In This Chapter

Bookmark and Share

Chapter Review

  • Defining the State
    • In comparative politics, the state is a series of institutions that maintains a monopoly of violence over a territory. It relies on sovereignty—the ability to carry out actions in a territory independently—and power.
    • A regime is the rules and norms of politics; in some nondemocratic countries where politics is dominated by a single individual, we may use the term regime to refer to that leader. Government is the leadership in charge of running the state. If the state is a computer, the regime is the software and the government is the operator.
    • A country may be seen as shorthand for all these concepts – state, government, regime – as well as for the people who live within a political system.
  • The Origins of Political Organization
    • As long as there have been human beings, there has been some form of human organization. In the earliest stages, humans organized into families and larger tribes.
    • Sedentary communities and cities first emerge in the Middle East around 4000 BCE. In these cities, complex political systems emerged to deal with issues surrounding trade and the distribution and protection of wealth. The emergence of cities marks the beginnings of the emergence of states.
    • Some scholars argue that the state emerged to save societies from anarchy (Thomas Hobbes's view), while others argue that the state kept people from living equally and peacefully (Jean-Jacques Rousseau's view). More recent research suggests that neither is correct. Instead, conflicts occurred between family and tribal organizations competing for resources and territory, and states emerge out of this constant warfare.
  • The Rise of the Modern State
    • Scholars argue that the chaos of Europe’s Dark Ages fostered the emergence of the state because organizations had to rapidly adapt to intense rivalries over power and resources. The modern state may have emerged in Europe and not in China (which had developed sophisticated political organizations at least a thousand years before Europe) because China lacked major competitors to foster ongoing organizational evolution.
    • The state offered three advantages over other organizations: 1) states encouraged economic development by defining and protecting property rights; 2) state rulers encouraged technological innovation that, with property rights, set the stage for modern capitalism; and 3) the state's focus on infrastructure and legal codes fostered a more cohesive, nationalist spirit which reduced localized rivalries.
    • The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) reduced the authority of the church in Europe and instead left states with the power to direct religion within their own territory. This cemented the superiority of the political over the spiritual and encouraged states to expand outside of Europe.
  • Comparing State Power
    • Legitimacy—the understanding that a state has certain authority to carry out tasks—is a key component to stateness and allows the state to carry out its basic functions. States may display traditional legitimacy (built on history and continuity), charismatic legitimacy (embodied in a powerful and inspiring individual), rational-legal legitimacy (built on a foundation of highly institutionalized laws), or a mixture of these.
    • Centralization and Decentralization – states vary in their distribution of power. Some states use federalism, where significant powers reside in regional or local authorities. This “pushing down” of power is called devolution. Federalism does not need to be uniform; some countries use asymmetric federalism, where power is devolved unevenly between regional bodies. Others states are unitary states, where most power is held in a central government.
    • Power, Autonomy, and Capacity – Political scientists may describe states as strong states (ones that can fulfill basic functions and enforce rules) and weak states (ones that cannot execute these tasks well—the most extreme cases called failed states). However, complexities of states are better described by examining a state’s capacity (its ability to wield power to carry out policies or actions) and autonomy (its ability to wield that power without having to consult the public or another outside body).