Despite the emphasis on the state in the history of political philosophy, the twentieth century has been characterised by a remarkable lack of philosophical reflection on the concept. Until recently analytical philosophy had eschewed those evaluative arguments about political obligation and the limits of state authority that were typical of political theory in the past in favour of the explication of the meaning of the concept. However, even here the results have been disappointing. Logical Positivist attempts to locate some unique empirical phenomenon which the word state described proved unsuccessful, and indeed led to the odd conclusion that there was nothing about the state that distinguished it from some other social institutions. For example, its coercive power was said not to be unique: in some circumstances trade unions and churches exercised similar power over their members. Ordinary language philosophers were far more interested in the complexities that surround words such as law, authority and power than in the state. In all this there was perhaps the fear that to concentrate attention on the state was implicity to give credence to the discredited doctrine that it stood for some metaphysical entity; propositions about which could not be translated into propositions about the actions of individuals, and which represented higher values than those of ordinary human agents.


Public Good Political Philosophy Political Theory Organic Theory Liberal Theory 
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  1. 2.
    An extreme organic and authoritarian version can be found in B. Bosanquet (1809). This book was severely attacked by L. T. Hobhouse (1918) in The Metaphysical Theory of the State. However, Hobhouse belonged to the same intellectual tradition.Google Scholar

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© Norman P. Barry 1989

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  • Norman P. Barry

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