Imagining the State
Open University Press, Maidenhead and Philadelphia, 2003, 174 pp.
ISBN 0-335-20351-5 (pbk) 15.99 [pounds sterling]
This is another very interesting book from Mark Neocleous, who draws on his previous work on civil society, the police and social order and fascism in order to develop an understanding of the mind and body of the modern state. It provides new insights insofar as it breaks with those approaches that consider the body politic to have disappeared from the modern state, offers insights on the idea of the state as a person, rejects those approaches that downplay the role of sovereignty; and, in the supposed era of globalisation, argues that the state is still a major player in world politics.
Neocleous considers the idea of the political, physical and cultural constitution of the state in terms of its having a mind, body and will of its own. His argument is interesting because on the one hand he is arguing for this idea; and on the other, he is showing how it is illusory and fetishistic. First, he is concerned to reject the idea that the body politic has disappeared from the political imagination. Rather, it has taken a new, bourgeois form. This is connected to the development and expansion of capital, and the need to maintain order among new groups and classes. The modern state has the role of ensuring order in a new society of increasingly independent 'individuals', who are no longer subject to the authority of the sovereign (p. 15). But Neocleous is concerned with the passage from the body of the monarch to the body of the state, arguing against the Foucauldian view that state power is undermined by the cutting off of the King's head. Instead, there is a shift from the physical body of the sovereign to the more abstract body of the state--a reinvented monarchical body.
This reinvented body draws on the ancient idea of the body of the monarch as repository of the state's power, but takes on a life of its own--almost illusory or fetishistic yet at the same time, precisely because of this, very real and powerful: 'this state-machine is the most mystical body known to man. As a machine the concept of sovereignty is truly depersonalized, while as a body it retains some of the "human" features characteristic of an age of personal power' (p. 21). The abstraction of the state makes it seem almost mystical; yet the abstraction of the state reflects something all too real--the abstraction of modern...