BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
In the history of political philosophy there have been different
views as to what relationship should exist between the citizens and the
state in terms of state’s powers, authority compared to individual
rights and liberties. An exponent of totalitarianism for example would
want to argue that states authority and powers superceded the liberties
and right of the citizens. The totalitarianism would justify a state’s
interference on rights and liberties because they usually see the state
as a higher organism then the individuals, accordingly to them, if these
small organism (individuals) are to actuate their potentials, the state
a higher organism of which they are a part, should first actualize it’s
potentials before a favourable atmosphere can be created for
individuals to achieve theirs.
The liberalists on the other hand would want to argue that the rights
and liberties of individuals be abundantly unrestricted. They tend to
perceive the person in the state individually and they feel he should be
given a great amount of freedom to develop his innate potentials to the
maximum. The purpose of this essay is to answer the rather vexed
question being asked in political philosophy, is there any condition
whatsoever in which the state can justifiably, interfere in the rights
and liberties of the citizens? Or put differently, is it justifiable for
human beings to be born free naturally and yet be put in chains by the
artificial organism called the state?
For the purpose of actualizing the aim of this essay, an objective
position would be maintained without taking into cognizance the position
of the totalitarian and the liberalist as exemplified above rather,
logical and morally substantive argument would be used to support this
essay. Logical in the sense that the state is logically bound to
interfere with rights and liberties of individuals on the basis of their
definitions and function that could ascribed to individuals on the
other. While the moral argument is based on the function the state has
perform for the citizens that is functions which are morally good or
geared toward moral ends.
This essay is also aimed at resolving the famous J.J. Rousseau’s
Paradox that “Men are born free but everywhere are in chains”1 This
justification will employ the argument that men needs some amount of
restraint which men are lacking and ought to be headed, which made them
transcends the state of nature to a well organized state. If it is
assumed that this need has been consciously realized and people went
into a contract which now resembles a contract situation can be
justified in behaving in a certain manner to obviate the circumstance
the need for which led to the formation of a state.
Hegel’s theory of the state, and what he said about the relationship
between the state and its citizens could also justify it, according to
Hegel there is no other power superior to the sovereign state disputes
or conflicts between different individuals in the state are settled by
the state through the enacted laws and not through whimes and Caprices.
The state according to him is not a human construction freely and
deliberately set up by some kind of social contract. Human beings did
not decide to form a state to provide their needs, as we are told by
philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.
STATEMENT OF THE GENERAL PROBLEM
A lot of misconceptions have been made about the relations that exist
between the state and its citizens especially when it relates to power,
authority and rights activism.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
This study will help to unravel the sticking relationship between the
state and its citizenry as regards the power of the state and right
activism which would in turn help to maintain a cordial relationship
between the citizenry and the state power.
- DEFINITION AND ORIGIN OF THE STATE
1. DEFINITION OF STATE
The question of what really is a state has never been an easy one
because the state has been conceived of in different ways and varying
perspectives. Some people have conceived of the state through its
The state is seen as a people living in a given territory under one
law with a single governmental system extending to all of them and to no
one else, are the members of a state, but the state as an institution
does not embrace all roles in which they are but only political or legal
Though this definition is too specific because it makes it
categorically clear that the state can only plays political or legal
roles and it will not be taken seriously within the ambits of this
essay. In any case, to gasp or capture the basic aim of this essay, a
brother analysis of the definition of the state is required; hence it
becomes necessary to employ the two concepts of a state highlighted
2. STATE CONCEIVED OF IN TERMS OF FUNCTION
Every state irrespective of its population size and economic
potentials strives to promote peaceful relations among its people as
well as its outside relationship with other foreign state. Based on that
conception of the state, it is agreed that it is the duty of the state
to promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. The
state is an institution set up to promote social good on the largest
possible scale. And in attempting to achieve this purpose, the tendency
is for government to make themselves more and more conspicuous
especially by the planning of economic life. The state aims first at
ensuring the protection of integrity of the territory from foreign
aggression and the personal security of the individuals. To achieve this
goal the state defines and punished crimes. Administer justice,
maintain the police and fighting forces and conducts of civil
disobedience these activities of state are refers to by liberalists as
The state protects the right to private property, together
with the right to the free transference of properly to fulfil contracts
freely entered into political rights and duties is also another basic
function they have to perform, the state determined the political rights
and duties of citizens, passes laws to regulate voting and gives
directives on other voting procedures.
