Beyond Leviathan: Critique of the State

REVIEWS, 7 Feb 2022

István Mészáros | Monthly Review - TRANSCEND Media Service

3 Feb 2022 – István Mészáros was one of the greatest political theorists of the twentieth century. Left unfinished at the time of his death, Beyond Leviathan is written on the magisterial scale of his previous book, Beyond Capital, and meant to complement that work. It focuses on the transcendence of the state, along with the transcendence of capital and alienated labor, while traversing the history of political theory from Plato to the present. Aristotle, More, Machiavelli, and Vico are only a few of the thinkers discussed in depth.

The larger objective of this work is no less than to develop a full-fledged critique of the state, in the Marxian tradition, and set against the critique of capital. Not only does it provide, for the first time, an-all-embracing Marxian theory of the state, it gives new political meaning to the notion of “the withering away of the state.” In his definitive, final work, Mészáros seeks to illuminate the political preconditions for a society of substantive equality and substantive democracy.

In his scholarly and personal introduction, John Bellamy Foster traces the gestation of this masterwork and its place in the history of political theory.

“The pathfinder of socialism.”
—Hugo Chávez, former Venezuelan President and a leader of the Bolivarian revolution

From the Introduction
by John Bellamy Foster

Since Mészáros was primarily concerned with the problem of the eradication of the state form as crucial to the socialist struggle, he took his inspiration not from the literature of the post–Second World War period, in which the analysis was overwhelmingly about how to carry out struggles within the parameters of the capitalist state, but from the theories aimed at the eventual “withering away” of the state associated with Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme and Lenin’s State and Revolution.31 Unlike most of the Western left, he was concerned with the conception of the “historical actuality of the socialist offensive” aimed at going beyond capital, beyond Leviathan, and beyond alienated labor.

What was called in socialist discussions “the withering away of the state” was, for Mészáros, “not a ‘romantic faithfulness to Marx’s unrealisable dream,’ as some people try to discredit and dismiss it.” Rather,

In truth the “withering away of the state” refers to nothing mysterious or remote but to a perfectly tangible process which must be initiated right in our own historical time. It means, in plain language, the progressive reacquisition of the alienated powers of political decision-making by the individuals in their enterprise of moving toward a genuine socialist society. Without the requisition of these powers— to which not only the capitalist state but also the paralysing inertia of the structurally well-entrenched material reproductive practices are fundamentally opposed—neither the new mode of political control of society as a whole by its individuals is conceivable, nor indeed the nonadversarial and thereby cohesive and plannable everyday operation of the particular productive and distributive units by the self-managing freely associated producers.

Judged from this standpoint, which denied the permanence of the state—conceived as a form of hierarchical decision-making or command structure imposed through various alienations on the underlying population—a whole new theory of the state in Marxist terms was needed, one that would encompass the origins, development, and eventual eradication of the state.

Such a theory could only be developed in a meaningful way in historical terms, addressing the major state theories and their underlying material relations from ancient times to the present. The theoretical structure of Beyond Leviathan was therefore concerned with the historic evolution and critique of the state and law, focusing on such key thinkers as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Niccoló Machiavelli, Thomas More, Francis Bacon, Tommaso Campanella, Giambattista Vico, James Harrington, Thomas Hobbes, Christian Thomasius, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, François- Noël Babeuf, Thomas Paine, Robert Owen, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Hegel, Henry Maine, Ernst Troeltsch, Otto Gierke, Weber, Barker, Bobbio, and Robert Nozick; together with Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Gramsci, Max Horkheimer, Ernst Bloch, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernesto Cardenal, Chávez, and others.

Only in this way was it possible to account for the manner in which the state, civil society, the law, sovereignty, class domination, and power had arisen, along with the forces of resistance that pointed toward (or anticipated) the state’s revolutionary transcendence. No approach that simply began with the contemporary state, or even with the early modern state, was su cient, since the Leviathan state contained features that transcended particular social formations and were inherited in part from previous historical formations. The path to the critique of the state thus passed through Plato’s hydra laws and nocturnal guardians, Aristotle’s treatment of equality, Machiavelli’s Prince, More’s Utopia, Hobbes’s Leviathan, Thomasius’s communal property, Rousseau’s general will, Kant’s perpetual peace, and Hegel’s Recht philosophy.

All of this, though, was an attempt to clarify the historical problem of the state. In contrast to all previous comprehensive theories of the state, Mészáros’s theory was aimed at the withering away of the state as the command center of capital along with the eradication of capital viewed as an absolute necessity, since the question was ultimately one, as Marx had said, of “ruin or revolution.”


Publication Date: 22 Feb 2022 – 512 pp.

István Mészáros was a professor emeritus at the University of Sussex and a world renowned philosopher and critic. He authored Marx’s Theory of Alienation, Beyond Capital, and over a dozen other titles.

Go to Original –

Tags: , , , , , ,


Share this article:

DISCLAIMER: The statements, views and opinions expressed in pieces republished here are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of TMS. In accordance with title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. TMS has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is TMS endorsed or sponsored by the originator. “GO TO ORIGINAL” links are provided as a convenience to our readers and allow for verification of authenticity. However, as originating pages are often updated by their originating host sites, the versions posted may not match the versions our readers view when clicking the “GO TO ORIGINAL” links. This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Comments are closed.