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A state is a set of institutions that possess the authority to make the rules that govern the people in one or more societies, having internal and external sovereignty over a definite territory. The state includes such institutions as the armed forces, civil service or state bureaucracy, courts, and police.

Although the term often refers broadly to 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. Through conquest, war and revolution, the entirety of the world's inhabitable land has been divided into more than 200 sovereign states, the vast majority of which are represented in the United Nations.

The state is considered the most central concept in the study of politics, and its definition is the subject of intense scholarly debate. Political sociologists in the traditions of Karl Marx and Max Weber usually favor a broad definition that draws attention to the role of coercive apparatus. By Weber's influential definition, a state has a "monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory." The globalization of the world economy, the mobility of people and capital and the rise of many international institutions have all combined to circumscribe the freedom of action of states: however, the state remains the basic political unit of the world, as it has been since the 16th century.

Within a federal system, the term state also refers to political units, not sovereign themselves, but subject to the authority of the larger state, or federal union, such as the "states" in the United States and the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany.

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

  • Country is the geographical area
  • Nation designates a people, however national and international both confusingly refer as well to matters pertaining to what are strictly states, as in national capital, international law
  • State refers to set of governing institutions with sovereignty over a definite territory


[edit] Etymology

The word "state" originates from the medieval state or regal chair upon which the head of state (usually a monarch) would sit. By process of metonymy, the word state became used to refer to both the head of state and the power entity he represented (though the former meaning has fallen out of use). A similar association of terms can today be seen in the practice of referring to government buildings as having authority, for example "The White House today released a press statement..."

[edit] State forms over time

[edit] The origin of the state

The state emerged independently amongst various cultural groups as larger numbers of people were bound together by more and more complex forms of organization. Bands were the simplest forms of political organization: families were organized along kinship lines, while other integrative mechanisms of leadership are largely absent. Tribes were larger communities integrating different bands by principles of descent (lineages). Chiefdoms were the first social forms to differentiate political roles: lineages were ranked in a hierarchy that sets the descent group of the chief above others to indicate authoritative leadership. The power of the chief was centralized and relatively stable, and the economic order was to some extent structured by chiefly rule (through the organization of labor and the redistribution of wealth). In states, government is highly centralized in a professional ruling body separated from kinship bonds and organized into specialized offices that handle political, economic, and legal matters. The legitimized monopoly of the use or threat of force is one of the salient features of states. States often emerge when paramount chiefs need to develop bureaucracies to extend their power over land and labor. This acquisition of wealth conferred power; indeed the inheritance of fortunes from one chief to another aided the inheritance of power.

[edit] The state in classical antiquity

This section would benefit from a wider perspective of ancient states, including perhaps ancient Chinese, Persian, ancient Egyptian or ancient Indian sub-continent perspectives.

In the Western world the history of the state begins in ancient Greece. In classical antiquity, the state took a variety of forms, such as a Hellenistic king and his military or a Roman emperor and an imperial aristocracy. Before the 4th century BCE, in the era of the Greek city-states, free members of the society were granted citizenship rights until the 'democracy' of the city-states was undermined by territorial conquest and colonization, leading to rule by royal succession by the time of Alexander the Great.

In contrast, Rome did not introduce direct democracy but developed from a monarchy into a republic, governed by a senate dominated by the Roman aristocracy. While the Greek city-states contributed to the concept of direct democracy, Rome contributed the concept of Roman law and the distinction between the private and the public spheres.

[edit] The state-system of feudal Europe

The dissolution of the western Roman empire saw the fragmentation of the imperial state into the hands of private lords whose political, judicial, and military roles corresponded to the organization of economic production. In the early Middle Ages, power in the Western European state was divided up feudalized, through local proprietors whose property, gained from oaths of fealty, afforded them political authority. In these conditions, according to Marxists, their estate—the basic economic unit of society—was the state.

The state-system of feudal Europe was an unstable configuration of suzerains and anointed kings. A monarch, formally at the head of a hierarchy of sovereigns, was not an absolute power who could rule at will; instead, relations between lords and monarchs were mediated by varying degrees of mutual dependence, which was ensured by the absence of a centralized system of taxation. This reality ensured that each ruler needed to obtain the 'consent' of each estate in the realm. Given the legal underpinnings of the feudal organization of society, and the Roman Catholic Church's claim to act as a law-making power coequal to rather than subordinate to secular authorities, the conception of the 'modern state' is not a basis for understanding politics in medieval feudalism.

