An independant political entity with defined geographic boundaries and unified top most level of government. A collection of political subdivisions which are in fact a single state have pretentiously corrupted the term state and use it in the manner which Region or Province should be used.

The primary international political organization is the sovereign state (since the Peace of Westphalia - 1648). The 20th Century was a period of radical expansion of independant states, but as different as each of these entities may be, they share many characteristics in common: sovereignty, territory, population, armed forces, and the recognition of other states. Under international law the state is the only form of organization that has a legal right to use force.

It is important to note that a state is not necessarily identifiable as a nation. In short, the former is a legal entity and the latter is a perceived entity (ethnic, language, etc.). The unfortunate confusion that arises is when people attempt to define all states as nation-states.

I admit double checking my terms and wording with Games Nations Play, 6th Ed. 1987.

star out = S = stealth manager

state n.

1. Condition, situation. "What's the state of your latest hack?" "It's winning away." "The system tried to read and write the disk simultaneously and got into a totally wedged state." The standard question "What's your state?" means "What are you doing?" or "What are you about to do?" Typical answers are "about to gronk out", or "hungry". Another standard question is "What's the state of the world?", meaning "What's new?" or "What's going on?". The more terse and humorous way of asking these questions would be "State-p?". Another way of phrasing the first question under sense 1 would be "state-p latest hack?". 2. Information being maintained in non-permanent memory (electronic or human).

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

In the views of S.E. Finer, in order to define a state (city-state, nation-state, etc.), it must possess five characteristics:

Note: Pre-modern states usually only possessed three out of five, while modern states possess all five; though, it may only be to a slight degree.

1. The territorial defined population recognizes a supreme form of government.
2. This government is served by civil servants, who make decisions concerning the state, and a military force that protects the state.
3. The state is recognized by other states as independent.
4. The population of the state forms a community, or a sense of nationality.
5. The members of the community mutually participate in duties and benefits.

Source: The History of Government, by: S.E. Finer
"Identify, compare and contrast three different conceptions of the state and explore the conceptions of politics which underlie them."


The purpose of this essay is to identify, compare and contrast three different conceptions of the state - the Marxist, the pluralist and the Weberian. I shall also analyse the differing conceptions of politics which underlie these theories of the state.

The classical Marxist position on the state which I examine concludes that the state is merely the instrument of the bourgeois class which is used to oppress the proletariat and further its own interests. The pluralist conception differs clearly from this, since it asserts the relative neutrality of the state and stresses the various centres of power in modern society. Max Weber's definition of the state has two distinct premises - territoriality and violence. The modern state claims the exclusive right to use violence within its borders.

1. Marx

According to Marx, the bourgeoisie has essentially all political power in a capitalist society. The modern state is dependent on taxes and credit, which is provided by the bourgeoisie (McLellan, 1971; Miller, 1991). The bourgeoisie also owns the media, which is important for the careers of individual politicians (Miller, 1991).

Marx argues that the modern state is the instrument of the bourgeoisie, and the purpose of this instrument is to further the interests of the capitalist class (Wetherly, 1998; Taylor, 1995; 1). This is well illustrated in the famous words of the Communist Manifesto:

"The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie." (Marx & Engels, 1985: 82)

Marx thinks capitalism is an inherently contradictory system, beset by class conflict. This class conflict gets worse as capitalism develops. The bourgeoisie therefore needs the state to ensure its grip on power. Marx wrote:

"The bourgeois state is nothing but a mutual insurance pact of the bourgeois class ... against the exploited class." (quoted in McLellan, 1971: 182)

The state furthers the long-term interests of the bourgeoisie. Thus, it is possible for the state to occasionally act against short-term capitalist interests and for the interests of the proletariat, if this helps in upholding the capitalist system. Thus, it is in the interest of the bourgeoisie to give concessions to the working class when the alternative is social instability or upheaval (Miller, 1991). One might explain the Nordic welfare state in this way. Numerous concessions - unemployment benefits, free health care and education, state pension schemes and so forth - from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat have resulted in some of the most stable capitalist systems in the world and have successfully "ensured" the bourgeois class against the working class.

Marx's conception of politics is clearly evident in his notion of the state. Marx defines politics as class struggle. As long as there are classes - i.e. as long as there is not a communist society - there will be struggle between classes, as they are unequal economically and therefore politically (Cloonan, 1997). The state is the major weapon of the bourgeois class in this struggle.

