What is the State – Terminology & Definitions

What is the state , State is a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government. State is is the organization while the government is the particular group of people, the administrative bureaucracy that controls the state apparatus at a given time.

Terminology & Definitions :

The Term “State.”

Political science, as we have seen, deals With the phenomena of that highest of all human associations, the state. The term employed by the Greeks which corresponds mast nearly to the modern English term “state” was polis, meaning “city.” For them, the term was appropriate enough because their states were city-states, not territorial or country states such as most of those of modern times are.

In short, as Seeley remarked, political science was for the Greeks largely municipal science. The Romans employed the term civitas which connoted the same idea But they also employed the phrases status rei publicae and res publica, which implied not merely the idea of citizenship of a city but the notion of the public welfare. The terms probably conveyed to the Roman mind of the fifth century after Christ a meaning very similar to our modern nation of a state.

The early Teutons adopted only a part of the phrase status from which the modern word “state” was derived. In early modern times the coming into use of such German words as Landtag, Landesgesetz and Landesstaatsrecht indicated the new ct2nception2 of the state as a territorial rather than an urban commonwealth.

The word “state” (stato) appears to have been introduced into the modern literature of political science by Machiavelli, who in his famous book, “The Prince” ( Principe, 1523) observed at the outset that all the powers which have had and have authority over men are states (stati) and are either monarchies or republics.

In the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the words state, states, Staat appeared in English, French, and German literature, although Bodin in 1576 preferred the term “republic” o(republique) as the title of the French edition of his famous treatise.

Various Uses of the Term :

Etymologically the term is an abstract one which has reference to that which is fixed or established. Thus we speak of the “state” of a man  health, of his mind, or of his economic condition. The etymological connotation does not therefore correspond to the meaning of the word as a term of political science. Unfortunately, like many other words of common usage in the literature of political science and law, it is used in various senses Thus it is often employed as a synonym of nation, society, country, government etc.

It is commonly employed also to express the idea of the collective action of society as distinguished from individual action as when we speak of “state” aid to education, “state” regulation of industry, etc. Again, in some countries having the federal system of government, such as the United States (and the German Empire of 187 l1918),  the term is used to designate both the federation as a whole and the component members constituting it.

The effect of this dual use of the term is to introduce confusion into the terminology of political science and it sometimes leads to misconceptions in political thinking. It is regrettable that neither the English, nor the German, nor the French language contains a suitable term by which the component members of federal unions may be appropriately designated. They are not, strictly speaking, “states” nor yet are they mere provinces or administrative districts, at least not in the American, Canadian, or Australian federal unions.

Likewise the use of the terms state and government as if the two things were identical, has produced equal confession and often misunderstanding. In fact they represent widely different concepts and upon the recognition of the distinction between them depends the true understanding of some of the most fundamental questions of political science.

The state is the politically organized person or entity for the promotion of common ends and the satisfaction of common needs, while the government is the collective name for the agency, magistracy, or organization through which the will of the state is formulated, expressed, and realized. The government is an essential organ or agency of the state, but it is no more the state itself than the board of directors of a corporation is itself the corporation.

In earlier times, it was not uncommon to identify the ruling sovereign with the state, and the famous saying attributed to Louis XIV (Lfétat, c’est moi) has often been quoted as an example of such identification But if the government and state were identical, the death of the reigning, sovereign or the overthrow of the government would necessarily interrupt, if not destroy, the continuity of the state life.

As a matter of fact changes of governmental organization do not affect the existence of the state. States possess the quality of permanence. Governments, on the contrary, are not immortal, they are constantly undergoing change as a result of revolution, or through legal processes, yet the state continues unimpaired and unaffected.

Governments are mere contrivances to use the language of Professor Seeley, through which the state manifests itself. They possess no sovereignty, no original unlimited authority, but only derivative power delegated by the state through its constitution. To understand clearly, therefore, the nature of each and the relation of one to the other, we must avoid identifying them either in thought or in treatment.

The term “state” is also frequently employed as a synonym for “society.” Thus is it said that society has a right to protect itself against crime, when it is the state that is meant. Society is the more general term meaning the people, viewed in their associated aspect, that is, an aggregation having common interests and united by what the sociologists term a consciousness of kind, whereas the state is a particular portion of society politically organized for the protection and promotion of its common interests. The principal difference between society and the state, therefore, is that the latter necessarily implies political organization, while the former does not. Spencer described the state as society in its corporate capacity.

