The future of our species depends on the state. Can states resist corporate capture, religious zealotry, and nationalist mania? Can they find a way to work together so that the earth heals and its peoples prosper? Or is the state just not up to the task? In this book, the prominent political philosopher Philip Pettit examines the nature of the state and its capacity to serve goals like peace and justice within and beyond its borders. In doing so, he breaks new ground by making the state the focus of political theory—with implications for economic, legal, and social theory—and presents a persuasive, historically informed image of an institution that lies at the center of our lives.
Offering an account that is more realist than utopian, Pettit starts from the function the polity is meant to serve, looks at how it can best discharge that function, and explores its ability to engage beneficially in the life of its citizens. This enables him to identify an ideal of statehood that is a precondition of justice. Only if states approximate this functional ideal will they be able to deal with the perennial problems of extreme poverty and bitter discord as well as the challenges that loom over the coming centuries, including climate change, population growth, and nuclear arms.
“Magisterial and defining. Pettit is one of the world’s greatest political philosophers; this book offers clarity and wisdom on every page.”—Cass R. Sunstein, author of #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media
“What is the state? Why do we need it? And how can we control it? In this monumental book, one of today’s most prolific and inspired philosophers revisits the foundations of modern political theory. Through piercing analyses of the origins of the law, the need for both sovereignty and decentralization, the power of the people, the function of individual rights, and the political regulation of the market, Philip Pettit has written the definitive treatise of the state for our times.”—Cécile Laborde, University of Oxford
“Philip Pettit has written a rigorous and compelling account of what the state must be and could be as a prelude to an argument about what it should be to achieve national and global justice. Of particular note is his understanding of sovereignty as an emergent phenomenon from the interactions of multiple decentralized agents of the people, a critical updating of classical theorists. The argument for the survival and necessity of the state is equally important for both domestic political theorists and would-be architects of global governance.”—Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America
“In this philosophical tour de force, Philip Pettit offers an elegant republican riposte to the sovereignty theories of Bodin, Hobbes, Rousseau, and their contemporary admirers. Through a thought experiment worthy of his early-modern interlocutors, he demonstrates that the proper functioning of the state, including ensuring security and welfare, is not best served by a unitary sovereign, but rather by a balance of power between rulers and subjects.”—Josiah Ober, Stanford University
“In this grand treatise, Philip Pettit does nothing less for our time than what Thomas Hobbes did for his: lay out the nature of the state in a rigid and systematic way. Through a unique combination of functionalist and normative argument, Pettit’s rational genealogy lucidly unfolds the dynamic of power that forms and upholds a polity. This book does not just engage in lively conversation with the classic texts of political philosophy – it will be a classic itself.”—Rainer Forst, Goethe University Frankfurt
“In this profoundly important and interesting book, Philip Pettit offers an all too rare philosophical account of the state. His functional genealogy opens doors to a critical examination of absolutist, libertarian, and classical market-liberal political philosophies. The book will help redirect modern political theory to a realism that does not neglect questions of morality and ethics. A major moment.”—Paul Tucker, former central banker and author of Global Discord: Values and Power in a Fractured World Order
“Theorists of politics will welcome this book, in which Philip Pettit uses genealogical methods to explore the implications of his republican ideas for an understanding of polity and state. It is a topic that demands our attention as we watch how states frustrate as well as advance the purposes for which they were constituted. Pettit's exploration yields an extraordinarily sophisticated set of insights into the relation between state and legitimacy.”—Jeremy Waldron, New York University
“An extremely impressive and philosophically rich book, in the grand tradition of Hobbes and Locke, and, more recently, Rawls and Raz. There is every reason to believe that this book will become essential reading for anyone working in political philosophy, political theory, legal theory, and related areas today.”—Daniel Viehoff, New York University
“Philip Pettit continues to inspire. This groundbreaking book offers original answers to questions any political philosopher needs to ask: What kind of entity is the state? Why are we justified in holding such an entity responsible? What possibilities are feasible in terms of its structure and functioning?”—Victoria Costa, College of William & Mary