2. Pluralism

The pluralist conception of the state differs radically from the Marxist view. Unlike Marx (or Weber), the pluralists do not emphasize the coercive nature of the state. They see the state as relatively neutral, not advancing any definite interests, but open to the influence of different groups in society. The modern state is not the instrument of one class dominating another, but rather a framework wherein diverse interests in society can be reconciled (Schwarzmantel, 1994; Schwarzmantel, 1987; Dunleavy & O'Leary, 1987; 2). The purpose of the state is to keep conflicts of interest arising among different groups in society peaceful (Hall, 1984).

Underlying this conception of the state is a notion of politics which emphasizes the variety of sources of political power. The distinction with Marx is clear, since the pluralist position is that no group in society has a monopoly of power (Held, 1989; Schwarzmantel, 1987, Schwarzmantel, 1994). Even though the bourgeoisie might have an especially strong position in modern capitalist society, the working class can have considerable influence, for instance through trade unions. The capitalist class may have a monopoly on capital, but the working class has a monopoly on labour, which the capitalist class cannot do without (Schwarzmantel, 1987). The working class - and numerous different groups as well - has power. Thus, politics is about reconciling the diverse interests to be found in society (Schwarzmantel, 1994).

A pluralist model might be used to explain the relations of trade unions, employers' organizations and the government in Finland, for example. The ideal in the system is that the three parties agree on the level of wages and working conditions in all industries, and this indeed happens some times. It is quite clear that no party has a monopoly of power, since the trade unions can threaten the employers with a strike, the employers have leverage over the trade unions in that they might not agree to pay rises or might lay off workers, and the government has leverage over both parties since it can affect their financial interests through changes in taxation. Both the trade unions and the employers' organizations have power over the government, since they are both crucial to the functioning of the economy and therefore important for the government in gaining re-election. In addition to this, there is a further dispersal of power, since businesses, individual trade unions, and political parties, among others, try to influence the negotiations. Though an individual settlement might favour the employers, it might also favour the trade unions - the state is relatively neutral.

3. Weber

Max Weber wrote of the state:

"... the state is a relation of men dominating men, a relation supported by means of legitimate (i.e. considered to be legitimate) violence. If the state is to exist, the dominated must obey the authority claimed by the powers that be." (Weber in Gerth & Mills, 1967: 78)

This seems very different from the pluralist approach and similar to Marx's conception. The state is an instrument that some members of society use to control others. The crucial difference between Marx and Weber is also clear in the quote, however - Weber thinks the notion of legitimacy is central. The reason why people obey the rulers of the state is that they consider the state legitimate (Held, 1989). The state has a right to rule them. It is quite obvious that the state is in no way legitimate to Marx, since his goal is the abolishment of the state (Cloonan, 1997).

Weber's conception of the state is elitist - and therefore opposed to the pluralist model - in that he stresses the importance of bureaucracy in the modern state (Hall, 1984). Bureaucracy is the most efficient way of organizing the affairs of a modern state, and Weber thinks the rise of the bureaucracy to even more important a position is inevitable. In effect, the bureaucrats form an elite which is increasingly political - the more specialised the bureaucracy, the more it has power in relation to the government since it has specialist knowledge that the government does not have. Weber is also elitist in that he emphasizes the importance of political leadership (Held, 1989; Dunleavy & O'Leary, 1987).

The fundamental difference between on the one hand Marx and the pluralists and Weber on the other is the criteria by which the state is defined. To Marx and the pluralists, the state has a definite function - the oppression of the proletariat and the reconciliation of the interests of differing groups in society, respectively. Weber differs from this position in that he argues the state cannot be defined in terms of its ends because of the variety of tasks that states have performed and the lack of any specific task which all states have performed. For Weber, there are two characteristics which define the state: territoriality and violence. The modern state is sovereign over a defined territory. Within this territory, the state has a "monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force" (Weber in Gerth & Mills, 1967). This is what makes the state a modern state, since in premodern societies many different groups (clans, for example) have claimed the right to use force (Lassman, 2000). In the modern society, if there are any groups apart from the state with the right to use force, they have this right because the state has granted it (Weber in Gerth & Mills, 1967).

This formulation reflects Weber's notion of politics, which he defines in terms of power. He writes:

"When a question is said to be a 'political' question... what is always meant is... the distribution, maintenance, or transfer of power... He who is active in politics strives for power..." (Weber in Gerth & Mills, 1967)

To Weber, politics is about relations of power and the struggle for it, and he defines power as the ability to make someone do something he would not otherwise have done (Lassman, 2000; de Jasay, 1985). In the same way as Weber does not accept Marx's view of the state dominated wholly by the interests of the bourgeoisie, he rejects Marx's reduction of all political relationships to economic ones, and sees political power in many cases independent from economic factors (Evans, 1995). Thus, Weber does not accept Marx's assertion that politics is about class struggle - politics is about the struggle for power, but this is not limited to the struggle between economically determined classes (Mommsen, 1989).

