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Illustration of the Book Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes.

In politics, a state is the government of a country which has control over a geographic area or territory. States have three main features:

There are different forms of government a state may have, for example a republic or a monarchy. Sometimes states form their own countries. In its origin the United States had different kinds of states, but they agreed to join together. Most states also have armed forces, civil service, law and police.

Government institutions in a country are commonly referred to as "the state".

Different definitions[change | change source]

The definition above is very broad. It is based on ideas by Georg Jellinek (1851-1911). Other people had other ideas:

  • Max Weber (1864-1920) had another definition: According to him, a state is a community of people which has "the monopoly to legitimately use physical force within a well-defined area".[1]
  • Another definition is from political science: A state is a system of public institutions which are there to regulate the issues of a society.
  • Some philiospohers, such as Aristotle, Rousseau and Hegel had a moralistic view: In their opinion, a state arises when individuals reach their goals and that of society. According to Hegel, the state is the reason God came into the world; it is the power of reason. This reason manifests as His will.

Because of the different definitions, there's no universally accepted definition of state. The one given at the start of the article is now part of international law.

History[change | change source]

Early states[change | change source]

The earliest states could not be just human settlements. They had to be more than tribes. An example is New Guinea, which has many small tribes, but no larger organisations. Amazonia in the 18th century was also like this, with many small tribes. They are not states. To be a state, tribes have to be bounded together, for example, by a monarch. They may also be bonded by their language, and by living in the same region.

An example of monarchy is early Egypt under the Pharaohs. Similar military-based states included the Babylonian Empire and the huge Roman Empire and early China.

Some early states were based on cities. Some Ancient Greek city-states had democracy in a limited form. Other states had inheritance of kingship or even challenges and fighting to decide leadership. Early city states had a feature that modern society cannot match. Every man got to see and know the leading citizens. "Man" because most city-states limited the vote to male heads of families. One reason was that the adult men would do the fighting if the group were attacked.

From military to modern state[change | change source]

When the military-based state, the Roman Empire, fell, lots of little states were made and each was also military-based and controlled by a king. These states did not often work together and war raged. However, once people within the state itself started fighting (what's called a Civil war), the kings had to make peace and start parliaments.

Modern states[change | change source]

The state's (government's) position in the economy

Modern states soon started in the late 15th century. The main states in Europe were:

These states all tried to improve their politics and economy. They became more and more like the states today. They formed proper boundaries for their lands and worked with the powers in the state, such as the Church and the nobility. They made armies, tax systems and embassies to make them more powerful and stable.

Different types of state[change | change source]

Types of state can be separated into two categories: democracy and dictatorship. However, just because a group of states are all democratic does not mean that they follow the same rules. Iran, Pakistan, France, Germany and the United States of America are all states. Each of them sees itself as a democracy. Each of them however has a different idea of what democracy really means.

Different states of the same 'category' can also function differently. For example, two democratic states may be quite different if one has a well-trained police or army while the other does not. Therefore, the word 'state' only tells us what type of government that state follows (democratic or dictatorship) and does not tell us about the country itself.[2]

Sub-categories of state[change | change source]

There are lots of sub-types of state branching off from democracy and dictatorship. The main ones are Pluralism, Marxism and Institutionalism.

Pluralism[change | change source]

Pluralism has been very popular in the United States. It shows the state as a neutral place for settling arguments between other states. Pluralism allows each group of people to tell the state what to do. This type of state is called a polyarchy.[3]

Also in a pluralist state, politics, the military and the economy are all united and work together. This means that all power in the state is 'diffused' across the people who live there.

Marxism[change | change source]

Marxism is an ideology advocating for the rights of workers and labourers of society. It was started by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marxism rejects the idea that a state is there to protect business interest, and is definitely not a neutral place for settling arguments.

The main job of a Marxist state is to protect the labour and financial situation of the working classes. With such reforms, a Marxist state focuses on collectivising resources and creating a planned economy to ensure the well-being of the workers.

Both Marxist and Pluralist states have to react to the activities of groups of people in the state itself. Institutionalist states do not see themselves as 'instruments' to be controlled, they are more just geographical areas. In this area, the people just form groups themselves. An institutionalist state can be made up of both Marxist and Pluralist people, both which have the power to control themselves and not influence the other parties of the state.[4]

Anarchism[change | change source]

Anarchism is when a group of people have complete freedom and do not believe in having a state at all. Anarchists share the same roots as Marxists, coming from workers movements, but they believe (opposite to Marxists) that a society can work without without a state controlling the people.

Anarchists (such as Bakunin and Kropotkin in the 19th century), often want a form of Marxism but ignoring some of their rules. They want workers to manage themselves and simply get paid for what they do, rather than getting paid in wages.

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Zeno. "Soziologie im Volltext: Max Weber: Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundriß der verstehenden ..." www.zeno.org (in German). Retrieved 2021-03-28.
  2. Bobbio, Norberto. 1989. Democracy and Dictatorship: The Nature and Limits of State Power. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0816618135.
  3. Robert Dahl. 1973. Modern Political Analysis. Prentice Hall. ISBN 0135969816
  4. Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, Theda Skocpol, and Peter B. Evans, eds. 1985. Bringing the State Back In. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.ISBN 0521313139.