PS 314 - National States and Global Challenges

Reading for January 23rd

Susan Strange, The Retreat of the State, Chapter One


Susan Strange, a former journalist, made the transition to academia, where she made major contributions in the field of international political economy. Some of her previous works looked at the transition of the international economy, focusing on the rise of a new global economic system. For Strange, the new "casino capitalism", as she termed it, marks a radical shift in the relationship between politics and economics. The Retreat of the State, published in 1996, marked the culmination of her career (this was her last book published before her untimely death) and is perhaps her most succinct and accessible statement of her thoughts about this relationship that lies at the core of the globalization debate. Both praised for its theoretical arguments and criticized for uneven empirical observations, the book makes three core statements about the modern state in the global arena;

    1. Politics (the exercise of power) is no longer confined to officials of the state
    2. Global markets now form an independent and impersonal arena of power
    3. Institutions other than the traditional state now wield legitimate and recognized authority

She begins by defining power, and observes that traditional capitalism operated in a world where power was located in the state. However, in the modern world, power has shifted from the state and is now exercised both by markets and by transnational institutions that lie beyond the purview of the state. Although she wryly notes that government officials and politicians may be the last to understand this phenomenon, she tells us that the effects of this shift are all around us and felt by all. As far as studying politics and political economy is concerned, she urges us to think about studying power wherever it may reside; i.e. we need to move away from simply studying the state to studying the diminished role of the state in the broader processes she outlines.

In the mid-1980's, another eminent grise of political science, Theda Skocpol, told us that we must "bring the state back in" to our political analysis. In some fashion, perhaps Susan Strange is letting us know that we might think about "taking the state back out".