4. Conclusion

The Marxist, pluralist and Weberian notions of the state arise from fundamentally different conceptions of politics. Marx thinks class conflict is the stuff of politics, and argues that all political relations can ultimately be reduced to economic ones. In Lenin's words, "politics is the most concentrated form of economics." I think the value of Marx's theory is that it recognizes the importance of economic factors in determining power relations in modern states, but it is problematic as it takes no other factors into account.

Weber, too, emphasizes that politics is about the struggle for power, but denies Marx's assertion that this struggle can be reduced to relations between classes or indeed to economics. Weber's conception of the state is much more balanced, since he accepts the importance of economic factors, but denies that they determine political relations. The strength of Weber's analysis of the state is also that it does not assume the state has any definite functions, but defines it in terms of territory and violence. This means that the validity of Weber's account has not fundamentally changed as the state has grown, nor indeed would a reduction in the role of the state refute his definition.

Both Marx's and Weber's conceptions of the state are to a certain extent elitist, a position which the pluralists clearly challenge. They deny that the state is controlled by one group, be it the bourgeoisie or the bureaucracy. They point out the numerous social groups which exist in modern societies, and the various sources of political power, asserting that these have an impact on the state. In this they resemble Weber, since they deny the Marxist position that economic relations determine political relations. The conception of politics as the resolution of conflicts of interest underlying the pluralist notion of the state is surely relevant to the analysis of modern states, but is perhaps, reflecting the strong normative element in pluralist theory, less realistic than the Marxist and Weberian conceptions which stress relations of power and domination.


1. Many authors recognize two conceptions of the state in Marx's writings (see, eg., Held, 1989). For the purposes of this essay, I shall concentrate only on the "classical" Marxist position put forward in the Communist Manifesto. It should also be noted that when I refer to the "Marxist" conception of the state, I am referring to Marx's own theory, not that of later writers described as Marxists.

2. In pluralist theory a number of different conceptions of the state may be distinguished (see, eg., Dunleavy & O'Leary, 1987). Because of constraints on the lenght of this essay, I do not distinguish between these different notions.


Cloonan, Martin (1997) What is Politics? (University of York, Department of Politics Case Study Programme)

Dunleavy, Patrick & O'Leary, Brendan (1994). Theories of the State: The politics of liberal democracy (London, Macmillan Education)

Evans, Mark (1995) 'Elitism' in Marsh, David & Stoker, Gerry (eds.) Theory and Methods in Political Science (London, Macmillan Press)

Gerth, H. H. & Mills, C Wright (eds., translation) (1967) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul)

Hall, Stuart (1984) 'The State in question' in McLennan, Gregor; Held, David & Hall, Stuart (eds.) The Idea of the Modern State (Open University Press)

Held, David (1989) Political Theory and the Modern State (Cambridge, Polity Press)

de Jasay, Anthony (1985) The State (Oxford, Basil Blackwell)

Lassman, Peter (2000) 'The rule of men over men: politics, power and legitimation' in Turner, Stephen (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Weber (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press)

Marx, Karl & Engels, Friedrich (1985) The Communist Manifesto (London, Penguin Books)

McLellan, David (1971) The Thought of Karl Marx: An Introduction (London, Macmillan Press)

Miller, Richard W. (1991) 'Social and political theory: Class, state, revolution' in Carver, Terrell (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Marx (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press)

Mommsen, Wolfgang J. (1989) The Political and Social Theory of Max Weber: Collected Essays (Cambridge, Polity Press)

Schwarzmantel, John (1987) Structures of Power: An Introduction to Politics (Brighton, Wheatsheaf Books)

Schwarzmantel, John (1994) The State in Contemporary Society: an introduction (New York, Harvester Wheatsheaf)

Taylor, George (1995) ' Marxism' in Marsh, David & Stoker, Gerry (eds.) Theory and Methods in Political Science (London, Macmillan Press)

Wetherly, Paul (1998) 'A Capitalist State? Marx's Ambiguous Legacy' in Cowling, Mark (ed.) The Communist Manifesto: New Interpretations (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press)

This is another essay I wrote for a Politics course at the University of York. I am not very happy with it, but it does illustrate some basic themes in state theory, which is an interesting part of political science.

