I'm going to stick with Britain, because it's the one I know best. And, perhaps, because it's in relation to that state that question is most often asked. In 1995, Will Hutton made a huge splash with The State We're In. In it, Will not only criticised the market fundamentalism of the Thatcher years but the feebleness of the British state and the capitalist class since, well, capitalism. In contrast to continental capitalisms where governments had more vigorously directed investment and experienced far greater growth during the post-war boom, Britain's politicians, civil servants, and capitalists proved resistant and hostile to the state taking a more activist role in economic development. Only the exigencies of war time emergency saw it firmly take hold of the steering wheel and drive it into greater planning, even if it was for armaments. For Will, this was a cultural failing on the part of our bourgeoisie. Born into the largest empire the world has ever seen, our rulers cultivated a certain idle indolence because, well, there's always the colonies we can sell to, right? Readers might see an echo of this idiocy today in Brexiters arguing we don't need the EU because we have the Commonwealth and note this born-to-rule complacency has not gone away. Even worse, Will noted that new, dynamic forms of capital that occasionally interrupt and redraw British markets have a tendency to get dragged down by this culture. He laments the British story of bootstraps capitalists making big and quickly selling up - perhaps so they can have a round of golf with disgraced Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox. Hence why it seems every successful British business ends up in foreign ownership, often with the government's blessing.
While Will was and is right, his analysis doesn't go deep enough: bourgeois idleness is an attitude rooted in Britain's emergence as the world's first capitalist country. According to the late and very missed Marxist thinker, Ellen Meiksins Wood, the aspects of the British state we take as backward and feudal are symptomatic of a past modernity, while republican government and state-led economic development, features Will and many would associated with the modern speak of a past backwardness. Don't you just love dialectics?
In the old argument, Marx suggested that the forces and relations of production come into conflict. The "forces" are not some dry, technical mechanism or a synonym for technological development - it is the totality of labour, its level of culture, skill, ingenuity, and aspirations. As we've recently seen, the governance structures of neoliberal capitalism are increasingly at odds with the kinds of labour, or productive forces, the relations of production need to turn a buck. Taking it back to Ellen's argument, the new productive force that emerged in the English countryside after the collapse of bonded, landed labour was waged labour. And bound up with it were a caste of formerly feudal lordships who transformed themselves into the world's first (agrarian) capitalist class. It proved more efficient in terms of accumulating an economic surplus, and had the consequence of undermining the sorts of peasant solidarities that powered periodic uprisings. Therefore existing capitalists had an interest in deepening wage relationships, and existing feudal barons likewise had incentive to dissolve serfdom, drive the peasants off the land, and re-employ them as hired hands. Meanwhile, during this period traversing the 16th and 17th centuries, the passage from the old feudal state into an absolute monarchy (later checked by the English civil war) was one in which state structures and decisions by the court were unconsciously and unexpectedly conducive to its capitalist development. The monarchy on more than one occasion sided with the rising class, particularly in the dispossession of peasant lands, to buttress its power. In contrast, during the same period French absolutism used the peasantry to keep the landed aristocracy in its place.
This is where Ellen's dialectical argument comes into play. Because the nascent absolutist and later constitutional monarchical state didn't represent a fetter on the developing forces of production (for the most part) and became enmeshed with relations interested in growing emerging capitalism, inessential feudal fripperies like the unwritten constitution, deference, the pomp and absurd circumstance of the royals, these stayed. And as the world's strongest economy and most advanced power, capitalism was exported by musket and cannon fire and encouraged its organic emergence wherever English commodities washed up. Meanwhile, in France where capitalism only started emerging long after society was crushed under absolutism's obesity, the foundation of the first republic and the Empire can be read as responses to backwardness, of tearing out (and guillotining) aristocratic and monarchical relationships materially wedded to French backwardness. Later in the 19th century, with a great deal less blood, the semi-feudal aristocratic states of Imperial Germany and Japan pioneered extensive state-directed capitalist development. Meanwhile the 19th century Victorian bourgeoisie were doing their gentlemanly thing, preaching the virtues of hard work, Christianity, and growing fat on grinding poverty and colonial booty. Government had no business interfering in business. Small state whiggery and laissez faire were philosophies made in England precisely because capitalism emerged here first, chaotically, blindly, unplanned. England had an early lead, but the born indolence of our bourgeoisie has handicapped British capitalism right up to the present - witness the noted stupidity of Dave's governments.
It therefore begs the question. If British capitalists are too rubbish for British capitalism, and the state too is infected and inflected with a hands-off outlook, the irony is the only force that can modernise the whole thing and give it a more rounded development is the labour movement, the political expression of the class Marx argued was destined to be capitalism's grave diggers. Who says history doesn't have a sense of humour?