Social Scientist. v 3, no. 32 (March 1975) p. 63.


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Theories of State: Aristotle to Marx

THE discussion on the question of the state is nothing new. Right from the time when the institution came into existence, political theorists have argued on it. Much of their effort has, no doubt, been expended on portraying the ideal state, but they have, in their own ways, also tried to explain the nature of the state existing in reality. We shall take a few examples from the history of Western political thought as it developed through the ages leading to the Marxian concept of the state. However it should be pointed out that although the states described by the political theorists were contemporary to them, and therefore their very theories were relative to their respective historical periods, the thinkers by and large believed that their analyses were absolute and valid for all times.

Higher Community of Aristotle

Aristotle, writing in a period when political organization was just breaking out of the confines of the Greek city-states, conceived of the state as no more than a community of a higher type, which is born because life in that community, the state, shows what human nature intrinsically is. For him, it was 'natural9 for human nature to expand its highest powers in the state. At the same time, Aristotle never contemplated any social unit other than the Greek city-state as fulfilling the needs of a civilized life. Thus the small community-state is, for Aristotle, an association of men for the sake of the best moral life, which is also natural.

Today, when states have spread remarkably beyond the confines -of communities, the inadequacies of this interpretation are self-evident. Also, in the light of modern science which has made everything relative to something else, it is not possible to talk of an intrinsic human nature and the 'best5 moral life, for what was moral and 'natural5 to Aristotle (like slave-owning) is manifestly immoral and unnatural today. It is also notable that when Aristotle and his ^contemporaries spoke of 'citizens5 and of the state composed by them, they had in mind the small community of slave-owners, the slaves being strictly excluded from this attempt to establish a 'natural' and moral life. In today^ context, when the one faith proclaimed as being basic to all political systems is democracy and equal rights to all human beings, this sort of exclusive state can hardly come or remain in existence.



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