The sphere of activity of modern state is very comprehensive. Since ancient times, the state has been known as a welfare institution. The state is insensible for society. It is meant to promote social development. It is the most powerful association of the society and it can achieve most for individuals. It gives necessary facilities to individuals and groups for the development of individuals.
According to Aristotle, “The state came into existence for the sake of bare life but continues in existence for the sake of good life.” Since ancient times the state has come into existence for the happiness and development of the individual. The happiness of individual depends upon political stability and the performance of government.
It is universally accepted that it is the duty of state to maintain law and order and good relations among different social groups. It is also state’s responsibility to remain sovereign and to effectively counter external aggression. It is accountable to people for strengthening the social, economic and cultural life of society.
There is disagreement among political scientists about what is the sphere of activity of state. There are mainly two views about this; there are individualism and socialism. The first view is that the sphere of activity of state should be very narrow.
The state has been enacted for individual, and the freedom of individual should not suffer any erosion. It is the duty of state only to maintain law and order, and security. The second view is that the state is expected to do a lot of things. Its goal is to promote the all-round development of individual.
Thus, the larger the sphere of activity of state, the more beneficial it is for individual and society. In recent years, the state has emerged as a welfare institution. It is a good harmonizing link between individualism and socialism.
The individualistic theory comes under the liberal view relating to the sphere of state action. There are two phases of individualism – traditional and modern. In its strict form it came from the economic philosophy of Adam Smith. It stood for ‘Laissez Faire’ meaning ‘Let Alone’, that is, unrestricted free competition in economic and, later, political activities.
It began essentially as an economic doctrine to assist in the growth of emerging capitalism. Eminent British economists such as Caines, Ricardo and Malthus agreed with Smith’s doctrine of non-interference of state in economic affairs.
C.E.M. load observes that individualism emerged out of the combination of political and social thoughts of the nineteenth century. Two prominent thinkers of the period who contributed to the growth of individualism were John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer. J.S. Mill, in his essay, On Liberty, strongly advocated individualism. He said, “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”
The state and society should not interfere with individual liberty. Herbet Spencer, another strong advocate of individualism, propounded the thesis, survival of the fittest. He said, “The right to equal freedom was the most fundamental right of individual.
The only duty of the state was to protect his right against violence and fraud. Other than this the state should not control the life and action of individuals.” Individualism says that the state is a ‘necessary evil’. The state is necessary because some of its functions are very essential. These functions are of three types:
1. To maintain law and order in the state.
2. To defend state from external aggression, and
3. To execute the treaties and other agreements which have been legally concluded?
The basis of individualism is freedom of individual and self-reliance. Every individual is capable of knowing what is good or bad for him. The society would prosper if every individual works for his own happiness and welfare. Full development of individual is possible if he is allowed full freedom to act.
The individual stands better to gain if the interference of state is less. The more the interference of state, the less free the individual. The proponents of individualism favour least interference by state and maximum freedom of individual. They are of the view, “That state is best which governs the least.”
Leacock says, “The sole duty of the government is to protect individuals from violence and fraud.” The essence of individualism is, “Maximum possible individual freedom and minimum possible state actions.” It argues that the state is a ‘police state because it performs the function of police. The role of state has also been compared to the function of a ‘night watch-man.’