What is State in Political Science?

Concept of State

The state is the most universal and most powerful of all social institutions. The state is a natural institution. Aristotle said a man is a social animal, and by nature, he is a political being. To him, to live in the state and to be a man were identical.

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The modern term "state" is derived from "status." Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) first used the time "state" in his writings. His critical work is titled "Prince." The state is the highest form of human association. It is necessary because it comes into existence out of the basic needs of life. It continues to remain for the sake of good life.

Concept, Elements and Functions of State in Political Science

Human beings' aims, desires, and aspirations are translated into action through the state. Though the state is a necessary institution, no two writers agree on its definition.


'State' is an association, and it means a nation or territory considered an organized political community under one government. A state, in another sense, is the political organization that has supreme civil authority and political power and serves as the basis of government. A government or politically organized society has a particular character.


According to Wikipedia, A state is a type of polity that is an organized political community living under a single system of government. States may or may not be sovereign. For instance, federated states are members of a federal union and may have only partial sovereignty but the state. Some states are subject to external sovereignty or hegemony, in which ultimate sovereignty lies in another state. Sovereign states are known as sovereign states.

§  According to Aristotle: "A union of families and villages having for its end a perfect and self     –sufficing life by which we mean a happy and honorable life"

§  According to Woodrow Wilson: "The state is people organized for law within a definite territory."

§  According to Bluntschli: "The state is a politically organized people of a definite territory"

§  To Holland, the state is "a numerous assemblage of human beings generally occupying a certain territory amongst whom the will of the majority of the class is made to prevail against any of their number who oppose it." Burgess defines the state as "a particular portion of mankind."

§  According to Sidgwick, "State is a combination or association of persons in the form of government and governed and united together into a politically organized people of a definite territory."

§  According to Garner, "State is a community of people occupying a definite form of territory free of external control and possessing an organized government to which people show habitual obedience."

§  Prof. Laski defines a "state as a territorial society divided into government and subjects whose relationships are determined by the exercise of supreme coercive power."


So, we can say that a state is an association or organized political institution or community that has a government to govern within a definite territory.


Elements of State


There are four components of a state, and these are population, territory, government, and sovereignty; these are described in the following:


It is the people who make the state. The population is essential for the state. Greek thinkers believed that the people should neither be too big nor too small. According to Plato, the ideal number would be 5040. According to Aristotle, the number should be neither too large nor too small. It should be large enough to be self–sufficient and small enough to be well-governed.

Rousseau determined 10,000 to be an ideal number for a state. Greek thinkers like Plato and Aristotle's thinking on the number was based on the small city-states like Athens and Sparta. Modern conditions vary in population. India has a population of 102,70,15,247 people, according to the 2001 census.


There can be no state without a fixed territory. People need territory to live and organize themselves socially and politically. It may be remembered that the territory of the state includes land, water, and air–space. The modern states differ in their sizes. The territory is necessary for citizenship. As in the case of population, no actual size concerning the extent of the area of the state can be fixed. There are small and big states.

In the words of Prof. Elliott, "territorial sovereignty or the Superiority of the state overall within its boundaries and complete freedom from external control has been a fundamental principle of the modern state life."


Government is the third element of the state. There can be no state without government. Government is the working agency of the state. It is the political organization of the state. Prof. Appadorai defined government as the agency through which the will of the state is formulated, expressed, and realized.

According to C.F. Strong, the state must have supreme authority to make and enforce laws. This is called the government.


The fourth essential element of the state is sovereignty. The word 'sovereignty" means supreme and final legal authority above and beyond which no legal power exists. The concept of "sovereignty" was developed in conjunction with the rise of the modern state. The term Sovereignty is derived from the Latin word 'superanus,' which means supreme. The father of the modern theory of sovereignty was Jean Bodin (1530 – 1597), a French political thinker. 

Sovereignty has two aspects: Internal sovereignty means that the state is supreme over all its citizens and associations. External sovereignty implies that the state is independent and free from foreign or outside control.

According to Harold J. Laski, "The state is distinguished from all other forms of human association by possession of sovereignty.


Functions of State

The activities undertaken by the modern state are complex and varied. This is because there is a strong demand by the people for active state intervention in the social and economic affairs of the country. The statesmen of today do not place any limitation on the powers of the government to interfere in the social and economic spheres. The only governing principle is whether state action promotes the general welfare. In every country of the world, the 'laissez-faire' policy has been discarded, and there is a strong swing toward adopting Socialism. Frase is right when he says, "Socialism or Collectivism is upon us, horse, foot and gun."


