In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Beyond Stateless Democracy*
  • William J. Novak (bio), Stephen W. Sawyer (bio), and James T. Sparrow (bio)

The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be

commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition

of a figure on horseback, without a head.

Washington Irving

In political thought and analysis, we still have not

cut off the head of the king.

Michel Foucault

Pierre Bourdieu began his posthumously published lectures “On the State” by highlighting the three dominant traditions that have framed most thinking about the state in Western social science and modern social theory. On the one hand, he highlighted what he termed the “initial definition” of the state as a “neutral site” designed to regulate conflict and “serve the common good.” Bourdieu traced this essentially classical liberal conception of the state back to the pioneering political treatises of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.1 In direct response to this “optimistic functionalism,” Bourdieu noted the rise of a critical and more “pessimistic” alternative—something of a diametric opposite. [End Page 21]

In the work of Karl Marx and his progeny from Antonio Gramsci to Louis Althusser, Bourdieu highlighted the powerful rejoinder of the Marxist vision of the state as a diabolus in machina. While still functionalist—indeed, frequently materialist and reductionist—the Marxist vision subverted the neutral state idea and introduced the powerful notion of a predatory and conniving state (what Friedrich Nietzsche would refer to as “the coldest of all cold monsters”) ever serving the dominant interests of an economic and ruling elite through ever more subtle hegemonic technologies and ideological apparatuses.2 Bourdieu’s lectures attempted to move beyond this frustrating intellectual stalemate between beneficent and critical functionalism by building directly on the third great tradition of state theory – Max Weber’s richly ambivalent theories of bureaucracy, rationalized law, and organized administration. Bourdieu launched his quest for a fresh perspective on statecraft by amending the classic Weberian definition of the state to include the monopoly of the means of violence, both physical and symbolic. His “provisional definition” of the state was defined by “possession of the monopoly of legitimate physical and symbolic violence.”3

Bourdieu’s opening salvo on the state underscores the extent to which histories and theories of the state still remain largely controlled by these three formidable archetypes. Most thinking on the state has largely moved betwixt and between the three reigning models a) the liberal vision of a neutral, nightwatchman state; b) the Marxist conception of a more extractive, dominating state; and c) Max Weber’s fetishization of bureaucratic rationality and autonomy.4 And in the end, even Pierre Bourdieu’s fresh foray in search of a new theory of the state settled for something more akin to an amendment or revision of a well-worn groove in the surface matter of existing state theory. To date, despite an expanding body of empirical, historical, and theoretical scholarship on the state, we remain surprisingly (and somewhat inexplicably) prisoner to these same three modes of state thinking outlined by Bourdieu: the Liberal neutral, the Marxist extractive, and the Weberian bureaucratic state ideas.

But as powerful and tenacious as these archetypal theories have been in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, the three essays in this symposium of The Tocqueville Review/La revue Tocqueville are dedicated to the proposition that they are no longer adequate or sufficient for sizing up state power in the twenty-first century and [End Page 22] beyond. Recently a growing body of empirical and theoretical work on the state in sociology, political science, and history has begun to take explicit issue with the reigning paradigms. Indeed, the revisionist essays that follow all first grew out of the real empirical difficulties presented by the lack of fit between conventional theories of the modern state and the actual complexities of modern European and American political history. Stephen Sawyer’s previous work on nineteenth-century French politics, for example, exposed some of the real limitations of conventional portraits of a French Jacobin state defined by a rejection of intermediary bodies, a centralized bureaucracy, and a republican emphasis on legislative over executive power.5 Similarly, William Novak’s...