Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Theories of the state

Maglione, Giuseppe


Giuseppe Maglione


S Morley

K Corteen

J Turner

P Taylor


The concept of 'State' is one of the most deep-rooted answers that western (originally European) social and political thought has ever offered to the question of how to organise the social body, how to transform a mass of individuals on a certain land in an ordered polity. Within ancient Greek thought, the State is typically conceptualised as a political representation of the highest expression of human nature. In Plato's ideal polity, social classes assume political roles based upon their natural ethical constitution (political naturalism). To enable each class to be in a position consistent with their virtue would mean to create a 'just' State. Aristotle brings Plato's political naturalism from a normative to a descriptive level, while he critically distances himself from the platonic ideal State. He argues in fact that the city-state and political rule are 'natural' because human beings are by nature political animals. However, what follows is not the envisioning of an ideal polity, but an inductive analysis of historical constitutions in order to discern the best way of organising those who inhabit the city-state. Ancient political thought has deeply informed western civilisation, even though we owe to post-renaissance political theories the development of the current understanding of the State. These theories overall retain the ancient understanding of relationships between individuals' moral constitution and States' structure, adding, as a distinctive dimension for the explanations of the State's genesis, the concept of 'social contract'. Thomas Hobbes claims that the creation and conservation of the polity are based on individuals' self-interests and self-preservation. Individuals establish the State in order to exit the state of nature, whereby human life is 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short' (Leviathan, XIII.9), by ceding their absolute freedom to the Sovereign by contract. Like Hobbes, John Locke considers individuals as self-interested beings, provided of liberty by nature. The state of nature, however, is not an endless state of war, and therefore the social contract is only meant to establish a State guarantor of freedom and especially of private property, which can be overturned in case the State fails its mission. A more anthropological optimist account of humans' moral constitution is offered by Jean-Jacques


Maglione, G. (2017). Theories of the state. In S. Morley, K. Corteen, J. Turner, & P. Taylor (Eds.), A Companion to State Power, Rights and Liberties. Policy Press

Acceptance Date Feb 18, 2016
Publication Date Feb 1, 2017
Deposit Date Dec 8, 2016
Publisher Policy Press
Book Title A Companion to State Power, Rights and Liberties
ISBN 978-1447325826, 978-1447325819
Keywords State, political thought, social organisation,
Public URL