The best books on the state and state repression

Why am I passionate about this?

One of my long-standing interests, as a political philosopher, has been to examine the deployment of state power and the state forms (what I call states of affairs) the capitalist mode of production takes in order to preserve its economic order. Since I completed my doctorate, which was on the articulation of settler-colonial power in relationship to remaining settler states, I have largely been invested in thinking politics: how dominant politics maintain the current order, how counter-hegemonic politics disrupt this order. 


I wrote...

Austerity Apparatus

By J. Moufawad-Paul,

Book cover of Austerity Apparatus

What is my book about?

An excavation of the ideology of austerity and its relationship to the mechanisms of capitalism, Austerity Apparatus is a philosophical excursus on a variety of concepts surrounding capitalist crisis, class struggle, and the capitalist state machine. Written as a series of interconnected meditations on the problem of austerity, Austerity Apparatus is a creative intervention designed to force reflectin on the ways in which contemporary capitalism conditions its subjects to accept its limits.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The State and Revolution

J. Moufawad-Paul Why did I love this book?

The definitive radical materialist analysis of the state, and a book that taught me the importance of clear thinking and writing. Opposing liberal conceptions of the state as a social contract that reconciles class contradiction, Lenin elaborates upon and synthesizes Engels’ conception of the state as a machine of class dictatorship that arises due to the fundamental irreconcilability of class antagonism. Written after Lenin studied Hegel’s Logic, The State and Revolution is an elegant piece of dialectical thought. In opposition to both the social democratic and anarchist approaches to the problem of the state, Lenin argues that the bourgeois state should be smashed in order to build a proletarian state, the latter of which must be aimed at withering away along with classes and class antagonisms.

By V.I. Lenin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The State and Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lenin's classic work on the state, clarifying the differences with the opportunists of various stripes. He shows how the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat was raised by Marx and Engels after the Paris Commune.


Book cover of The General Theory of Law and Marxism

J. Moufawad-Paul Why did I love this book?

Considering the legal apparatus as part of the state, Pashukanis puts forward the “commodity-form” theory of law in order to conceptualize the apotheosis of law under and fundamental to capitalism. Following Lenin, and against the claims of many of his Soviet philosopher contemporaries, Pashukanis argues that the withering away of the state should also imply the withering away of law. In making this argument he also examines the construction of legal relations and the legal subject. Pashukanis’ analysis has been revisited and revived in critical legal studies giving rise to scholarly studies such as China Miéville’s Between Equal Rights—which is how I initially discovered it, being a fan of Miéville’s fiction!

By Evgeny Pashukanis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The General Theory of Law and Marxism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

E. B. Pashukanis was the most significant contemporary to develop a fresh, new Marxist perspective in post-revolutionary Russia. In 1924 he wrote what is probably his most influential work, The General Theory of Law and Marxism. In the second edition, 1926, he stated that this work was not to be seen as a final product but more for "self-clarification" in hopes of adding "stimulus and material for further discussion." A third edition was printed in 1927.Pashukanis's "commodity-exchange" theory of law spearheaded a perspective that traced the form of law, not to class interests, but to capital logic itself. Until his…


Book cover of On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

J. Moufawad-Paul Why did I love this book?

Althusser’s (in)famous article “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” was the result of copy and paste edits from this much longer manuscript. An extended philosophical investigation on how the capitalist mode of production’s duration over time requires a state formation, Althusser eventually ends up elaborating on Gramsci’s conception of hegemony so as to theorize the state machine according to “repressive” and “ideological” apparatuses. The former apparatuses concern the state’s coercive aspect; the latter apparatus concerns its aspect of “consent,” i.e. the promulgation of ideological norms. Although I go back and forth on my assessment of Althusser’s philosophical project as a whole, his work continues to challenge me and has marked the way I understand philosophy as, to quote Althusser from elsewhere, “class struggle in the terrain of theory.”

By Louis Althusser,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On the Reproduction of Capitalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Louis Althusser's renowned short text 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses' radically transformed the concept of the subject, the understanding of the state and even the very frameworks of cultural, political and literary theory. The text has influenced thinkers such as Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj i ek.

