In the public interest
The role of the modern state
All societies across the world have some kind of state - the question is not whether the state should play a role in society, but what sort of role that should be. Neoliberalism, the dominant political orthodoxy since the 1980s, views the state as primarily the defender of national sovereignty, protector of private property, and maintainer of social order. Under neoliberalism there is no role for the state in promoting sustainability, social justice or technological progress. Initially the financial crisis of 2008 seemed also to be a crisis of neoliberal thinking, but the implications of neoliberal failure upon the role of the state were never seriously debated.
Too often, the left has succumbed to the ‘small state’ arguments of neoliberalism without considering rationally the appropriate role and place of the state in a 21st Century economy and society confronted with major problems. Five years after the financial crisis, and with an ecological crisis looming, it is time to ask how a modern state can play a major role in securing social and ecological justice.
This paper was commissioned as a core part of a series that will seek to address these issues and creatively explore the role of the modern state.