From the above conceptual analysis of the state, it becomes
imperative to note that modern state is a social service state, a
positive state as compared to the role of the citizens, to uphold social
standards to prevent exploitation and manifest justices to remove the
needles hazards of economic struggle and to assure and advance the
general interest against carelessness or selfishness of particular
Granting the function of a state and many other which the
state still exercises power on. It is also important to consider the
state from the conception of characteristics and nature.
CHARACTERISTIC OF A STATE
According to this view, there are certain basic characteristics that
are common to all either jointly or singularly designate them as state,
much characteristics and nature includes. :
- Territory: - There must be a given territory
and this is the basic characteristics, a group of people has to be
necessary like within a given territory boundary to be regarded as a
state not minding whether the group is homogeneous. The territory must
be defined and endorsed with all the resources like air, space,
minerals, technology, climate and geography.
- Population:- It must have a definable number of population with distinct characteristics features.
iii. Government: the state must have a government, a
body of people charged with the responsibility of controlling the state
machinery of power with all institutions.
iv. Constitution: - Moreover, a state must here the
ability to wield power with absolute jurisdiction within the given
territory and these powers are enshrined in the codified laws called
constitution. People come together to regulate their progress among
themselves and to achieve this goes a constitution is promulgated. A
constitution is an agreed fundamental principle written legal or extra
on which a particular state operates.
v. Legitimacy: - With this characteristics, a state
makes itself accepted to the people and its polices and decision are
binding within that territory. The state both civilian and military
tries to legitimate their coming by the ills of the past government.
1.2 ORIGIN OF THE STATE.
The origin of the state poses a problem in political
philosophy because it lacks the elements of history and anthropological
works. Among the first question which political theories raised are.
What are the causes that brought the original establishment of modern
There are various theories concerning the beginning of the state
a. The divine right theory
b. The force theory
c. The evolutionary theory
e. The social contract theory
However, for the purpose of actualizing the objectives of
this essay, it becomes necessary to discuss the four common theories
relevant to the theme.
a. Theory of the Divine Origin:- This is the school
of thought that has it that the state came into being as a result of
divine creation. It must have been as punishment of mankind. Medical
period this theory reigned supreme, they believed that the state has
been established by the ordinance of God, its have been established by
an ordinance of God, Its rules are divinely appointed; they are
accountable to no authority but God. Thus we are told in the bible.
Let every soul be subject into the higher powers, for there is no
power but God. Whosoever therefore resisted the power resisted the
ordinance of God and they that resist shall receive to themselves
From the above biblical extract, it is clear that a king being the
head of a state can never be monstrously vicious even if a king is
wicked, it means God has sent him as a punishment for people’s sin’s and
has laid upon them, granting the above views to be true, it is clear
that the actions of the state to the individuals are justify, they are
not regarded as interference because of the fact that all the government
b. The Force Theory:- In its simplest form this
theory may be stated thus; War begat the king. The state is the result
of the subjugation of the weaker by the stronger. It is the belief that
the state came into being as a result of conquest or coercion. Hume gave
an expression to this similar idea of this theory. That the first
ascendant of one man over multitudes began during a state of war, where
the superiority of courage and of genius discoveries itself most visibly
where the pernicious effects of disorder are most sensibly felt. The
long continuance of that state, an incident common among savage tribes,
incurred the people to submission4.
A state is founded when a leader with his band of warriors
get permanent control of a definite territory of a considerable size.
Historically speaking there is not the slightest difficulty
in proving that all political communities of the modern types are their
existence to successful warfare5.
Thrasy Machus would support this view, according to him,
“Justice is the interest of the stronger”, Rulers makes laws to protect
their interest which automatically becomes what is just and right thus
justice in every state is the interest of the stronger.
c. The Evolutionary Theory: - This considers the
state, neither as a divine institution nor as a deliberate human
contrivance, it sees the state coming into existence as a result of
natural evolution. The preposition that the state is a result of history
means that the state is a gradual and continuous development of human
society. Out of a grossly imperfect beginning through crude but
improving form of manifestation towards a perfect and universal
organization of man.
