Despite widespread claims of its demise, the national state is the scale of the state institution best able to marshal the political, discursive and material resources necessary to achieve goals of social justice, defined as a decrease in income inequality, at local, national and global scales. The appearance of the withering away of the state is deceptive, since it is the state itself that is enacting the distribution of functions that some observers interpret as a reduction in state power. The arguments for a return of big government are both strategic and tactical. Strategically, central government has been responsible for every major social policy advance in the United States in the twentieth century. Tactically, the institutions comprising decentralized governance, including local governments, non–profit foundations and community–based organizations, are inadequate to the task. The role of big government in pursuit of social justice entails discursive and regulatory functions, each in turn suggesting an attendant political project for academics and activists. What is at stake is not a quantitative redistribution of state power but a qualitative redirection of the purposes to which that power is applied. Uncritical insistence on the end of the nation state may create a self–defeating self–fulfilling prophecy that conceals important opportunities for political realignment.
Robert W. Lake
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