What Is The State ?

From a consideration of matters of terminology we come now to inquire what is the state. Definitions of the state are, as the German writer Schulze remarked, innumerable, almost every author-having his own and scarcely any two being alike. Aristotle, the “father of political science” defined the state as

“a union of families and villages having for its end a perfect and self-sufficing life, by which we mean a happy and honorable life.”

If, he said,

“all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all and which embraces all the rest, aims, and in a greater degree than any other, at the highest good.”

As a general statement of the primary object of the state it can hardly be improved upon. Cicero defined the state (respublzca) as a numerous society united by a common sense of right and a mutual participation in advantages.

His definition commended itself to Grotius, who defined the state somewhat similarly as a perfect society of free men united for the sake of enjoying the advantages of right and the common utility, is and his definition in turn was adapted in substance by Vattel and Wheaton. Bodin, in 1576, defined the  state as an association of families and their common possessions, governed by a supreme power and by reason. Thus, like Aristotle, he made the family rather than the individual the unit.

Modern Definitions of the State :-

Among the definitions given by modern authorities the following are among the most satisfactory. The English writer Holland defines a state as a numerous assemblage of human beings, generally occupying a certain territory, among whom the will of the majority or of an ascertainable class of persons is by the strength of such a majority or class made to prevail against any of their number who oppose it.

Hall, viewing the state primarily as a concept of international law,says, The marks of an independent state are that the community constituting it is permanently established for a political end, that it possesses a defined territory, and that it is independent of external control .

Burgess defines it as a particular portion of mankind ,viewed as an organized unit, which is substantially the same as the definition given by Bluntschli, who says, The state is the politically organized people of a definite territory. The United States Supreme Court in an early case defined a state as a body of free persons united together for the common benefit, to enjoy peaceably what is their own, and to do justice to others.

More recently it has defined the state as a political community of free citizens occupying a territory of defined boundaries, and organized under  a government sanctioned and limited by a written constitution and established by the consent of the governed. Esmein, regarding it from the point of view of the jurist, defines the state s the juridical personification of a nation.  Duguit defines it uniquely as a human society in which there exists a political differentiation, that is, a differentiation between the governed and the governors.

Carre de Malberg defines the state concretely as a community of men fixed on a territory which is their own and possessing an organization from which results, for the group envisaged in its  relations with its members, a superior Power of action, of command, and of coercion.

Phillimore says a state for all purposes of international law is a people permanently occupying a fixed territory, bound together by common laws, habits, and customs into one body politic, exercising through the medium of an organized government: independent sovereignty and control over all persons and things within its boundaries, capable of making war and peace and of entering into all international relations with the communities of the globe.

Conclusion :-

If one more definition may be added to this long list I would say that the state, as a concept of political science and public law, is a community of persons more or less numerous permanently occupying a definite portion of territory, in dependent, or nearly so, of external control, and possessing an organized government to which the great body of inhabitants render habitual obedience. The essential constituent elements, political, physical, and spiritual, of the modern state are all brought out in this definition.

They are first, a group of persons associated together for common purposes second, the occupation of a determinate portion of the earth’s surface which constitutes the home (or, as the Germans say, the Baden) of the population, third, independence of foreign control and fourth, a common supreme authority or agency through which the collective will is expressed and enforced.

Factors Determining Definitions :

Points of View Naturally definitions of the state are colored by the opinions of their authors and are affected by the point of view from which the state is envisaged. Thus the sociologist, viewing it primarily as a social phenomenon, usually defines it differently from the way in which the jurist, who regards it first of all as a juridical establishment, ‘usually defines it. Similarly, writers on international law in their definitions emphasize certain elements-Which the political scientist ignores or minimizes. Finally, philosophical writers who think and write in abstract terms formulate their definitions accordingly. Such, for example, were the definitions of Hegel, Who defined the state as  the incorporation of the objective spirit as  the ethical spirit, the manifest, self-conscious, substantial will of man, thinking and knowing itself and suiting its performance to its knowledge or to the proportion of its knowledge as the actualization of concrete freedom, as perfected rationality the realization of the moral idea, etc.

The objection to such definitions is that they are, aside from their highly abstract character, based on a one-sided view of the state and afford little clue to its real character and mission. In attempting to define the state we Should do well to remember that it is at the same time both an abstract conception and a concrete organization. Abstractly considered, it is merely a juridical person, a corporation, separate and distinct from the people who, with the territory which they occupy, constitute the physical state.

