war. In it there was no law, no justice, and no property, since these are the creations of the state. Physical power alone limited the rights of men in the state of nature.
To escape the fear and danger of this condition, men agreed to submit themselves to a common authority. Locke believed that men were naturally sociable and peaceable, and that the state of nature was one of equality and freedom. It was not lawless, since men were bound by the law of nature and possessed natural rights. Because of the difficulty of interpreting and enforcing natural law, since each man was judge and executioner in his own case, men agreed to give up some of their natural rights to a common authority.
By Rousseau the state of nature was conceived as a condition of ideal happiness, only abandoned because growing population and advancing civilization brought evils. Men were thus compelled to form a social contract by which each merged his natural rights into l a common authority or general will.
As to the result of the contract and the nature of the authority treated by it, Hobbes held that each individual agreed with all the others to give up his right to govern himself and to submit to a common authority. By this process the state was created, and the authority upon which the power to govern was bestowed became the sovereign. The contact once made, the authority of the sovereign was absolute. Since he was not a party to the contract, he was not bound by it, nor could the people withdraw lights which they had irrevocably transferred.
Hobbes wrote to uphold the absolute authority of the Stuart kings in England, and used the social-contract theory to reconcile absolute monarchy with the growing belief that ultimate political power was derived front the people. His chief defect was the failure to distinguish between state and government. He did not realize that the form of government may be changed without destroying the state and that the existence of sovereign power does not necessarily mean the necessarily authority of the particular persons who exercise it.
Locke differed from Hobbes in several respects. He held that the surrender of rights was to the community and not to any particular man or group of men. The people, therefore, remained sovereign, and the ruler was a party to the comma and was bound by its terms. If rulers failed to maintain those individual rights for whose protection they had been established, the ma tract was dissolved, and the people, resuming their original liberty, might set up a new government.
Locke wrote to uphold the Revolution of 1688, by which a king was deposed and a new king created, and his doctrine was made the basis of a limited monarchy and justified the right of revolution his chief contribution was his recognition of the limited powers of government and of the democratic basis of political power. He failed however, to see that revolution however desirable is never legal.
Rousseau viewed the social contract as a process by which each man merged his natural rights into a common authority, or general will. What he lost was his natural liberty what he gained was civil liberty. To this agreement the government was not a party. Final authority always remained in the hands of the maple, and their sovereign power was unlimited.
The government was merely the agent to carry out the general will. Rousseau even considered representative government undesirable, and preferred the direct control of the people in a mass meeting or general assembly. This theory clearly distinguished state and government, and pointed out the delegated authority of the latter. It supported popular sovereignty in its most extreme form.
However, it practically destroyed the legal nature of authority by making it identical with public Opinion and by placing the permanence and sanction of government at the mercy of a rather indefinite general will.
In spite of the great value of the social contract theory in serving as the basis for modem democracy, and in spite of its elements of truth in emphasizing the importance of the individual the possibility of modifying political institutions by deliberate human effort and the fact that ultimate political authority lies at least potentially, in the mass of the people, the theory is not a satisfactory explanation of the nature of the state.
Historically, the theory is absurd in supposing that people in the earliest stages of civilization, without previous experience in government, should deliberately agree to form a political organization. Even as a rational attempt to explain the nature of the state and the source of governing authority, the theory is faulty. A contract is a voluntary relation which individuals may enter into or not, as they choose. The relation of the individual to the state, however, is no a voluntary one, since man is born into the state and cannot avoid its obligations or withdraw from its control.
Furthermore, a contract is binding only upon the original parties who make it, and not upon their successors, who have never given adherence to it. In that case the state would expire with the death of the original contractors and would have to be renewed by their successors. The social contract theory tends to reduce the state to the level of a joint stock company an artificial creation rather than the product of historical growth and of social necessity.