States in international law are the equivalent of people in civil law. They are born and they die. They can make contracts (treaties), enter partnerships (international organizations), create duties for themselves and make duties for others. When people form a state, they ascend to the highest level of dialogue in the world.

The following rules are customary, but are generally observed by the international community, with the exception of a few maniacal dictators here and there.

How a state is born

A state can be formed by a number of acts: it can secede from another state, be granted independence by another state, or be conquered by someone. Nowadays, everyone agrees that a state has to meet four criteria before it is truly a state.

  1. A state must have defined territory. Just about any amount of territory will do: the Vatican consists of just a few buildings in Rome. The definition need not be exact, either: the United States became a state long before it figured out where its western frontier was located, and Israel is a state despite most of its borders being unsettled. But the territory must be there: a state cannot be ephemeral, which probably disqualifies most of the micronations started by people on the internet with too much free time.

    A state acquires territory by possessing it. If the territory is uninhabited, this means getting there and raising a flag. If the territory is already claimed by someone, the state seeking possession must either have the prior claimant(s) relinquish their claim (by treaty or otherwise), or occupy the territory for an extended period without protest from the other claimant(s).
  2. A state must have a permanent population. People must live there long-term. Chile once tried to claim the Antarctic Peninsula as part of its territory, but the claim didn't work under international law because there was no permanent population (despite a valiant effort to get pregnant Chilean women to have babies there).
  3. A state must have a government. A state may exist despite being occupied by another, as was the case with France during World War II and Kuwait during the Gulf War. However, purely puppet governments (e.g. Manchukuo) and territories without an effective government (e.g. Finland during its civil war) can fall due to this provision.
  4. A state must have capacity to engage in foreign relations. The key is capacity. The Cook Islands, represented in foreign relations by New Zealand, are not generally considered to be a state because they clearly don't have the resources to engage in foreign relations on their own. Liechtenstein, on the other hand, is represented by Switzerland, but still considered to be a state because the representation is for convenience and not for necessity. In other words, Liechtenstein could represent itself: it just chooses not to, and this does not affect its statehood.

Another important factor is recognition. Some states, like Taiwan and North Korea, are only formally "recognized" by a handful of other states. Other states, like Biafra and Rhodesia, are recognized by nobody at all. Recognition is an act of individual states, and states are free to set their own criteria (often political) to determine who is recognized and who is not. Winston Churchill famously characterized the process as "not to confer a compliment, but to secure a convenience."

If a state is not recognized, it can mean one of two things. A state may be indirectly recognized, as is generally the case with Taiwan: while it is not referred to as a state by many countries, it is treated like a state, has de facto embassies and can engage in foreign relations as long as it can put up with China's complaining. On the other hand, states may refuse to recognize a state's existence for any purpose at all, as was the case with Biafra.

The famine in Biafra, partly caused by its international pariah status, showed that total non-recognition can be particularly disastrous, so nowadays states will generally acknowledge each other's statehood even if they are unwilling to give formal recognition. This is known as the declaratory theory of statehood. It is generally most convenient arrangement for everyone concerned: one example was the case of the USS Pueblo, in which the United States negotiated with North Korea despite not recognizing its statehood, and ended up securing the return of a number of U.S. military personnel.

Sovereignty is often cited as a criterion. However, nobody can actually provide a coherent definition of sovereignty, so it is probably not a good criterion upon which to base an argument of statehood. Many Western countries like to plug self-determination, but this is more of a criterion for recognition than it is for statehood (and for that matter, its enforcement is rather selective).

How a state dies

A state can "die" by breaking up, being conquered or merging with another. The death of a state can cause all sorts of interesting legal issues.

Its membership in international organizations, for example, is up to whichever states succeed it. This is how Russia came to occupy the positions formerly held by the USSR: after the breakup of the USSR, the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States agreed to let Russia accede to the USSR's positions. However, Serbia and Montenegro did not get such an agreement from the other states comprising the Cold War-era Yugoslavia, and as a result the new Yugoslavia had to be admitted to the United Nations as a brand-new member state.

National debts and contractual obligations pose similar problems. If a debt or obligation is tied to a particular territory, it is generally supposed to end up in the hands of whichever state ultimately controls that territory. But this rule has been contested by many states historically, such as Germany following its merger with Austria in the 1930s: they prefer a tabula rasa or "clean slate" theory.

State (?), n. [OE. stat, OF. estat, F. état, fr. L. status a standing, position, fr. stare, statum, to stand. See Stand, and cf. Estate, Status.]


The circumstances or condition of a being or thing at any given time.

State is a term nearly synonymous with "mode," but of a meaning more extensive, and is not exclusively limited to the mutable and contingent. Sir W. Hamilton.

