State, Society, Nation, Government, Political System

The ‘state’ is a central concept of Political Science. All definitions of state highlight certain characteristics denoting its meaning as one that

(i) it is a people organised for law within a definite territory (Woodrow Wilson);

(ii) it is a political community with coercive power, legally recognized (MacIver);

(iii) it is supreme, within its allotted physical area, over all other institutions (Laski);

(iv) it is an organized community, independent of external control (Hall).

State, Society, Nation, Government, Political System

Terms such as the “state’, ‘country’, ‘nation’ ‘society’ or ‘government’ do not mean the same things. The state is neither a country, nor a society, nor even a nation.

The word “country’ is a geographical concept, with it we enter the domains of climate, soil, seasons, boundaries, plains and plateaus, fauna and flora, natural resources like minerals and metals.

The word ‘state’ is a political concept, with it we enter the realms of laws, power, domination, sovereignty and citizenship. If a country is sovereign, it is a state.

State, Society, Nation, Government, Political System...


a) Nation and State are two distinct concepts. The former lacks all the characteristics of the latter: of a nation, sovereignty, territoriality, dominating and coercive character, unity expressed through laws.

  • A state may be larger than a nation (the states are multi-nationalities today), it may be smaller than a nation (a nationality may spread over two states: the nationality between North Korea and South Korea).
  • Sabine rightly says, “nation refers to a unity culture; a feeling of loyalty for a common land, common language, and literature; identity of history common heroes; and common religion. State, on the other hand, refers to a unity of legal and authority.”
  • The state is invariably an independent nation; a nation may be, at times, a slave country. The state’s elements are always fixed, permanent; nation’s elements vary, from nation to nation; neither fixed nor permanent.
  • The state is a unity on the basis of laws, the nation is a unity on the basis of emotions, and sentiments: it is a unity of ‘hearts’. The state is a unity, externally made out, the nation is a unity internally evolved.

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b) The concepts “state’ and ‘society’ are occasionally used as synonyms. But the two concepts are quite distinct.

  • Maclver says. “The state exists within society, but it is not even the form of society.” Existing within the society, the state regulates external relationships of society.
  • Society is the sum-total of numerous and diverse associations. The state is only one organisation, political in nature with the legal right of using compulsion and coercion.
  • The state, Maclver says, is a structure coeval and coextensive with society but built within it as a determinate order for attainment of specific end.

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c) The ‘state’ and ‘government are also different concepts.

  • The state is more extensive than the government; it is permanent, in fact, always continuing; the government acts in the name of the state while the state exercises impersonal authority; the state consists of a whole body of citizens, the government is only state’s administrative organ.
  • All the members of the state are not the members of the government, though all the members of the government are the members of the state. We criticize the government but we never condemn the state.
  • The state is the same everywhere, the governments vary.
  • The state is always permanent the government keep changing.

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