State

 

 

A state is a political association with effective dominion over a geographic area. It usually includes the set of institutions that claim the authority to make the rules that govern the people of the society in that territory, though its status as a state often depends in part on being recognized by a number of other states as having internal and external sovereignty over it. In sociology, the state is normally identified with these institutions: in Max Weber's influential definition, it is that organization that has a "monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory," which may include the armed forces, civil service or state bureaucracy, courts, and police.

 

Although the term often includes broadly all institutions of government or rule—ancient and modern—the modern state system bears a number of characteristics that were first consolidated in western Europe, beginning in earnest in the 15th century, when the term "state" also acquired its current meaning. Thus the word is often used in a strict sense to refer only to modern political systems.

 

Within a federal system, the term state also refers to political units, not completely sovereign themselves, but in some cases partially or co-sovereign, which are subject to the authority of a constitution defining a federal union. Thus we find the "states and territories of Australia" and the "states" in the United States of America.

 

In casual usage, the terms "country," "nation," and "state" are often used as if they were synonymous; but in a more strict usage they can be distinguished:

 

  • Country denotes a geographical area

  • Nation denotes a people who are believed to or deemed to share common customs, origins, and history. However, the adjectives national and international also refer to matters pertaining to what are strictly states, as in national capital, international law

  • State refers to the set of governing institutions that has sovereignty over a definite territory

 

The word state has both an empirical and a juridical sense, i.e., entities can be states either de facto or de jure or both.

 

Empirically (or de facto), an entity is a state if, as in Max Weber's influential definition, it is that organization that has a 'monopoly on legitimate violence' over a specific territory. Such an entity imposes its own legal order over a territory, even if it is not legally recognized as a state by other states (e.g., the Somali region of Somaliland).

 

Juridically (or de jure), an entity is a state in international law if it is recognized as such by other states, even if it does not actually have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force over a territory. Only an entity juridically recognized as a state can enter into many kinds of international agreements and be represented in a variety of legal forums, such as the United Nations.

 

The concept of the state can be distinguished from two related concepts with which it is sometimes confused: the concept of a form of government or regime, such as democracy or dictatorship, and the concept of a political system. The form of government identifies only one aspect of the state, namely, the way in which the highest political offices are filled and their relationship to each other and to society. It does not include other aspects of the state that may be very important in its everyday functioning, such as the quality of its bureaucracy. For example, two democratic states may be quite different if one has a capable, well-trained bureaucracy while the other does not. Thus generally speaking the term "state" refers to the instruments of political power, while the term regime or form of government refers more to the way in which such instruments can be accessed and employed.

 

Some scholars have suggested that the term "state" is too imprecise and loaded to be used productively in sociology and political science, and ought to be substituted by the more comprehensive term "political system." The "political system" refers to the ensemble of all social structures that function to produce collectively binding decisions in a society. In modern times, these would include the political regime, political parties, and various sorts of organizations. The term "political system" thus denotes a broader concept than the state.

 

The earliest forms of the state emerged whenever it became possible to centralize power in a durable way. Agriculture and writing are almost everywhere associated with this process: agriculture because it allowed for the emergence of a class of people who did not have to spend most of their time providing for their own subsistence, and writing (or the equivalent of writing, like Inca quipus) because it made possible the centralization of vital information.

 

Some political philosophers believe the origins of the state lie ultimately in the tribal culture which developed with human sentience, the template for which was the alleged primal "alpha-male" micro societies of our earlier ancestors, which were based on the coercion of the weak by the strong. Others point out that extant band- and tribe-level societies are notable for their lack of centralized authority, and that highly stratified societies--i.e., states--constitute a relatively recent break with the course of human history.

 

The rise of the "modern state" as a public power constituting the supreme political authority within a defined territory is associated with western Europe's gradual institutional development beginning in earnest in the late 15th century, culminating in the rise of absolutism and capitalism.

