Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Debates about the state rage in contemporary America. On the right, libertarian and tea party rhetoric fulminates about shrinking the state or shutting down the government, frequently in hyperbolic terms like the Americans for Tax Reform notion of" drowning it in a bathtub." On the left, concern about the fate of the welfare state and an ever-expanding warfare and penal state produces equally impassioned retorts. Discussion of the American state-its nature, its size, and its uncertain future-dominates the political landscape as perhaps never before.


Originally published as Novak, William J. "The Concept of the State in American History." In Boundaries of the State in U.S. History, edited by James T. Sparrow, William J. Novak, and Stephen W. Sawyer, 325-349. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. Available from University of Chicago Press.