In recent decades the political state has been implicated in genocide, mass violence, political oppression, and targeted deprivations. Yet, in the field of conflict analysis, the meaning of state “power over” in conflict settings is under-theorized. In this article I probe the conceptual depths of state power to show that such power is neither singular nor simple. It’s neither ahistorical nor asocial. Beneath the surface of the state’s wide-ranging practices of governing its political subjects is a fundamental paradox that juxtaposes the state’s authority as the rightful authority over its subjects against the state’s vulnerability to potentially de-stabilizing threats to such authority. Critical to the meaning of state power, this paradox is revealed in an entanglement of contrary forces of state legitimation and its de-legitimation by threatening forces. Such an entanglement is illustrated in the state’s power to protect the nation from aggressors, to enact laws, and to manage its political subjects. The paradox implies that state power is fundamentally conflictual and, as a result, suited perfectly for analysis by scholar-practitioners in our field.

Author Bio(s)

Daniel Rothbart is professor of conflict analysis and resolution at the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University. He specializes in prevention of mass violence, ethnic conflicts, power and conflict, the ethics of conflict resolution, civilians in war and the psycho-politics of conflict. He currently serves as co-director of the Program on Prevention of Mass Violence. Professor Rothbart’s academic writings include more than fifty articles and chapters in scholarly journals and books. Among his ten authored or edited books, his recent publications include the following books: State Domination and the Psycho-Politics of Conflict (2019);Systemic Humiliation in America: Fighting for Dignity within systems of Degradation (2018). He is currently exploring the intersection of power, psychology and conflict. Professor Rothbart received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Washington University, St. Louis, and taught in the department of philosophy at GMU. He also held positions as visiting research scholar at Linacre College, Oxford, University of Cambridge and Dartmouth College.


conflict, democratic principles, Max Weber, sovereignty, state power, structural violence

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