 

As Europe's dynastic states — England under the Tudors, Spain under the Hapsburgs, and France under the Bourbons — embarked on a variety of programs designed to increase centralized political and economic control, they increasingly exhibited many of the institutional features that characterize the "modern state." This centralization of power involved the delineation of political boundaries, as European monarchs gradually defeated or co-opted other sources of power, such as the Church and lesser nobility. In place of the fragmented system of feudal rule, with its often indistinct territorial claims, large, unitary states with extensive control over definite territories emerged. This process gave rise to the highly centralized and increasingly bureaucratic forms of absolute monarchical rule of the 17th and 18th centuries, when the principal features of the contemporary state system took form, including the introduction of a standing army, a central taxation system, diplomatic relations with permanent embassies, and the development of state economic policy—mercantilism.

 

Cultural and national homogenization figured prominently in the rise of the modern state system. Since the absolutist period, states have largely been organized on a national basis. The concept of a national state, however, is not synonymous with nation-state. Even in the most ethnically homogeneous societies there is not always a complete correspondence between state and nation, hence the active role often taken by the state to promote nationalism through emphasis on shared symbols and national identity.

 

It is in this period that the term "the state" is first introduced into political discourse in more or less its current meaning. Although Niccolò Machiavelli is often credited with first using the term to refer to a territorial sovereign government in the modern sense in The Prince, published in 1532, it is not until the time of the British thinkers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke and the French thinker Jean Bodin that the concept in its current meaning is fully developed.

 

Today, most Western states more or less fit the influential definition of the state in Max Weber's 'Politics as a Vocation'. According to Weber, the modern state monopolizes the means of legitimate physical violence over a well-defined territory. Moreover, the legitimacy of this monopoly itself is of a very special kind, "rational-legal" legitimacy, based on impersonal rules that constrain the power of state elites.

 

However, in some other parts of the world states do not fit Weber's definition as well. They may not have a complete monopoly over the means of legitimate physical violence over a definite territory, or their legitimacy may not be adequately described as rational-legal. But they are still recognizably distinct from feudal and absolutist states in the extent of their bureaucratization and their reliance on nationalism as a principle of Legitimation.

 

Since Weber, an extensive literature on the processes by which the "modern state" emerged from the feudal state has been generated. Marxist scholars, for example, assert that the formation of modern states can be explained primarily in terms of the interests and struggles of social classes.

 

Scholars working in the broad Weberian tradition, by contrast, have often emphasized the institution-building effects of war. For example, Charles Tilly has argued that the revenue-gathering imperatives forced on nascent states by geopolitical competition and constant warfare were mostly responsible for the development of the centralized, territorial bureaucracies that characterize modern states in Europe. States that were able to develop centralized tax-gathering bureaucracies and to field mass armies survived into the modern era; states that were not able to do so did not.

 

The modern state is both separate from and connected to civil society. The nature of this connection has been the subject of considerable attention in both analyses of state development and normative theories of the state. Earlier thinkers, such as Thomas Hobbes emphasized the supremacy of the state over society. Later thinkers, by contrast, beginning with G. W. F. Hegel, have tended to emphasize the points of contact between them. Jürgen Habermas, for example, has argued that civil society forms a public sphere, that is, a site of extra-institutional engagement with matters of public interest autonomous from the state and yet necessarily connected with it.

 

Some Marxist theorists, such as Antonio Gramsci, have questioned the distinction between the state and civil society altogether, arguing that the former is integrated into many parts of the latter. Others, such as Louis Althusser, maintain that civil organizations such as church, schools, and even trade unions are part of an 'ideological state apparatus.' In this sense, the state can fund a number of groups within society that, while autonomous in principle, are dependent on state support.

 

Given the role that many social groups have in the development of public policy and the extensive connections between state bureaucracies and other institutions, it has become increasingly difficult to identify the boundaries of the state. Privatization, nationalization, and the creation of new regulatory bodies also change the boundaries of the state in relation to society. Often the nature of quasi-autonomous organizations is unclear, generating debate among political scientists on whether they are part of the state or civil society. Some political scientists thus prefer to speak of policy networks and decentralized governance in modern societies rather than of state bureaucracies and direct state control over policy.

 

Since the late 19th century the entirety of the world's inhabitable land has been parceled up into states with more or less definite borders claimed by various states. Earlier, quite large land areas had been either unclaimed or uninhabited, or inhabited by nomadic peoples who were not organized as states. Currently more than 200 states comprise the international community, with the vast majority of them represented in the United Nations.

