The sovereign nature of states is a topic that has come into question towards the end of the last century. Many advancements and changes, both within and outside borders, have brought into some doubt whether the state is indeed as strong an actor within its borders as it once was. By analysing internal and external influences on the governments of the UK and USA in the twentieth century, it is possible to judge how the nature of power has changed. I will argue that a gradual progression of events, in particular marketisation of the economy and growing dependence on supranational bodies such as the EU and the international economy, have clearly reduced the state to an actor that still retains some control, but is struggling for sovereignty against external interference and internal competition.
There are two competing schools of thought at work, each with underlying principles and answers to the aforementioned question. Postmodernists agree that the state has become “one actor amongst many”. Postmodernism “depends upon a radical rejection of the past and of all attempts to use the past to understand the present,” and rejects “that history can be interpreted as moving towards a definite goal.” (Gamble, 2000:20-21) Postmodernists also see the decision-making process as pluralistic, spread across departments and organisations with different goals and specialisations, and no one group having absolute power. This means that they see the state as increasingly “hollow”, with recent political changes, due to the delegation of responsibility and use of multiple actors. Late modernity, on the other hand, is the theory that we are still in a state of modernity; that society is developing in a unilinear and purposeful way with clear hierarchy. Modernists are of the belief that history of the state is evolutionary. They believe that states and individuals had, and still retain, the power to intervene and influence society. From the perspective of modernists, change can be seen as “new forms of state power developing on the existing structures and institutions.” (Smith, 2009:90)
It is also necessary to define what is meant by a modern liberal democracy. According to Schumpeter, democratic society is one that has the “institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote.” (1950:269) On top of this, the modern state has the key features of legitimacy, sovereignty of one territory, bureaucracy and a monopoly of legitimate force (Smith, 2009:91). There is a balance between control of citizens and protection of liberty, and recent domestic and global changes have shifted this ratio.
Firstly we will look at internal challenges to the sovereignty of the state. In the 1980s, Britain and America were heavily influenced by neo-liberal philosophies, spearheaded by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and continued under the Major administration in the UK...