On the other hand, the state concretely considered is the community, the territory which it occupies, and the organization through which it wills and acts. Thus viewed, the state is identified with the physical elements which are said to constitute it. Some writers conceive it only from the first viewpoint others, denying the personality theory, regard it only from the second point of view.

The Idea and the Concept of the State :

Political Philosophers have often discussed the idea and some have distinguished it from the concept of the state. The term idea as thus used connotes several meanings. Thus the state, when considered apart from its concrete physical existence, is sometimes referred to as an abstract idea. Again it is spoken of as existing in idea before it has acquired an objective form with an organization and institutions.

Thus Hegel said the idea of the state has immediate actuality in the individual state,  by which he apparently meant that it is merely a thing of philosophical speculation until it takes Hesh and blood and becomes a working institution serving the needs of the community. Other writers, for the most part Germans, distinguishing between the idea (Idee) and the concept (Begrig) of the state, employ the term Stateside to designate the ideally perfect state as distinguished from the imperfect actual state, that is, the state as a concept.

Some of them appear to regard the ideally perfect state as a universal state. Thus Biuntschli said,

“the concept of the state (Staatsbegiff) has to do with the natural and essential characteristics of actual states. The idea of the state (Staatszdee) presents a picture, in the splendor of imaginary perfection, of the state as not yet realized but to be striven for.”

Burgess adopts this distinction between the idea and the concept of the state.

He says:

“The idea of the state is the state perfect and complete. The concept of the state is the state developing and approaching perfection. From the standpoint of the idea, the state is mankind viewed as an organized unit”

From the standpoint of the concept, it is a particular portion of mankind viewed as an organized unit. From the stand-point of the idea the territorial basis of the state is the world, and the principle of unity is humanity. From the standpoint of the concept, again, the territorial basis of the state is a particular portion of the earth’s surface, and the principle of unity is that particular phase of human nature and of human need, which at any particular stage in the development of that nature is predominant and commanding. The former is the real state of the perfect future. The latter is the real state of the past, the present, and the imperfect future. The distinction is largely met a physical or philosophical and has little practical value. The view that the ideal state state, will, of course, find numerous combatants.

The State as a Concept of International Law :

The state as to often defined by writers on political science and constitutional law is not necessarily a state in the sense in which the term is used in the literature of international law. Conversely, a state in the latter sense may lack some of the attributes of a state as a Concept of Political science and constitutional law.

Thus writers who do not consider sovereignty as an essential constituent element of the state regard members of federal unions, protect Orates, so-called vassal states under the suzerainty of other states, states under mandates, and autonomous dependencies like the British self governing dominions, as states, although they are not fully such in the eye of international law. Likewise, there is a group of petty states such as San Marino and Liechtenstein which although sovereign and possessing the other marks of a state when judged by the criteria of political science, are not regarded as full international persons.

A state in the sense of international law must be a fully sovereign and independent community with a legal capacity to enter into international relations, and must possess the power and will to fulfill the obligations which international law requires of all members of the family of nations.

Furthermore, it must have been recognized as such and thereby admitted to membership in the international community on a footing of , equality with other states. A community therefore may possess all the marks of a state as usually defined in terms of political science, but until it has been received into the family of nations it is not a state according to international law. International law does not deny the existence of a state before it has been recognized, but it simply takes no notice of it.

Thus the Ottoman Empire was not admitted to participate in the benefits of the European system of public law until 1856, while China and Japan were not recognized as full members of the international community until a still more recent date. Although Russia has long been a member, there is at present a disposition to treat her as being outside the circle because of the refusal of the Soviet government to recognize the validity of the international engagements and obligations entered into by the former governments of Russia.

Is the League of Nations :

State ? The recent establishment of a new international political entity known as the League of Nations has given rise to much discussion as to its exact juristic character. Some of its friends have maintained that it is a state, at least in the sense of international law, that is an international person, while some of its critics have attacked it on the ground that it is a super-state elected over the individual states which compose its membership. It is a creation having executive, administrative, and quasi-legislative organs it has brought about the establishment of a court which may be regarded, in a sense at least, as the judicial organ of the League it has a seat or capital, a treasury, a budget, it owns buildings and other property it can probably sue in the courts and be sued, at least with its consent it is said to have the right of legation, since in fact several members of the League have accredited permanent quasi-diplomatic representatives to it and occasionally it sends temporary missions to other states , its representatives and officials. by article  of the covenant are declared to be entitled to diplomatic privileges and immunizes when engaged on the business of the League, it is said to exercise the right of sovereignty, for example, over the Saar basin and the territories under mandate, it exercises the power of intervention for the protection of minorities in certain states, it exercises the power to declare war and make peace etc.

