Essay of the Day: The Relational State

* The Relational State. How recognizing the importance of human relationships could revolutionize the role of the state. Edited by Graeme Cook and Rick Muir. Institute for Public Policy Research, UK, 2012.

A Summary of this important essay:

“The purpose of this essay is not to summarise the contributions that follow but to provide a guide to the concept of the relational state and what it might mean for centre-left politics. We do this in two ways:

• first, by explaining where the impetus for this new strand of thinking emerged from, especially the approach to governing it reacts against

• second, by spelling out the different dimensions of the intense philosophical and practical argument it is capable of provoking if its insights are taken seriously.

As will become clear, there is both shared ground and sharp disagreement among those who are interested in advancing the concept of the relational state. Contributors are united on the need to pursue a different form of statecraft to the last Labour government, and agreed on the need for it to pay greater attention to lived experience and human relationships. However, there are important disagreements over the extent of the break from the past that is needed and its implications for the role of the state itself.

In this essay, we seek to provide the reader with a framework for understanding this debate. Rather than skating over the differences among our authors, we shine a light on them. In so doing, our aim is to define the relational state and draw out the contours of a new set of arguments and ideas about the purpose and practice of public services and the state itself.

We hope this collection contains valuable insights for those interested in the theory and practice of government across the political spectrum. It is directed in particular, though, towards those on the centre-left, who rightly see the state as a vital agent in bringing about the kind of society they believe in. Too often, however, the centre-left has been far too inattentive to what sort of state is required and how its power should be organised and exercised – including the limits of that power and the constraints it inevitably faces. In what follows we do not pretend to offer a fully developed theory of the state, but we do aim to confront these kinds of questions.”

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