Power of a sovereign

The state should balance itself between a power and a right
As Aristotle said “The state comes into existence for the sake of life and continues to exist for the sake of good life”.  [Image for representational purpose only]
As Aristotle said “The state comes into existence for the sake of life and continues to exist for the sake of good life”. [Image for representational purpose only]jenikirbyhistory [Creative Commons]

The political philosophers/theorists of different age & time have enriched & enlightened the human civilisation with an institution called the state. As Aristotle said “The state comes into existence for the sake of life and continues to exist for the sake of good life”.

From the very beginning, the comprehensive plan has been worked-out for its continuity. Imperative to say, that the same philosophers also illuminated the mankind about the concepts like social-contract which according to them was a prerequisite for the establishment of a political & public good. Besides, the popular sovereignty. According to them, such a plan was inevitable to bring peace, stability & order.

In this piece of work, my sole purpose is to locate the excessive and absolute powers of the modern-day state. Besides, how the individual rights are getting hurt and striped through what Giorgio Agamben has called “The state of exception”.

I conclude, why the modern-day state should uphold & re-read its mutually established contract & respect the rights which are above all. For the creation of a sovereign (read state), the philosophers viewed the consent of the individual as a fundamental to make authority legal & sensible.

Many endorsed the individual liberties & called them inalienable & undeniable for complete individual development in particular and the continuity of the state in general. For example, an english philosopher John Locke viewed individual liberty as one of the fundamental principle for the overall development of an individual.

He was the first who limited & restricted the powers of the state. He was the one who staunchly criticised those states which justified the absolute & unlimited powers of the state. He was the one who empowered the citizens with a right to resist.

Necessary Evil

The institution like state is a significant one. The timeless classics & the modern day political philosophers/theorists viewed the same institution differently.

There are very few who opined against it. But there are the scholars who viewed the state as a last resort to end the human sufferings & the social predicaments. They are of the view that it is the only institution that is enough capable to fulfil all the basic & necessary needs of the individual.

However, the same institution was called as a “necessary & unnecessary evil” by different political theorists. Besides, Karl Marx known as the prophet of workers class viewed the state as an instrument of exploitation & a theatre of coercion.

The importance of the state in the words of Machiavelli is that “it is the highest form of human association which has to be created as the human beings are selfish, deceitful & egoistic in nature”. Without an iota of doubt, state is an imperative institution which has no substitution and cannot be replaced.

In its absence, the conditions would be like the Hobbesian state of nature. Where the social order would be full of chaos & the trade & other economic developments wouldn’t be possible & the property of all would be under threat from all.

I’m in full agreement with those who say the state is an inevitable institution but I totally disapprove the unchecked, absolute & unlimited powers of the institution which is detrimental in many ways.

In today’s time, keeping in view the absolute role of the modern state, It wouldn’t be inappropriate to say that people think & discuss more about the state than the God. Because, today’s state has become heavily interventionist & interfered one in the private lives of its citizen.

It can be said that the contract which was mutually established to bring peace & stability has turned monotonous, if not entirely broken. In the name of the sovereignty, the power & authority is being continuously misused & manipulated to restrict individual life & liberty.

Since, there is a proliferation of statism, there is a grave abuse of human rights and individual liberties. To study the modern-day state across the globe & in South Asian region in particular, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the sovereign whose powers were limited, and accountable to the law of the land has turned violent, absolute & authoritarian. The characteristics of a democratic & an authoritarian state are deeply blurred.

In an article published in Foreign Policy by Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson argue that “States don’t fail overnight. The seeds of their destruction are sown deep within their political institutions”. Perhaps, the authors are indicating towards the continuous political instability, unconstitutional legislations & unabated state violence by the modern-day state that would become reasons for its fall.

Undisputedly, the modern-state has turned into a state of surveillance and totally anti-individualistic. These coercive policies of states not only deteriorated the individual capabilities, but has curtailed the individual autonomy. “In recent years, however, surveillance has become synonymous with repression” (Isabel Ivanescu and Robert Carlson).

A state which gives unaccountable and innumerable coercive measures to its political institutions like police & other agencies is truly a “political and moral decay of a modern-state”.

The so called democratic system, the rule of law & the highest court of judiciary which are there to check the misuse of power are too in an absolute chaos.

The mis-trust & non-credibility of the political institutions is a sign of dysfunctionality and an inappropriate behaviour of the modern state. Today’s state wants its citizens to be disciplined, but miserably fails to give rights to its citizens. As someone said “authority without responsibility is an imminent danger”.


To make state a guardian & a protector of all, there is need to re-visit the contract & make the same more accountable, accessible to all. It needs to be transparent and inclusive without curtailing the individual rights. Undoubtedly, genuine & progressive criticism is the hallmark of a modern day state.

The powers of the sovereign should be limited & its unnecessary interference and a kind of encroachment on the civil liberties should be restricted. The state of today should be built on cooperation, consensus & consent.

A State which is exercising absolute powers would lead to disorder, conflict and deep alienation. The absolute state chains the individual liberties and imprisons their capacities. They are the same capacities which a modern day state could have exploited in a better way for the general welfare of the society.

In simpler terms, the failure of the state is the beginning of an unlimited anarchy, violence & a threat to all from all. I firmly believe that the state shouldn’t collapse & fail under any circumstance.

Yes, for its continuity it should cut its excessive powers & should build a progressive, cooperative & a democratic kind of atmosphere. In today’s world, the existence of the state is as important as of civil liberties of an individual.

The state should balance itself between a power and a right. More importantly, the “legitimate antagonism” shouldn’t be obliterated & diverted at any cost. The known Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero has then rightly said that the “state without justice is a robbery on the highway”.

Javeed Bin Nabi studies at Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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