The piece is, in fact, an extract from a much longer book, On the Reproduction of Capitalism, until now unavailable in English. Its publication makes possible a reappraisal of seminal Althusserian texts already available in English, their place in Althusser's oeuvre and the relevance of his ideas for contemporary theory. On the…


Book cover of The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study

J. Moufawad-Paul Why did I love this book?

I first read The Undercommons in a virtual reading group during the early months of the COVID pandemic and was quite taken by its poetics and unfolding conceptual terrain. Beginning with an analysis of academia as a significant ideological state apparatus, Moten and Harney also discuss multiple forms of state violence and capture in racial capitalist formations. From the notion of the settler-capitalist garrison responding to “the surround” of the colonized and marginalized, to the connection between policy and policing, to the logic of reified colonial conquest, to logistics and professionalization, The Undercommons is a meditation on methods of state repression and forms of resistance. Arguing that recognition of the “general antagonism” that underlies the state is necessary for revolutionary politics, Moten and Harney end up echoing Lenin’s insights about class antagonism and false reconciliation in The State and Revolution.

By Stefano Harney, Fred Moten,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Undercommons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Literary Nonfiction. African American Studies. Politics. Philosophy & Critical Theory. Introduction by Jack Halberstam. In this series of essays, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney draw on the theory and practice of the black radical tradition as it supports, inspires, and extends contemporary social and political thought and aesthetic critique. Today the general wealth of social life finds itself confronted by mutations in the mechanisms of control: the proliferation of capitalist logistics, governance by credit, and the management of pedagogy. Working from and within the social poesis of life in THE UNDERCOMMONS, Moten and Harney develop and expand an array of…


Book cover of The Right to Maim

J. Moufawad-Paul Why did I love this book?

I find Puar’s work to be very useful even if the theoretical framework she uses is different from, though adjacent to, mine. Usually I find the “biopolitical” analysis cloying and idealist, but Puar has developed her own materialist use of this framework that I have learned a lot from. In The Right to Maim Puar examines the liberal state’s use of maiming and debilitation as part of the reproduction of its hegemony. Not only does she examine the way a liberal disability discourse functions to exclude marginalized and targeted populations—proposing a vector of disability, debility, and capacity—she also interrogates how maiming functions in capitalist, colonial, and imperialist state policing. Moreover, her case study of Palestine, based on her own fieldwork, makes the more abstract aspects of her theory concrete.  

By Jasbir K. Puar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Right to Maim as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Right to Maim Jasbir K. Puar brings her pathbreaking work on the liberal state, sexuality, and biopolitics to bear on our understanding of disability. Drawing on a stunning array of theoretical and methodological frameworks, Puar uses the concept of "debility"-bodily injury and social exclusion brought on by economic and political factors-to disrupt the category of disability. She shows how debility, disability, and capacity together constitute an assemblage that states use to control populations. Puar's analysis culminates in an interrogation of Israel's policies toward Palestine, in which she outlines how Israel brings Palestinians into biopolitical being by designating them…


You might also like...

The Forest Knights

By J. K. Swift,

Book cover of The Forest Knights

J. K. Swift Author Of Acre

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I love a good fight scene! It doesn’t need to be long and gruesome, but it must be visceral and make me nervous for those involved. Don’t get me wrong, I also love a good first-kiss scene but unfortunately, my past has made me more adept at recognizing and writing one over the other. I started training in martial arts at the age of nine and continued for thirty years. I don’t train much these days but I took up bowmaking a few years back and now spend a lot of time carving English longbows and First Nations’ bows. I recently also took up Chinese archery.

J. K.'s book list on with realistic fight scenes

What is my book about?

The greatest underdog story of the medieval age.

A wild land too mountainous to be tamed by plows. A duke of the empire, his cunning overshadowed only by his ambitions. A young priestess of the Old Religion, together with a charismatic outlaw, sparking a rebellion from deep within the forests. And an ex-Hospitaller caught between them all.

The Forest Knights

By J. K. Swift,

What is this book about?

A druid priestess enlists the help of an ex-Hospitaller warrior and a charismatic outlaw to fight Austrian tyranny in medieval Switzerland. A subtle blend of fantasy and history, ALTDORF (Book 1) tells the events leading up to one of the greatest underdog stories of the medieval age, the Battle of MORGARTEN (Book 2).


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in disability, higher education, and philosophy?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about disability, higher education, and philosophy.

Disability Explore 51 books about disability
Higher Education Explore 37 books about higher education
Philosophy Explore 1,644 books about philosophy