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January 12th RIPS: Solving the Paradox of Political Success versus Individual Autonomy

An enduring paradox of our political development is the unease we feel about our dominance of the globe. New scholarship develops the argument that our success is based on our singular ability to create highly complex political institutions that produce large amounts of public goods and public services. The effective performance of these state institutions requires coordination by state authorities that puts restraints on individual freedom. Not surprisingly individuals resist restraint on their freedom by our leaders.

Jan 12, 2016

From Western Europe over the last 400 years political thinkers and citizen leaders have created, a limited yet flexible liberal democratic state that is designed to solve the paradox. Political practice has developed institutions and action that are hoped to give the majority of citizens what they want. The purported solutions consist of sharing state authority with non-state organizations that provide the goods and services people expect from authorities without the state leaders being the target of citizen anger. Sometimes this devolution works and sometimes it doesn't.

This perspective will be used to understand the actions of Ontario political leaders as they seek to maintain a very limited state. This project uses an actor-centered approach to understand the motives and hopes of public leaders. My analysis will argue that success depends on public and private leaders having similar expectations. In some cases the system may work so well, the public does not realize that non-state actors are wielding state authority. However, when these expectations are not congruent, the public notices and criticizes state authorities.


Henry Jacek is a long-time professor of Political Science at McMaster. Over the years, his published scholarship has focused on non-state organizations that interact regularly with state institutions such as political parties and interest associations. As well he has written about the political participation and attitudes of citizens and the design of state institutions at the municipal level.