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Should The State Play More or Less of a Role in Deciding What is Good For Society? Essay Sample

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Should The State Play More or Less of a Role in Deciding What is Good For Society? Essay Sample

Ever since the state began there have been debates on whether it exercises too much or not enough power. There are many examples of states having too much power and abusing it to such an extent that it is of no benefit to the people of the particular country.

For the majority of human history countries have been stateless, and not until the emergence of feudal society did people start to obey state rules. The state acts, as a representative of the people who live within it, when a party or person is elected there is a contract established and that elected person or party gains control. The citizens within the state are obliged to obey the rules set as they have consented to be subject to the power of the party. In a democratic system, the chosen party will be primarily concerned with keeping power and therefore must be seen to be undertaking the wishes of the public in order to be re-elected

The state is responsible for many important decisions concerning education, the health system, emergency services and generally the protection of the lives of its citizens. The state is supposed to be the representative of the general public, which coincides with the idea of the importance of the individual as in a state only the majority’s opinion counts.

Different political parties have different views and opinions of what is best for the public and how the state should be run. Some believe that families and individuals should be left to make their own choices and decisions while others believe they need help from the state.

In the past the British Conservative government has generally believed in less intervention between the family and for them to become more reliant upon themselves. The Conservative party has always viewed that the only way for a stable society is for stable family structure and families should be self-reliant. “The family is the building block of society. Its a nursery, a school, a hospital, a leisure place, a place of refuge and a place of society” (Margaret Thatcher1998).

When Thatcher was in control she withdrew benefits from 16-18 year olds, who did not take up a place on a training scheme, in order to make families take more responsibility for maintaining unemployed teenagers.

The conservatives see the family as under threat from social changes (like increase in single parent families) and government policies (welfare). The only stable structure the Conservative party believes in is what’s called a nuclear family, which are your typical 2.4 children

On the other hand the Labour government believe in helping out families more and providing more support for those in need. Labour believes the state has a duty to support families, especially single parent families that may not be able to cope. In order to do this Labour government recently set up schemes to help single parent families. In Tony Blair’s conference speech when he was first elected in 1997 he said “We cannot say we want a strong society when we ignore its very foundations: Family Life”. This summed up the new Labour mentality and showed that they wanted to play a larger role in peoples lives. Support for family values had traditionally been associated with right wing thinkers but Blair changed this when he took charge in 1997.

Due to the industrial revolution family structures have changed dramatically over the years. Because of this families have become more spread out over the country. This has lead to a less supportive structure of the modern family and it is believed that the state needs to help in some instances.

If the state played less of a role in deciding on what is good for society it could be said that this would be a socio-political regression. However without an enforcer, an individual’s protection of his personal property and freedom of speech would be entirely dependant on his own ability. In theory it sounds as if there would be complete freedom for everybody but this freedom would mean that nobody would have to uphold any laws or fear any penalty for their actions, and it is very likely this would cause absolute chaos.

Without the state, people would need to become a lot more self-sufficient and perhaps make a move away from modern life and its subsequent benefits. Although the state playing less of a role in the functioning of society does not necessarily mean the emergence of an anarchistic state as seen in tribal societies. Tribal societies have always lived without state but instead have had laws of practice and custom. There is no definite absence of a regulating authority or mechanism but it simply works on a smaller scale perhaps more in correspondence to the wishes of its people.

There are always dangers of a state exercising too much power as seen in the past in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. Although these parties were positioned at the opposite end of the political spectrum to each other they shared a total dominance of their countries people. Initially claiming to act in favour of the common man both parties soon became self-serving and murdered anybody who opposed them. Stalin would label his opposition not as enemies of Stalin but enemies of the people, still capturing himself as guardian and savour of the Russian people while at the same time murdering them or making slaves of them. It seems true that as the power of the state grows the power of the individual reduces. If the state was a true reflection of the peoples will and this was also regulated perhaps the state could be given more power. If the state existed as a measure of recommendation and subscription to the ideas were completely a matter of choice this would work but this is all too idealistic.

Karl Marx disputed the power of the state as he regarded it as a tool of oppression. Marx believed that ‘when freedom exists there will be no state’ but a shared ideology where everybody will work together for the good of the people. This allows a lot of problems to arise but also attacks the power of capitalism at the root. On the other hand Jean-Jacques Rousseau insisted on the need for a state but highlighted that the laws of that state must be ‘prescribed by the people’ for the people (Rousseau, 1968, p65).

It is very likely that an increase of state control would not be a popular decision but at the same time any less control may also be damaging to society, at least initially. An example of this is in Holland reduced the choice to use soft from a state decision to a personal decision. At the time figures escalated but ten years on, they have actually been reduced from the original number. The state should remain more of a guideline rather than an imposition where the opinion of the majority is recognised and highlighted but not necessarily enforced as law. The citizenship should always outweigh the will of those in power and the state should reflect the people, the people should not reflect the state.

As mentioned previously the Labour government in power in Great Britain at the present time sees the family as vital for the stability of society. They believe many social problems stem from family break down and their policies were aimed to strengthen family values. Although Labour has possibly played more of a role in deciding what is good for society than previous governments there are always going to be some people who disagree with the decisions a state makes. In response to the original question there is no real specific answer to whether the state should play more or less of a role as it all depends on personal opinion. Some people will think the state is not involved enough; some people will think they are too involved and others will think they have it right. Perhaps the real debate is who benefits from the state, those in power or the people obedient to it, but that is a whole new question.


A Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Oxford University Press, (1976)

C Wright Mills, The Power Elite, Oxford University Press, (1956)

Hall & Gieben, Formations of Modernity, Polity Press, (1992)

B Hindess, Discourses of Power: From Hobbes to Foucault, Oxford University Press, (1995)

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