The three constituencies of the state: why the state has lost unifying energy, Desmond King, Patrick Le Galès (Sciences Po, France)

British Journal of Sociology, November 2017, vol 68, n° S1

We address resurgent populism by examining structural processes of state transformation in the UK, the US and France. Scholars stress the ‘unifying energy of the state’, a set of institutions and policies capable of limiting inequalities and defending legal regimes. One characteristic of modern Western statehood were packages of policies designed to integrate social groups and territories in part by ensuring common standards of provision and social citizenship across the nation state. This echoes James Scott’s critical analysis of the modernist project of the state (1998). This ‘unifying energy’ had different origins including nationalist movements, combatting external influence or powers, war, and preparing citizens for the rigours of industrialization. Overcoming class differences and territorial differences (including cultural, social and economic differences) was a major source of mobilization to feed this ‘unifying energy of the state’ in France, Italy or Spain for instance. Political and cultural identities are related in significant part to respective nation states. We argue that this ‘unifying energy’ was an essential component of statehood in Europe and in the US. It is now largely lost. We explain why and the significance of its displacement.

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