 

These states form what International relations theorists call a system, where each state takes into account the behavior of other states when making their own calculations. From this point of view, states embedded in an international system face internal and external security and legitimation dilemmas. Recently the notion of an 'international community' has been developed to refer to a group of states who have established rules, procedures, and institutions for the conduct of their relations. In this way the foundation has been laid for international law, diplomacy, formal regimes, and organizations.

 

In the late 20th century, the globalization of the world economy, the mobility of people and capital, and the rise of many international institutions all combined to circumscribe the freedom of action of states. These constraints on the state's freedom of action are accompanied in some areas, notably Western Europe, with projects for interstate integration such as the European Union. However, the state remains the basic political unit of the world, as it has been since the 16th century. The state is therefore considered the most central concept in the study of politics, and its definition is the subject of intense scholarly debate.

 

By modern practice and the law of international relations, a state's sovereignty is conditional upon the diplomatic recognition of the state's claim to statehood. Degrees of recognition and sovereignty may vary. However, any degree of recognition, even recognition by a majority of the states in the international system, is not binding on third-party states.

 

The legal criteria for statehood are not obvious. Often, the laws are surpassed by political circumstances. However, one of the documents often quoted on the matter is the Montevideo Convention from 1933, the first article of which states:

 

The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

 

The rise of the modern state system was closely related to changes in political thought, especially concerning the changing understanding of legitimate state power. Early modern defenders of absolutism such as Thomas Hobbes and Jean Bodin undermined the doctrine of the divine right of kings by arguing that the power of kings should be justified by reference to the people. Hobbes in particular went further and argued that political power should be justified with reference to the individual, not just to the people understood collectively. Both Hobbes and Bodin thought they were defending the power of kings, not advocating democracy, but their arguments about the nature of sovereignty were fiercely resisted by more traditional defenders of the power of kings, like Sir Robert Filmer in England, who thought that such defenses ultimately opened the way to more democratic claims.

 

These and other early thinkers introduced two important concepts in order to justify sovereign power: the idea of a state of nature and the idea of a social contract. The first concept describes an imagined situation in which the state - understood as a centralized, coercive power - does not exist, and human beings have all their natural rights and powers; the second describes the conditions under which a voluntary agreement could take human beings out of the state of nature and into a state of civil society. Depending on what they understood human nature to be and the natural rights they thought human beings had in that state, various writers were able to justify more or less extensive forms of the state as a remedy for the problems of the state of nature. Thus, for example, Hobbes, who described the state of nature as a "war of every man, against every man," argued that sovereign power should be almost absolute since almost all sovereign power would be better than such a war, whereas John Locke, who understood the state of nature in more positive terms, thought that state power should be strictly limited. Both of them nevertheless understood the powers of the state to be limited by what rational individuals would agree to in a hypothetical or actual social contract.

 

The idea of the social contract lent itself to more democratic interpretations than Hobbes or Locke would have wanted. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example, argued that the only valid social contract would be one were individuals would be subject to laws that only themselves had made and assented to, as in a small direct democracy. Today the tradition of social contract reasoning is alive in the work of John Rawls and his intellectual heirs, though in a very abstract form. Rawls argued that rational individuals would only agree to social institutions specifying a set of inviolable basic liberties and a certain amount of redistribution to alleviate inequalities for the benefit of the worst off. Lockean state of nature reasoning, by contrast, is more common in the libertarian tradition of political thought represented by the work of Robert Nozick. Nozick argued that given the natural rights that human beings would have in a state of nature, the only state that could be justified would be a minimal state whose sole functions would be to provide protection and enforce agreements.

 

Some contemporary thinkers, such as Michel Foucault, have argued that political theory needs to get away from the notion of the state: "We need to cut off the king's head. In political theory that has still to be done." By this he meant that power in the modern world is much more decentralized and uses different instruments than power in the early modern era, so that the notion of a sovereign, centralized state is increasingly out of date.

 

This article is licensed under the e GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "State".

 

 

 

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