The League Not a State :

On the other hand, it is argued that the League cannot be properly regarded as an international person, or state, for the reason that it has no territory of its own over which it can exercise jurisdiction, no power to issue commands and enforce obedience, and if it had, it possesses no subjects to whom it could address such commands. As to the right of legation attributed to it, it has been pointed out that it is at best only a very imperfect right, since the League has no legal capacity to accord diplomatic privileges to persons accredited to it,-nor to protect those to whom it is promised, nor any power to refuse to receive a particular person because he is persona non gram Or for other reasons, Its right to declare war is nothing more than the right of the council to recommend to the members military action and if in their discretion they act upon the recommendation the war is-carried on not by the League but by the participating members.

Its alleged right of sovereignty over the Saar basin is not such in strict legal theory but merely the right of provisional government and trusteeship the dejure sovereignty remaining in the German state. The situation is essentially the same in respect to the mandated territories, the sovereignty over them belonging either to the mandatory power or to the mandated state. In either case the role of the League is merely that of supervisionthe duty to see, so far as it can, that the mandatory power exercises its control in accordance with the terms of the mandate and for the benefit of the inhabitants.

As to the right of intervention in behalf of racial, linguistic or religious minorities, that is nothing more than the right to use good offices and moral influence or to recommend military action by the members of the League. Finally, the alleged League protectorate over Danzig is not such in fact, and it is pointed out that the control of the foreign relations of the free city has been entrusted to Poland, Who exercises it not on behalf of the League or even of the free city, but in the interest of Poland itself

For these reasons it is denied that the League is an international person, that is, a state in the sense of international law. The better view is that the League is not a state, least of all a superstate, according to either political science or international law, but is rather an association of independent states and self governing dominions established for the accomplishment of Specific Objects.

As such it approximates a state, in the sense of international law, more nearly than any Other international association in existence. In the course of time it may possibly develop into an association possessing the attributes of a full-fledged international person, though it is difficult to see how it can ever evolve into a state, as the term is ordinarily defined in political science and constitutional law, without its involving the destruction, in part at least, of the individual member states composing it.

Is the Papacy a State ?

Prior to 1870 the Holy See was a state and the pope was a temporal sovereign, as well as the ecclesiastical head of the Roman Catholic Church. In that year, however the papal territories were secularized and incorporated in the new kingdom of Italy and thus the temporal sovereignty of the pope came to an end.

Nevertheless, certain Catholic writers maintained that the papacy was still a state, although they admitted that it lacked some of the characteristics of other states. They argued that although the papacy had lost its former territories it stile possessed the Vatican with its grounds , that in its officials employees, and guards it had subjects, that they were under the jurisdiction of the papacy alone , that the papacy had its own governmental organization and judicial court, that the pope was not subject to the king of Italy or any other temporal sovereign that he sent and received diplomatic representatives who were treated on an equal footing with other diplomatic representatives, that he entered into agreements (concordats) with other states, and that he was accorded (at least by Catholic powers) the honors of a temporal sovereign.

The better opinion, however, is that while the papacy was treated somewhat as if it were an international person, it was not such in fact and that it was still less a state according to political science. It was not invited to send plenipotentiaries to either of the two Hague Peace Conferences or to other international conferences later convoked. Moreover, the diplomatic representatives appointed by or accredited to the Vatican were charged only with interests of a religious character, and the concordats to which the papacy was a party dealt only with such matters.

All doubt as to whether the papacy was a state was removed, however, in 1929 by the conclusion of a treaty by which Italy recognized the sovereignty, ownership, and exclusive jurisdiction of the Holy See over the Vatican City, a small territory of 160 acres inhabited by about 400 persons. Italy also recognized the right of the Holy See to send and receive diplomatic representatives according to the general provisions of international law.

By an express declaration, however, the Holy See announced its intention of remaining aloof from all temporal disputes between nations and refraining from participation in international congresses convoked for the settlement of such disputes, except Upon special appeal from the contending parties.

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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