The Concept of the State in British and French Political Thought

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Abstract

The importance of the concept of state in British political thought has recently been re-assessed, and Dyson's contrast between a continental ‘state tradition’ and an Anglo-American ‘stateless tradition’ has been put into question. Yet this paper argues that there remain crucial differences in the way in which French and British political thinkers have understood the concept of state. Focusing on a critical moment in the crystallization of the meaning of ‘state’, the turn of the twentieth century, and in particular on the anti-statist pluralist school, it analyses how state critics were influenced by national intellectual traditions. French thought has been permeated by the idea of the autonomy of the state vis-à-vis society at large, while British thought has remained committed to an ideal of fluidity between state and society.

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