Justification for the state

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The justification of the state is a term that refers to the source of legitimate authority for the state or government. Typically, a justification of the state explains why the state should exist, and what a legitimate state should or should not be able to do.

There is no single, universally accepted justification of the state. In fact, anarchists believe that there is no justification for the state at all, and that human societies would be better off without it. However, most political ideologies have their own justifications, and thus their own vision of what constitutes a legitimate state. Indeed, a person's opinions regarding the role of government often determine the rest of their political ideology. Thus, discrepancy of opinion in a wide array of political matters is often directly traceable back to a discrepancy of opinion in the justification for the state.

The constitutions of various countries codify views as to the purposes, powers, and forms of their governments, but they tend to do so in rather vague terms, which particular laws, courts, and actions of politicians subsequently flesh out. In general, various countries have translated vague talk about the purposes of their governments into particular state laws, bureaucracies, enforcement actions, etc.

The following are just a few examples.


Transcendent sovereignty

In feudal Europe, the most widespread justification of the state was the divine right of kings, which stated that monarchs draw their power from God, and the state should only be an apparatus that puts the monarch's will into practice. The legitimacy of the states' lands was derived from the lands being the personal possession of the monarch. The divine right theory, combined with primogeniture, became a theory of hereditary monarchy in the nation states of the early modern period. The Holy Roman Empire was not a state in that sense.

The political ideas current in China at that time involved the idea of the mandate of heaven. It was similar to the divine right in that it placed the ruler in a divine position, as the link between Heaven and Earth, but it differed from the divine right of kings in that it did not assume that the connection between a dynasty and the state was permanent. Inherent in the concept was that a ruler held the mandate of heaven only as long as he provided good government. If he did not, heaven would withdraw its mandate restored order would hold the new mandate.

In a theocracy, the divine will's primate over human laws is even more stringent as it makes political authority subservient to the religious leadership.

The social contract

In the period of the eighteenth century, usually called the Enlightenment, a new justification of the European state developed. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's social contract theory states that governments draw their power from the governed, its 'sovereign' people (usually a certain ethnic group, and the state's limits are legitimated theoretically as that people's lands, although that is often not, rarely exactly, the case), that no person should have absolute power, and that a legitimate state is one which meets the needs and wishes of its citizens. These include security, peace, economic development and the resolution of conflict. Also, the social contract requires that an individual gives up some of his natural rights in order to maintain social order via the rule of law. Eventually, the divine right of kings fell out of favor and this idea ascended; it formed the basis for modern democracy.

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