The main functions that the modern state now performs are as follows:


(i) Provision of defense and security? The state's primary function is to protect the country from external invasion and maintain peace and security. People must live in perfect harmony for the smooth and progressive working of the economic machinery. They should not be in fear of external aggression. Every member of society should have complete protection from the injustice or oppression of every other member. The stale expenditure providing security and justice is productive because it indirectly helps carry out the activities labeled as effective.


(ii) Economic Function: The modern slate actively intervenes in economic spheres. Though it recognizes the individual rights in private property, it allows freedom of enterprise and contract. When it finds that its laws are being violated, it immediately regulates economic affairs. If the state considers that private capital is not forthcoming in specific industries, it assists private enterprises in establishing and running the drives. Sometimes, the government itself takes the initiative and sets up ambitions. Modern economists justify state interference in the following cases:


(a) Where business is of Monopolistic Nature: There are certain businesses like railways, post, telegraph, canal, electricity, water supply, etc., which are extremely useful for the people. If they are given into private hands, the consumers can be easily exploited. So the government, in the interest of the people, takes control of these businesses and runs them almost on a non-profit basis.

(b) Where Private Capital is not Attracted: If the private capital is shy in a particular industry or industry because of the inadequate return or no return, the state must step in and provide the requisite means. The cases where private capital is not attracted are public health, libraries, museums afforestation, road construction schemes, parks, etc.

(c) Protection of economically weak persons: Factory workers are often exploited by their employees in a competitive society. The state, therefore, must take appropriate steps for protecting the legitimate rights of a class having feeble bargaining powers.

(d) Exploitation by Forming Monopolistic combination: Sometimes, businessmen form cartels and trust and exploit the consumers by charging very high prices. The state, in such cases, must intervene and prohibit the formation of such a combination.

(e) Protection of Consumers: The State must protect its citizens against adulteration of food, sale of intoxicants, etc.

(f) Supply of Currency: The State must take complete control of the supply of currency in the country. This will help the government secure the stability of prices and appropriate steps to reduce income inequality. For this purpose, it adopts a progressive taxation system, levies death duties on the inherited party, and provides social services to the poor section of the community.

(g) State and Economic Planning: The State, to speed up economic development in a balanced manner, formulates programs and policies to harness the human efforts and-physical resources to the maximum possible extent. It fixes targets and priorities and then completes them within the specified period.


(iii) Direct Social Activities: Every modern State takes a keen interest in providing social services to its citizens. The government gives funds to the needy, sick, and unemployed persons, giving them free education and medical and old-age pensions. It takes care of public health and provides them housing facilities. It opens parks libraries for the benefit of the people.


In short, the state's intervention in economic affairs takes the form of:

(a) Provision of facilities to the businessmen for carrying on their businesses.

(b) Direct business encouragement by providing protection from foreign competition, granting bounties, subsidies, relief, taxation, etc.

(c) Regulating economic enterprise on a proper footing.

(d) Taking actual control and ownership of specific vital industries.


In the last decade of the 20th century and in the 21st century, the state's role has been considerably reduced. Instead of performing the producer, controller, and regulator role, it will act as protector, promoter, and provider.


Major 8 Functions of a State

(i) Defense: The Government's primary function is to safeguard the populace against external aggression and internal disorder. The government's primary responsibility is to maintain sufficient police and military forces and provide protective services.

(ii) Judiciary: The government is concerned with administering justice and resolving disputes. It should establish an adequate judicial structure capable of administering justice to citizens of all classes.

(iii) Enterprises: The modern state is responsible for regulating and controlling private enterprises. The government is responsible for owning and successfully operating certain enterprises.

(iv) Social Welfare: It is the state's responsibility to provide for the education, social security, social insurance, health, and sanitation of the country's citizens.

(v) Infrastructure: Modern states must lay the groundwork for the country's economic development by establishing social and economic infrastructure.

(vi) Macroeconomic policy: The government is responsible for fiscal and monetary policy to achieve macroeconomic objectives.

(vii) Social Justice: As an economy grows, specific segments of society benefit at the expense of others. The government must intervene with fiscal measures to rebalance income distribution.

(viii) Monopoly Control: Another evil that the government must address is the concentration of economic power. Thus, the state intervenes to prevent economic power concentration through monopoly control and restrictive trade practices.

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