What Is the State? The Russian Concept of Gosudarstvo in the European Context

What allows us to talk about the state as an active agent when we understand that only individuals act? This article draws comparisons between Quentin Skinner's exposition of the history of the concept of the state in major European languages and the history of its equivalent Russian term gosudarstvo in order to provide some general hypotheses on the development of the phenomenon of the state, and on the origins of this baffling usage. First, summing up a vast number of historical and lexicographical works, it attempts a detailed reconstruction of the conceptual development of the term in the Russian language. Second, a peculiarity of the Russian case is discussed, in which absolutist thinkers (and not republicans, as in western Europe) stressed the difference between the person of the ruler and the state. Third, political interests in introducing such novel usage are discussed, together with the role of this usage in the formation of the state. This allows us to see better the origins of current faith in the existence of the state as a more or less clearly designated and independent actor, predicated on the mechanism of what Pierre Bourdieu described as "mysterious delegation."


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