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Does the State Represent Our Needs as Individuals

Image Source: Unit 4

In 1688, Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons claimed to be "taking into their most serious consideration the best means for attaining the ends…do in the first place…for the vindicating and asserting their ancient rights and liberties,” and yet three centuries later, the attaining of these ends has seen no meaningful progress. For the vast majority of humanity, rights have only existed in conception, an immaterial reality meant to placate those without power. Despite numerous attempts throughout history at protecting the rights of the people, the fact remains that the people are regarded as inferior by those with the power to protect them. Merriam-Webster defines the people as “the ordinary people in a country who do not have special power or privileges.” Seemingly intrinsic to the people's continued existence is the people's continued subservience to those who are meant to be its representatives. The United Kingdom is allegedly a democratic institution that is meant to uphold the rights of its citizens to be fairly represented through its electives; however, the deceptive nature of this modern democratic model collectivises its people’s prerogative that they are the ones in control of their political institutions. Modern political institutions continue to exist in constant conflict with the powerless in society rather than being the will of the people. Therefore, the people are not represented by the political structures of the modern world.

The unequal distribution of power within political institutions is a key factor that undermines their ability to represent the people. This is evident in the structure of these institutions, which often give disproportionate influence to certain groups, such as the wealthy and well-connected. For example, in many countries, political parties are funded by a small number of wealthy donors, which gives these donors outsized influence over party policies and decision-making. An example of this is when Malcolm Offord, who had donated almost £150,000 to the Conservative party in the UK, was appointed to the House of Lords and became a minister in Scotland. This exemplifies the bureaucratic nature of our political institutions as they were fundamentally conceived to give unequal leverage to those possessing capital. In searching for an apt description of modern-day political institutions, most would find it impossible to avoid bureaucracy as a descriptor. American political scientist Francis Fukuyama argues that bureaucratic structures are the defining aspect of a modern state, citing Warring who states China as the first historical example of this. Fukuyama describes China during the 4th and 3rd century B.C. as “the first to create a modern state, in the sense of having impersonal recruitment, a very well-developed bureaucracy…to centrally manage a huge empire.” This has meant that the interests of the general population are not always prioritised, and the decisions made by political institutions tend not to reflect the will of the majority but rather focus on representing capital and protecting the interests of those who possess it.

Bureaucracy is the altering of an organisation's professed goals for the benefit of a person or group in charge and with political power. A look into the political climate of Warring States China at this time seems to confirm Fukuyama's thoughts, particularly the strategies deployed by these states. Professor of Art History Annette Juliano wrote that in the midst of this power struggle “several feudal states dominated…they controlled vast territories endowed with the rich resources necessary to support large-standing armies…because of their internal political reforms and centralised government structures.” As far back as the 4th century BC governments have been structured in a way designed to maximise efficiency via a concentration of power in dominant interest groups rather than representing the will of the people, and since this development in human history, bureaucratic structures have rapidly spread under the name of modernization. The high influence of oligarchy in political institutions is represented through the symbiotic relationship between Rupert Murdoch, media mogul and ex-prime minister Tony Blair. Rupert Murdoch lobbied for the invasion of the Iraq war through his vast media empire and pressured Blair into supporting the war in Iraq which demonstrates the input the wealthy and well-connected have on policies which affect the entire population and how detracted policymakers are from the actual needs and want of the people.

Furthermore, political institutions are often influenced by the interests of powerful groups, such as interest groups and linkage institutions. These groups, which are often organised around particular industries or issues, wield significant influence over the policy-making process. It is made evident by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page that “economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence” As a result, the decisions made by political institutions do not represent the diverse interests of the population, rather the interests of those in the bureaucracy. The processes through which modern political institutions are run are opaque and subject to the influence of special interests, and in no way represent the interests of the people.

The idea of a conflict of interest between groups of people being a driving force in society has been most infamously attributed to communist philosopher Karl Marx. Whilst controversial in modern society, it is nearly impossible to deny the influence that Marx's theory of class conflict has had on the understanding of the state concerning the people. Class conflict asserts that the most prevalent driving force behind society is the diametric opposition between the proletariat, the workers, or in general terms, the people, and the bourgeoisie, those with control over the means of production, those with power. Marx uses this theory to create an outline of humanity's progress, stating “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle” The natural course of this eternal power struggle leads directly to the state and its bureaucracy, as was established in the works of Fukuyama. And so, regardless of the stated goals of political institutions, as it is argued by Marx, “The representation of private interests...abolishes all natural and spiritual distinctions by enthroning in their stead the immoral, irrational and soulless abstraction of a particular material object and a particular consciousness which is slavishly subordinated to this object.” Essentially, the state represents capital; and in a world where money is power, the owners of massive amounts of capital are represented by the state, and the two seemingly separate institutions defined by their power over society are intrinsically linked. Due to this, the mass of the people is in constant conflict with the minority behind power structures which only represent its own interests rather than the masses.

Marx's theory brings him to the conclusion of a necessary revolution to prevent crisis, much further than the purposes of this essay, however, the masterful analysis of modern power structures proves to be useful far beyond the boundaries of Marxism. Nearly a century after the birth of Marxism, social psychologist Geert Hofstede developed a comprehensive theory of the cultural impact on workplace behaviour, one aspect of this being the power distance index. Rather than an outside analysis of power structures in society, Hofstede utilised the view of the people. The power distance index is described as “the extent to which the less powerful members of organisations and institutions [the people] accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.” This single aspect of what Hofstede called his cultural dimensions provides a concise measurement of inequality between those in power and those in submission. While the original works would imply the presence of tacit consent amongst the submitted, the presence of bureaucracy would morph the tacit consent into an oxymoronic forced consent. Instead of a society's level of inequality being agreed to by the people it seems as if the truth of the matter lies between Hofstede and Marx, with the people's “consent” simply being tolerance in the face of an oppressor. Contrary to the belief of bureaucrats, the people are not fools, they are glaringly aware of the dangers they're confronted by if they decided to reject society for being unfair, for being unrepresentative.

In conclusion, the modern state is intrinsically tied to what some would call elites. The state does not currently exist to protect or represent the people or any particular group of people, rather it exists as power itself. Through a centuries-long power struggle, there have been no true victors, only an infinitely expanding winning condition, control. Modern political institutions base themselves around the control of resources to adequately control the people. Power in numbers has been crushed via deceit and pure force, power in resources has prevailed. As Marx puts it “The bureaucrat has the world as a mere object of his action.” The political institutions of the modern world do not represent the people, they represent its oppressors.

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