Weberian Theory of State

Definition and Nature of State:

Let us start with the definition of state given by Max Weber. He says: A modern state is a system of administration and law which is modified by state and law and which guides the collective actions of the executive staff; the executive is regulated by statute likewise, and claims authority over members of the association (those who necessarily belong to the association by birth) but within a broader scope over all actively taking place in the territory over which it exercises domination”.

In this definition Weber calls the state as a:

(1) System of administration and law.

(2) It is a symbol of collective action which means whatever the state performs is always for the general public of the community and not for particular group of people.

(3) A modern state exercises domination over the community.

(4) Domination of the state extends over the members of the association who are natural members that are members by birth.

(5) According to Weber the state is a public organisation and its authority extends over all the inhabitants (members of the association) of the geographical area.

(6) The state is independent. If it is not independent it would not be possible for it to exercise control over the members of the association.

(7) The state is capable of taking decisions and selecting preferences.

(8) When a political organisation is the state it is also capable of taking action with autonomy. Max Weber has viewed the state from both legal and sociological points of view. According to Weber the state is a collective legal body which has coercive power.

Elements of State:

Weber in his Economy and Society and also in other works pointed out certain elements of state. Although he did not specially mention the word element we do it for the sake of clarity of discussion. The elements, in fact, constitute the most important parts of his definition.

There are, according to Weber, three elements of state:


(1) Territoriality

(2) Violence

(3) Legitimacy

Though Weber has not directly mentioned the term nation-state, the term was quite alive in his mind when he spoke of territoriality. In the earlier centuries, history tells us, the states were involved in internecine warfare and this situation considerably troubled the border and territories of different states.

But today the concept of nation- state is very developed and there is not so much problem about the border. Each state can claim certain border and it is more or less respected by other states. Territoriality is, thus, a vital element of state in the opinion of Weber.

The second element is violence. The state can demand allegiance from citizens and in the situation where some people are reluctant to show allegiance the state does not hesitate to use violent measures. But in the opinion of Weber “force is certainly not the normal or only means of the state”.

However, the force is a special means the state can use when necessity arises. He says very beautifully, “The state is a relation of men dominating men, a relation supported by means of legitimate violence”. It means that the use of force or violence is backed by legitimacy. Except state no other political organisation is authorised to use force. Hence the force or violence is an important element of state.

The third element is legitimacy. Whenever the state uses violence or physical force, it is claimed that there is justifiability behind that use of force and this type of justifiability can conveniently be called legitimacy.

The legitimacy is based on any of the following factors. The legitimacy may be a belief. People believe that the state has the power to use force. That is all. This belief prevents people from opposing the use of force. Legitimacy may be based on law, constitution or statute.

This occurs when the authority of the state assumes power through democratic or constitutional means. “The legitimacy of the modern state is founded predominantly on legal authority that is commitment to a code of legal regulations”.

Institutions comprising a modern state can also be regarded as an element. These institutions are many in form and kind. They are political, economic, social, cultural etc. Some of these institutions are directly controlled by the state and some are not. But the institutions are not above the law and authority of state. They are to act in accordance with the law and regulations made by the state.

Marxian State and Weberian State:

Weber, in his interpretations of state, differs from Marx, Engels and Lenin. The basic points of differences are noted below:

(1) Marx and Engels believed that the state was the outcome of the rise of property system, classes and class antagonisms. According to Max Weber, the state is a political organisation and it is the consequence of human necessity and innovative tactics. People wanted to create or organise a state for the better management of society. Though they created a state, it was not the product of the connivance of certain people assembled at a particular time as imagined by social contract thinkers.

(2) Collecting materials from history Marx and Engels arrived at the conclusion that the state was an instrument of exploitation. Weber, however, did not share this view of Marx and Engels. Weber, on the other hand, did not see the state in this light. To him, the state is simply a political organisation to ensure proper maintenance of law and order. To sum up, to Marx the state was an apparatus of class rule and to Weber it was not so but an apparatus for general administration.

(3) To Marx and Engels the state was the product of class and class rule and these two reached their culmination in capitalism Marx and Engels have said in Manifesto that the advent of capitalism modified and simplified the classes, class structure and class relations. But Weber, on the other hand, believed that modern state was not the product of capitalism.

Rather, it preceded capitalism. In other words before the advent of capitalism there existed state. State helped promote capitalism. Capitalism, on the other hand, “provided an enormous impetus” for the rationalisation of state administration. Capitalism needed a well organised and articulated state administra­tion. Being pressurised by the capitalists the state authority took steps in that direction.

(4) When Marx and Engels were writing there was predominantly state admin­istration which was at the beck and call of the state authority. That is, the idea of the civil service was active in their minds. Weber’s theory of state takes full cognisance of administrative apparatus manned by the bureaucrats. But Weber divided the administration into public and private. Today we support Weber’s views.

(5) Marx and Engels thought of withering away of state after the society reaches the stage of communism and the seizure of state power shall be done by the proletarians. Weber did not touch this aspect of state. Weber confined his analysis within Germany. When he wrote (in the first two decades) Germany was a fully fledged capitalist state and he viewed the administration of such a state from a very near distance. His analysis of state may be regarded as a ground-to-earth analysis.

Moreover, he did not think of a future state structure. So far as the concept of state is concerned the fundamental difference between the two giant philosophers of Germany is Marx viewed the state as a powerful instrument of class rule, Weber thought that it was as apparatus of state administration.

Theory of State and Bureaucracy:

Weber’s theory of state is inseparably connected with bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is the most rational, efficient, powerful and hierarchical apparatus of state admin­istration. Specialist training is badly needed, for state administration is imparted on the recruited persons to make them efficient for state administration. In Economy and Society Weber calls bureaucracy the “completely indispensable”.

Weber has said that the advance of state towards more and more better administration and efficient organisation is closely associated with the superiority of bureaucratic organisation. In his judgment bureaucracy provides technical knowledge and finesse. In fact, the structure of the state stands on the bureaucratic organisation.

He further says that with the rise of the complication of economic structure the bureaucracy becomes more indispensable because without bureaucracy the complex economic structure of society cannot be managed or administered. It is beyond the capacity of the politicians to manage the state structure without bureaucrats.

“The Weberian state is in fact a source of rationality rather than dependent upon or incidental to it. Although all institutions are coercive the state is distinguished from all others because its coercion is legitimate Legitimacy functions through bureau­cracy, the purpose of which is to give society a higher element of rationality and efficiency”.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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