Besides, the original contract could have no legal force. A contract implies the previous existence of a legal authority which can enforce it. Since no political organization existed to define or enforce contract rights, the original agreement by which the state was formed would not be legally binding, and all rights based upon it would be without legal basis. Finally, the conception of natural “ laws” and “rights” is fallacious. A right is a privilege implying corresponding obligations on the part of others, and is possible only in case some authority exists to maintain the right and enforce the obligations.
In a state of nature man would possess only powers or might’s and his natural rights would constantly conflict with those of others thus destroying the “rights” of all. It was, then, not until a definite political authority existed, strong enough to compel every individual to refrain from interference with others, that rights in any real sense came into being. No law or rights, except in purely ethical sense, existed before the state arose in nature, had its might in the doctrine of Plato and Aristotle that in the state alone is the individual able to live a good life and realize the highest ends of his existence from this principle was developed, especially in Germany a philosophy that idealized and glorified the state, regarded it as an end in itself rather than as a means, and viewed it as all powerful This theory taught that the state can do no wrong and that its commands must be obeyed without question.
Its needs and interests are supreme over the needs and interests of its citizens and revolt against its authority is never justifiable. It views the state as a mystical entity, separate from and superior to the persons who compose it. It has its own will and interests and its own standard of morality, distinct from that of the individuals who compose it. It is the only real source of civilization and progress. As developed by certain recent writers, this theory argued that the state is power, that war is desirable and necessary, and that the state is bound by no rules that will prevent its strength and expansion. No limits can be set to the sphere of state action, and superior civilizations have a duty to extend their culture over weaker and inferior peoples.
Viewed as an idealized conception of what the state should be, this theory has certain value in pointing out the necessity of the state to civilization and progress and the desirability of loyalty and sometimes of sacrifice on the part of citizens. It also emphasizes the fact that the state is the only source of law and rights, and that the essence of its control is, in the last resort, power. The theory is dangerous however, if pushed to the extreme of viewing the state as above all moral restraints and of submerging the individual wholly to unquestioning obedience. The doctrine that the state is Omnipotent, that it is an end in itself, and that its interests are distinct from those of its citizens contains elements of danger. When the theory is used to deify the state, justify war and conquest, and uphold a brutal and aggressive attitude, it becomes wholly pernicious.
Value of political Theory:
It is sometimes urged that political theory like all speculative thought, ignores reality, cannot be applied in practice, and utilizes legal fictions and absolute concepts which are untrue and dangerous. The theorist in politics is often viewed as an impractical visionary, and interest in theories frequently held to be the sign of a badly governed state or of an approaching revolution. It is true that theories that have outlived their usefulness have often stood in the way of progress, and that the fanatical ideas of ill informed and unbalanced zealots have worked confusion. At the same time, revolutions furthered by political principles have often been of great benefit to mankind, and progress toward democracy, individual and international justice owes much to the doctrines of able thinkers.
Political speculation may justly lay claim to certain values. It examines the meanings behind political terms and is conducive to clarity and honesty of thought. It aids in interpreting history, explaining the motives underlying important political movements. In so far as the events of the past were shaped by human will, it is necessary to understand what men believed and what they hoped for. And as the problems of the present have grown up out of conditions in the past, the political principles now being applied are the result of the evolution of past political thought. As soon as man becomes conscious of his political existence a theory of some sort will underlie his political actions. Every deliberate readjustment of governmental organization and every policy of governmental action will be based on some general principle. Any successful attempt at constructive political progress must run upon a sound and comprehensive political theory applicable to present day conditions and needs.
Finally political theory represent a high type of intellectual achievement and, like other forms of philosophic thought, has interest and a value entirely apart from any practical application of its principles. Intelligent men naturally wish to understand the authority under which they live, to analyze its organization and activities and to speculate concerning the best forms of political existence. The fact that many of the greatest thinkers of all time Plato, Aquinas, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Mill, and others were concerned with the political aspects of philosophy is an indication of its importance as a form of intellectual effort.
If political evolution were an inevitable growth in which the deliberate purposes of man have little part, political theory would have merely an intellectual and academic value. If, however, men, by taking thought, ran make themselves the masters of their social destiny then political theory has much to contribute to human progress.