chapter  4
29 Pages

The transformation of the democratic state in Western Europe

There is a close link between liberal democracy and the nation-state, which emerged as the dominant form of political organization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Alter 1994). It is true that there have also been nation-states that were not democratic as in the cases of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany and, indeed, of communist states such as Albania and Romania (Bogdani and Loughlin 2007). Democracy could also develop in societies that were not nation-states in the classical sense of the word as, for example, in the United Kingdom (see below for a discussion of the problems of defining the UK as a nation-state). Nevertheless, there seems to be a close correspondence between it and liberal democracy. Although the nation-state is pre-eminently a way of organizing the political system (the state) and of relating this to society (nation), it also suited the nature of capitalist economic production as it developed during the Industrial Revolution, which necessitated the creation of wider markets and the harmonization of factors such as weights, measures and time zones – what Karl Polanyi has termed ‘The Great Transformation’ from pre-market forms of economic organization to the market system (Polanyi 1944). The Industrial Revolution was driven by the industrial bourgeoisie, many of whom espoused the political ideology of liberal nationalism. The liberal democratic nation-state, one among several forms of political organization (Spruyt 1994), became dominant probably because it best served the needs of these new elites who were replacing the aristocracy and the Church as the leaders of European society. What is certain is that almost all our modern political institutions – executives accountable to representative assemblies; political parties elected to these assemblies in free elections; Weberian-type public administration systems8; and the various ‘freedoms’ – of speech, of assembly, of the press, of movement and so on – emanate from the nation-state. If the nation-state was contested as it established itself, it continues to be so today. Its imminent disappearance is predicted by various commentators (Ohmae 1995; Guéhenno 1995). It is claimed that the forces of globalization and Europeanization from above and the new regionalism and the new localism from below are squeezing it out of existence. It is, however, too soon to write its obituary. It is still alive and kicking but it is being transformed as a result of wider transformations: in public administration and public policy (New Public Management), in the economy (neo-liberalism and globalization) and in society (increasing societal fragmentation and individualism) (Loughlin 2004). Indeed, the fate of the nation-state – its continuing existence or its transformation – is the main question facing the social sciences today (Le Galès 1999).