[edit] The "modern state"

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 Habsburgs, 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. Some of the absolutist states had a limited contiguous territory corresponding to the later idea of a nation-state, with at least a common administrative language, and they later transformed themselves into such states. Even these states, sometimes described as 'proto-national states', were not the culturally and ethnically homogenous national homeland, which later nationalism idealised. Hence the active role often taken by the state (especially in the 19th century) to promote national unity and identity, with emphasis on shared history and symbols.

It is in the absolutist period that the term "the state" is first introduced into political discourse. Although its origins are disputed, Niccolò Machiavelli is often credited with first using the concept of the state to refer to a territorial sovereign government in The Prince, published in 1532. It is not, however, until the time of British thinkers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke that a full account of the marks of sovereignty is produced.

Today, the most influential definition of the modern state draws on Weber's Politics as a Vocation. Weber stressed the state's monopoly of the means of physical violence and legitimacy. According to Weber, without social institutions claiming a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given territory, anarchy would quickly break out. In raising the question on why the dominated obey, Weber stresses the legitimation of such a structure of domination. He supplied the tripartite categories of "traditional," "charismatic," and "rational-legal" ideal types of legitimation of obedience.

Since Weber, an extensive literature on the processes by which the "modern state" emerged has been generated. Marxist scholars assert that the formation of states can be explained primarily in terms of the interests and struggles of social classes, while non-Marxist scholars—often in the tradition of Weber or Emile Durkheim—place greater emphasis on non-class actors. Another question on state formation has been whether it is best understood in terms of the internal dynamics and conflicts in a given country, or in terms of international dynamics such as war, imperialism, or economic domination. Marxists generally argue that there is a discernible historical pattern in the emergence of capitalist states, relating the formation of national states in the West with the emergence of capitalism.

[edit] Political theories

There are three main traditions within political science that shape 'theories of the state': the Marxist, the pluralist, and the institutionalist. Each of these theories has been employed to gain understanding on the state, while recognizing its complexity. Several issues underlie this complexity. First, the boundaries of the state are not closely defined, but constantly changing. Second, the state is not only the site of conflict between different organizations, but also internal conflict and conflict within organizations. Some scholars speak of the 'state's interest,' but there are often various interests within different parts of the state that are neither solely state-centered nor solely society-centered, but develop between different groups in civil society and different state actors.

[edit] Marxism

For Marxist theorists, the role of modern states is determined or related to their position in capitalist societies. Many contemporary Marxists offer a liberal interpretation of Marx's comment in The Communist Manifesto that the state is but the executive committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. Ralph Miliband argued that the ruling class uses the state as its instrument to dominate society by virtue of the interpersonal ties between state officials and economic elites. For Miliband, the state is dominated by an elite that comes from the same background as the capitalist class. State officials therefore share the same interests as owners of capital and are linked to them through a wide array of interpersonal and political ties.

By contrast, other Marxist theorists argue that the question of who controls the state is irrelevant. Heavily influenced by Gramsci, Nicos Poulantzas, a Greek neo-Marxist theorist argued that capitalist states do not always act on behalf of the ruling class, and when they do, it is not necessarily the case because state officials consciously strive to do so, but because the 'structural' position of the state is configured in such a way to ensure that the long-term interests of capital are always dominant. Poulantzas' main contribution to the Marxist literature on the state was the concept of 'relative autonomy' of the state. While Poulantzas' work on 'state autonomy' has served to sharpen and specify a great deal of Marxist literature on the state, his own framework came under criticism for its 'structural functionalism.'

[edit] Pluralism

While neo-Marxist theories of the state were relatively influential in continental Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, pluralism, a contending approach, gained greater adherence in the United States. Within the pluralist tradition, Robert Dahl sees the state as either a neutral arena for contending interests or its agencies as simply another set of interest groups. With power competitively arranged in society, state policy is a product of recurrent bargaining. Although pluralism recognizes the existence of inequality, it asserts that all groups have an opportunity to pressure the state. The pluralist approach suggests that the state's actions are the result of pressures applied for both polyarchy and organized interests.