Political consciousness is spontaneous, natural twin born,
with man and the family, Aristotle was simple stating a fact when he
said man is by nature a political animal. The needs for order and
security is an ever present factors, man knows instinctively that he can
develop the best of which he is capable only by some form of political
organization. At first, it might be that the political unconsciousness,
but just as the forces of nature operated long before the law of
gravitation, political organization rested on the comity of mind,
unconscious, dimly conscious of fully conscious of certain moral ends
presents through out the whole course of development.
d. The Social Contract Theory:- The substances of
this theory is that the state is the result of an agreement entered into
by men who originally had no government organization, this means that
the history of the world is divisible into two clear periods. The
periods before the state was instituted and the period after. In the
first place, there was no state no human authority to formulate laws,
men lived subject to the laws of nature. After some time they parted
with their natural liberties and agreed to obey the laws prescribed by
The idea of a social contract could be seen as people
suffering from anarchy as illustrated by the proverbial tendency of a
large fish swallowing a small one. In his work the crito,6 Socrates is
presented as awaiting calmly the execution of his sentence, even though
he considered it unjust, because he would not break his covenant with
the state by escaping from prison into exile.
There are three notable social contracts theorists; they
are John Hocke (1632 – 1704). Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) J.J. Rousseau
(1912 – 1978). The contractarians have a common view, they all used the
theory of the state of nature as a premise in arriving at the theory of
the social contract. They have a common departure which is the state of
nature but their point of divergent is the disagreement on how the state
of nature. Despite their diverse views the fact remains that the state
of nature was not favourable enough to enhance political, social and
economic development, hence the social contract. Every person is
expected to obey the rules of the state and any individual that
disobeyed must be forced to conform or suffer the penalty, every
individual must be forced to be free, that is obeying the state.
1.3 FUNCTIONS OF THE STATE
Having studies the definitions and origin of the state it
become necessary to link up such pervious analysis to the role, they are
to perform on behalf of the citizens. The main aim of the state is the
good of all in the society. The state Aristotle tells us, originated for
the purpose of life. The end of the state is therefore, ethical the
state exists for the increase of its population or wealth or for empire
or the extension of its influence. It exists for the exercise of the
qualities, which make men good citizens, good husband father, neighbors,
and good heads of households. The ethic end of the state is
subordinated to convenience in Hocke. His concern is not with the “Good”
but with the “Convenient”. The great end of men uniting into state is
the preservation of their personal rights and liberties.
All state, no matter the nature performs almost the same function such function could be classified into two:
- The function as a night watchman
- The paternalistic function
The function of a night watchman: This is the first major function of
a state, this function sees the state as playing more as a passive
function, for the state facts as a mere overseer. But the state does in
fact in some cases perform more active function on good moral grounds
than a more overseers, bearing in mind the modern challenges of a state
such as economic, education and technological development and a
situation where the general welfare of the citizens is used as a
surrogate for measuring a good state. Robert Norzick conceives of the
state in terms of a minimal function of the night watchman. In this
case, the state performs the limited functions of preventing theft,
fraud promotion of the enforcement of contracts and agreement guards
against the use of force7.
The paternalistic functions: By this function the state can make
demands of affirmative action or restraint forms its members. The father
should be seen to promise a positive role and in the sense of what the
law does by prohibition in terms of negative ends. This involves the
choice of actions for citizens in bid to promote their welfare and
This paternalistic function is a way of providing the positive
aspects of liberties for citizens by way of social services such as
school, good roads, hospitals, water, electricity to mention a few. To
achieve these aims for example, the state might be seen by haven to
impose taxation which might be seen by the people as interference. The
paternalistic upon which mind and character may develop them selves.
Similarly, the state is to maintain order, peace and security for its
citizens, therefore creating a good habitat or environment for them to
actualized their potentialities which is the only condition by which
Aristotle could regard the state as good. This, the state does by
providing for the law enforcement agent to prevent violence that might
obviate a peaceful atmosphere.
The state through those involvement punishes offenders in order to
maintain social equilibrium. In the process rights and liberties are
safeguard which is necessary for the well being of all, but at the same
time, a violation of the natural tendencies are being put under check.
It could be observed that the function of the state is not basically
to build individual character but rather the group character, the state
is concerned with the general good of all in the society, this is the
basic aim of the state and the individual character as member of such a
group. This individual character also graduate into group character.
With definition and origin of state as a basis, it becomes imperative
to progress in the next chapter by explaining the concepts of rights
liberties as basis that would logically need the states encroachment.
REFERENCES AND NOTES
J.J. Rousseau The Social Contract and Discourse Translated and With
Introduction by G.O.H. Cole (London : Dent and sons Ltd, 1973), p.165.
S.I Ben and R.S Peters Social Principles and Democratic state. (London: Hampshire pub. 1984), p.252.
The Bible, (RSV) Rom. B vs 1-2.
D.Hume Essay of The Origin of Government (Middlesex : Penguin Books, 1969), p.89.
E. Junks A History of Politics. (London : Jonathan Cape pub. 1971), p.72.