Political Theories Giving Priority to the StateJune 28, 2021
In the tense relationship between the individual, society and the state, philosophers who think that the state has an independent existence from individuals, construct the state as an entity in itself, making it the main focus of loyalty. According to these thinkers, the state is an organic way of life that expresses more than the sum of individuals.
Although the theory of organic society manifests itself in nationalism, which is a product of the 19th century, such as liberalism and socialism, and in Rousseauian republicanism that emerged with the nation-state, the origins of the theory can be found in Aristotle. While Aristotle defines man as a “social/political animal”, he also defines politics as the existential condition of man. From this point of view, since human as a person cannot be mentioned in a place where there is no society/politics, the social has priority over the private. This priority stems from the fact that the city-state is an end in the sense of the smallest self-sufficient unit (Aristotle 2004, p. 33). Aristotle explains self-sufficiency, in other words, being a goal, with an analogy between the city and the living organism. Just as a living thing cannot be reduced to the sum of differentiated functions, for Aristotle the city is different from the sum of its citizens:
“A city (…) is made up of dissimilar parts. Just as a living creature (animal) consists of body and spirit, spirit consists of mind and passion, a couple consists of husband and wife, a workplace consists of master and slave, so a city consists of all these and many more separately” (Aristotle 2004, p. 74).
Notice that society/political order – or, for our purposes, the state – refers to more than the sum of the individuals that compose it, within the Aristotelian tradition.
Centuries later, Jean Jacques Rousseau draws a similar analogy with Aristotle between society and organism:
“Political society, taken by itself, is an organised, living, human-like body. Sovereign power represents the head of this; it is the brain of laws and customs, that is, the head of the nerves and the seat of the understanding, the will, and the senses; judges and high administrators are the organs of this body; commerce, industry and agriculture are the mouth and stomach that prepare the common means of subsistence; public revenue is blood; (…); citizens are the torso, arms and legs that move the machine, keep it alive and operate and must not be injured in any part of it; If the creature is in good health, the impression of injury immediately reaches the brain as pain. (…); It is the mutual sensitivity, internal equivalence and harmony of all parts. When this mutual communication is cut off, when the formal unity is destroyed and when the neighboring parts seem to belong to each other only because they are next to each other, man dies or the state dissolves” (Rousseau 2005, p. 12).
These qualities, which have been ascribed to the priority of political society in the views of both Aristotle and Rousseau, will shift the emphasis to the state as the carrier of political society, especially after the establishment of nation-states. The organism, which is called society in Aristotle and political society in Rousseau, leads to the evaluation of the state as an objective order independent of the rational preferences of the individuals who compose it, as a result of the parallelism established by the French Revolution between the state and society, although it did not aim it as a goal. In this respect, the state is not a mechanism by which individuals obtain some protection by undertaking public service in return, but constitutes the precondition for all individual choices.
The existence of the state as a precondition for individual choices is a result of the existence of the morality of individuals only through the society in which they live. According to the organic state understanding, individuals cannot make choices completely independent of the social structure they are in; because the options offered to individuals are subject to the approval of the society in which the individual is born. In this case, the legal or political institutions themselves are not the products of the free will of individuals, but the creators of the choices themselves. The state, on the other hand, is a physical expression of the continuity and stability of these institutions that individuals cannot create on their own. The conception of the state as an objective order separate from and above individual conflicts finds one of its best expressions in G. W. F. Hegel.
Hegel defines the state as an objective legal order on individual individuals forming civil society and regulating the relations between individuals (Hegel 1991, pp. 173-195). The whole social order is the work of this sovereign power, and in the absence of the state, the social order deteriorates and a chaotic environment arises. This is because it is not possible for individuals to create objective institutions independently of their individual interests in a situation where they pursue only their individual interests, as liberal theories suggest. For this reason, Hegel and all proponents of the objective state argue that the state is formed evolutionarily in history and tradition, and treat it independently of individualizing principles such as interests or natural rights.