[edit] Institutionalism

Both the Marxist and pluralist approaches view the state as reacting to the activities of groups within society, such as classes or interest groups. In this sense, they have both come under criticism for their 'society-centered' understanding of the state by scholars who emphasize the autonomy of the state with respect to social forces.

In particular, the "new institutionalism," an approach to politics that holds that behavior is fundamentally molded by the institutions in which it is embedded, asserts that the state is not an 'instrument' or an 'arena' and does not 'function' in the interests of a single class. Scholars working within this approach stress the importance of interposing civil society between the economy and the state to explain variation in state forms.

"New institutionalist" writings on the state, such as the works of Theda Skocpol, suggest that state actors are to an important degree autonomous. In other words, state personnel have interests of their own, which they can and do pursue independently (at times in conflict with) actors in society. Since the state controls the means of coercion, and given the dependence of many groups in civil society on the state for achieving any goals they may espouse, state personnel can to some extent impose their own preferences on civil society.

'New institutionalist' writers, claiming allegiance to Weber, often utilize the distinction between 'strong states' and 'weak states,' claiming that the degree of 'relative autonomy' of the state from pressures in society determines the power of the state—a position that has found favor in the field of international political economy.

[edit] Changing roles of states

[edit] States and civil society

Given the increasing institutional access to the state and role in the development of public policy by many parts of civil society, it is increasingly difficult to identify the boundaries of the state. The boundaries of the state are continually changing, for example, through privatization, nationalization, and the creation of new regulatory bodies. Often the nature of quasi-autonomy organizations is unclear, generating debate among political scientists on whether they are part of the state or civil society.

The distinction between the state to the public sphere or civil society has been the subject of considerable attention in analyses of state development has underwritten a diverse array of inquiries. Jürgen Habermas, in his conception of the public sphere, has defined civil society in terms of its role as a site of extra-institutional engagement with matters of public interest autonomous from the state. Earlier Western philosophers, in contrast, emphasized the supremacy of state over society, such as Thomas Hobbes and G.W.F. Hegel.

Some Marxist theorists, such as Antonio Gramsci, question 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.

[edit] States and supranationalism

International relations theorists have traditionally posited the existence of an international system, where states take 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 legitmation 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, gloabalization generated a debate as to whether the state can retain any of the freedom of action formerly associated with sovereignty. 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.

[edit] Legal status

States are the subjects of public international law, also known as the "law of nations." Their existence and conduct is governed by treaties and customary rules.

[edit] Achieving statehood

Whether or not an entity is truly a state is sometimes unclear. The constructive theory of statehood provides that a state is formed when certain requirements are met. One of the most often-cited standards for achieving statehood is the Montevideo Convention of 1933, which provides four criteria:

  1. a permanent population
  2. a defined territory
  3. government
  4. capacity to enter into relations with other states

Another theory, the declaratory theory, provides that a state must be afforded recognition by other states before it is truly a state. In practice, while the capacity of a state to enter into various international relations and treaties is often conditional upon such recognition, degrees of recognition and sovereignty may vary, and a state may be treated as a state without being recognized as such. For instance, the Republic of China functions as a state and is treated as a state by the governmental and legal systems of most countries, even though many of those countries do not formally recognize its statehood. Any degree of recognition, even majority recognition, is not binding on third-party states.

[edit] Succession

The configuration of states may change in a number of circumstances:

A new state is generally assumed to adopt the legal system which previously applied to its territory, unless it enacts new laws in that system's stead. International obligations, however, do not necessarily transfer from one state to its successor. The Russian Federation, for example, succeeded to most of the Soviet Union's international positions with the consent of the other constituent states of the former USSR; Yugoslavia's positions, however, were not inherited by Serbia and Montenegro because no such consent was provided by the other states of the former Yugoslavia.

State succession creates many problems with respect to national debts, nationality and other issues. These must often be resolved by special legislation, treaties or other political measures.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Ralph Miliband The State in Capitalist Society (1969)
  • Charles Tilly The Formation of National States in Western Europe
  • Robert Dahl, Modern Political Analysis
  • Theda Skocpol, Bringing the State Back Inar:دولة

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