From Abstract to Concrete: The State as an Unquiet Ideal

Corinna Lotz & Paul Feldman
Pages 49–76| Published online: 27 March 2024

Lotz, Corinna and Paul Feldman. 2024. “From Abstract to Concrete: The State as an Unquiet Ideal.” Marxism & Sciences 3(1): 49–76.


In this essay we attempt to interpret and develop Ilyenkov’s pioneering investigation of the nature of the Ideal as a philosophical category in relation to state transformation in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In the first section we set out Ilyenkov’s category of the Ideal and its relationship to the Universal. We propose understanding the state as an Ideal, as a “concrete universal,” which, as a developing whole exists, or rather, is negated into, contradictory relationships with its various parts. In this way it is a component of social consciousness as well as social being, which constitutes the culture of any society or social system. We suggest that the category of a dialectical Ideal is vital in theorizing the nature and essence of the relationship between the contemporary state and struggles for democracy.
In the second part, we outline the evolution of the capitalist form of state, touching on the conflicted history of Marxist viewpoints up to and including contemporary state theorists. The British state is analysed as an “ideal” model, given its particular nature as the oldest capitalist state with its “mother of parliaments.” Rather than viewing the capitalist form of state as a simple reflection of economic categories, we see the state’s relationship with capitalist production, and with its subjects (i.e. its Other), as “semi-autonomous,” thus existing in a complex, uneven, simultaneously “fragile, unstable, provisional, and temporary relationship.” (Jessop 2012). This is exemplified by historic class struggles in Britain and ongoing political crises, post-Brexit. We propose that grasping the state as a dynamic, changing ensemble of contradictory forces, while at the same time having its own objective existence and logic of development, is vital in the light of the present transition towards autocratic and dictatorial forms of state rule with its attendant crisis of the democratic Ideal.

KEYWORDS: The state, neoliberalism, the Ideal, Ilyenkov, Lenin, Engels, Jessop.


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