In this first chapter, we are asking the question: Why Politics, Why Government? We can see this question as not only asking why we need the state and its institutions, but also as a question about the kind of state and institutions should we have and whether that state could gain or would be able to gain our allegiance. These questions comprehend two central questions of political theory: political legitimacy and political obligation.
Traditionally, Western Political Thought (particularly that of the social contract tradition) has sought to answer these questions by invoking the notion of human nature, suggesting that, politics and government are a necessary response to some particular defects in human nature and/or that such defects tend to lead to conditions that are undesirable or unbearable.
However, some philosophers are skeptical about this approach as a way that leads to answering the questions of political legitimacy and political obligation. Anarchists, for example, might simply invoke a notion of human nature that is more cooperative and peaceful. Then, the question of the authority of the state gets hung up on what version of human nature you happen to believe in, and short of some compelling evidence that might lead us to embrace one version over the other, we’ll be hard pressed to come to any firm conclusions.
Instead, some suggest that thinking about the state in functionalist terms is a better way to provide an account of the necessity of the state. Functionalists suggest states serve as ways to organize societal resources in such a way as they can be used to solve social and political problems: states provide certain necessary functions that could not otherwise be provided in their absence.
A general list of such functions might include the following (Carr, 2007):
Manage conflict resolution.
Manage property transfers.
Manage interstate issues.
Provide and manage necessary services that are not market viable.
Manage coordination problems (ie managing the effective movement of people and resources).
Managing collective action problems (ie managing cooperation around socially necessary projects).
Manage public safety.
Using the categories above, visit https://www.usa.gov/agencies (Links to an external site.) and identify 4-5 government agencies which match some of the functions. Write a brief sentence or two that describes how the agency enacts the function. Then, write about a page (~250 words) about how these functions would be provided if the state didn’t do them. What would the advantages or disadvantages of this be?
For example: Let’s take function # 7 from the list, can you find an agency in the website above that manages public safety? Once you find it write a brief description of what the agency does and who– if this agency did not exist– do you think would manage public safety?
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