Declare the past and present state of things. Dryden.

Keep the state of the question in your eye. Boyle.


Rank; condition; quality; as, the state of honor.

Thy honor, state, and seat is due to me. Shak.


Condition of prosperity or grandeur; wealthy or prosperous circumstances; social importance.

She instructed him how he should keep state, and yet with a modest sense of his misfortunes. Bacon.

Can this imperious lord forget to reign, Quit all his state, descend, and serve again? Pope.


Appearance of grandeur or dignity; pomp.

Where least og state there most of love is shown. Dryden.


A chair with a canopy above it, often standing on a dais; a seat of dignity; also, the canopy itself.


His high throne, . . . under state Of richest texture spread. Milton.

When he went to court, he used to kick away the state, and sit down by his prince cheek by jowl. Swift.


Estate, possession.



Your state, my lord, again in yours. Massinger.


A person of high rank.




Any body of men united by profession, or constituting a community of a particular character; as, the civil and ecclesiastical states, or the lords spiritual and temporal and the commons, in Great Britain. Cf. Estate, n., 6.


The principal persons in a government.

The bold design Pleased highly those infernal states. Milton.


The bodies that constitute the legislature of a country; as, the States-general of Holland.


A form of government which is not monarchial, as a republic.


Well monarchies may own religion's name, But states are atheists in their very fame. Dryden.


A political body, or body politic; the whole body of people who are united one government, whatever may be the form of the government; a nation.

Municipal law is a rule of conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state. Blackstone.

The Puritans in the reign of Mary, driven from their homes, sought an asylum in Geneva, where they found a state without a king, and a church without a bishop. R. Choate.


In the United States, one of the commonwealth, or bodies politic, the people of which make up the body of the nation, and which, under the national constitution, stands in certain specified relations with the national government, and are invested, as commonwealth, with full power in their several spheres over all matters not expressly inhibited.

⇒ The term State, in its technical sense, is used in distinction from the federal system, i. e., the government of the United States.


Highest and stationary condition, as that of maturity between growth and decline, or as that of crisis between the increase and the abating of a disease; height; acme.


⇒ When state is joined with another word, or used adjectively, it denotes public, or what belongs to the community or body politic, or to the government; also, what belongs to the States severally in the American Union; as, state affairs; state policy; State laws of Iowa.

Nascent state. Chem. See under Nascent. -- Secretary of state. See Secretary, n., 3. -- State bargea royal barge, or a barge belonging to a government. -- State bed, an elaborately carved or decorated bed. -- State carriage, a highly decorated carriage for officials going in state, or taking part in public processions. -- State paper, an official paper relating to the interests or government of a state. Jay. -- State prison, a public prison or penitentiary; -- called also State's prison. -- State prisoner, one is confinement, or under arrest, for a political offense. -- State rights, ∨ States' rights, the rights of the several independent States, as distinguished from the rights of the Federal government. It has been a question as to what rights have been vested in the general government. [U.S.] -- State's evidence. See Probator, 2, and under Evidence. -- State sword, a sword used on state occasions, being borne before a sovereign by an attendant of high rank. -- State trial, a trial of a person for a political offense. -- States of the Church. See under Ecclesiastical.

Syn. -- State, Situation, Condition. State is the generic term, and denotes in general the mode in which a thing stands or exists. The situation of a thing is its state in reference to external objects and influences; its condition is its internal state, or what it is in itself considered. Our situation is good or bad as outward things bear favorably or unfavorably upon us; our condition is good or bad according to the state we are actually in as respects our persons, families, property, and other things which comprise our sources of enjoyment.

I do not, brother, Infer as if I thought my sister's state Secure without all doubt or controversy. Milton.

We hoped to enjoy with ease what, in our situation, might be called the luxuries of life. Cock.

And, O, what man's condition can be worse Than his whom plenty starves and blessings curse? Cowley.


© Webster 1913.

State (?), a.






Belonging to the state, or body politic; public.


© Webster 1913.

State, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Stated; p. pr. & vb. n. Stating.]


To set; to settle; to establish.


I myself, though meanest stated, And in court now almost hated. Wither.

Who calls the council, states the certain day. Pope.


To express the particulars of; to set down in detail or in gross; to represent fully in words; to narrate; to recite; as, to state the facts of a case, one's opinion, etc.

To state it. To assume state or dignity. [Obs.] "Rarely dressed up, and taught to state it." Beau. & Fl.


© Webster 1913.

State, n.

A statement; also, a document containing a statement.


Sir W. Scott.


© Webster 1913.

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