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Understanding State in comparison to Society, Government and Nation.

The article highlights the major differences between State, Society, Government and Nation which might be confusing and overlapping principles of jurisprudential law.


State v/s Society

  1. In point of time, society is prior to the state. The people lived in society much before the state emerged.

  2. State is organized; society may be organized or unorganized. The primitive society was unorganized, but the state is always organized.

  3. Society exercises authority largely through customs and persuasion. The state exercises authority through laws and coercion. The state alone can legitimately use force. To use the language of Barker, “The area of society is voluntary co-operation, its energy that of good-will, its method that of elasticity; while the area of Stale is rather that of mechanical action, its energy force, its method rigidity.”

  4. State is a territorial organisation while a society does not occupy any definite territory. A society may extend to the whole world. It may be international like the Red Cross Society.

  5. A society embraces the whole life of man and all those ties which bind men together. But the state is concerned only with those social relationships that express themselves through government. The state cannot regulate every form of social conduct. MacIver expresses this difference beautifully in the following words:“There are social forms like the family or the church or the club, which owe neither their origin nor their inspiration to the state; and social forces like custom or competition, which the state may protect or modify, but certainly does not create; and social motives like friendship or jealousy, which establish relationships too intimate and personal to be controlled by the great engine of the state”.

  6. The membership of the state is compulsory but not so of the society. Man like Robinson Crusoe may, if he so likes, live outside the society. Thus “state is structure not coeval and co-extensive with society but built within it as a determinate order for the attainment of specific ends.” The importance of state to society is brought about by Barker when he says,” Society is held together by the state; and if it were not thus held together, it could not exist.”


State v/s Government:

  1. Government is only an element of the state: A State has four essential elements—Population, Territory, Government and Sovereignty. Government is only one element of the State. It is just one part of the State which acts for the state.

  2. Government is an Agency or Agent of the State: Government is an agency of the State. It acts for the state. It is that agency of the State which formulates the will of the state into laws, implements the laws of the state and ensures conformity to the laws of the state. Government exercises power and authority on behalf of the state.

  3. State is Abstract, Government is Concrete: State is a concept, an idea or a name used to denote a community of persons living on a definite territory and organised for the exercise of sovereignty. State cannot be seen. Government is made by the people of the State. It is formed by the representatives of the people. It has a definite and defined organisation and form. It can be seen as a team of people exercising the power of the State.

  4. Government is organised only by a portion of the population of State: The whole population is a part of the State. All the people are citizens of the State. However, government is made by the representatives of the people. Only some people, who get elected act as representatives of the people, form the government of the State. Their number is limited to few hundred only. In India around 5500 MPs and MLAs represent the total population of around 110 crores and exercise the political power at the centre and in all states of India.

  5. Membership of a State is compulsory but not of Government: All people are citizens of the State. They together constitute the population of the State. Each one normally gets the membership (citizenship) of a state automatically right at the time of one’s birth and continues to live life as such. However, membership of the government is not automatic. No one can be forced to become its part. Anyone can voluntarily seek an election, get elected as a representative of the people and become a part of the government. Only some persons form the government.

  6. Sovereignty belongs to State and not to Government: Sovereignty is the hallmark of the State. It belongs to the State. The government exercises power on behalf of the State. It acts on the basis of the sovereignty of the State. Sovereignty is comprehensive, absolute, unlimited and all inclusive supreme power of the State. The government exercises only well defined and limited powers.

  7. Territory belongs to the State: The State has sovereign ownership and jurisdiction over its territory. State is a territorial entity and territory belongs to it. The government has the responsibility to preserve, protect and defend the territory of the State. The laws made by the government are applicable to all parts of the territory of State but territory belongs to the State and not to the government.

  8. Every State has uniformly four essential elements, however the forms and features of Government differ from State to State: Each State has a uniform personality with its four essential elements Population, Territory, Government and Sovereignty. However, governments can be of different forms— Parliamentary or Presidential, Unitary or Federal or a mixture of these. A government can be monarchical or aristocratic or democratic or a dictatorship. The people can by choice change the form of their government. But the State exists independently and has a uniform character.

  9. State is Permanent, Government is Temporary: Governments come and go regularly. After every general election the government changes. It can also undergo a total change through an election or even through a revolution. State is permanent. It continuously lives so long as it continues to enjoy sovereignty. Independent India continues to live as a sovereign independent state since 1947. However, she has witnessed the rise and fall of several governments at the national and state levels.

Thus, there are several well-defined and well-recognised differences between the State and Government. In common usage no distinction is made between the two. A government department is often referred to as state department.


Like-wise State Transport, State College of Sports is really government transport and Government College of sports. It is indeed a loose and inexact use of the name State. A student of Political Science fully realises and accepts the difference between State and Government.



State v/s Nation

  1. The elements of State and Nation are different: The State has four elements—population, territory, government, and sovereignty. In the absence of even one element, a State cannot be really a State. A state is always characterised by all these four elements. On the contrary, a nation is a group of people who have a strong sense of unity and common consciousness. Common territory, common race, common religion, common language, common history, common culture and common political aspirations are the elements which help the formation of a nation, and yet none of these is an absolutely essential element. The elements which go to build a nation keep on changing.

  2. State is a Political Organisation while Nation is a social, cultural, psychological, emotional and political unity: The State is a political organisation which fulfils the security and welfare needs of its people. It is concerned with external human actions. It is a legal entity. On the other hand, a Nation is a united unit of population which is full of emotional, spiritual and psychological bonds. A nation has little to do with the physical needs of the people.

  3. Possession of a Definite Territory is essential for the State but not for a Nation: It is essential for each State to possess a fixed territory. It is the physical element of the State. State is a territorial entity. But for a nation territory is not an essential requirement. A nation can survive even without a fixed territory. Love of a common motherland acts as a source of unity. For example, before 1948 the Jews were a nation even though they had no fixed territory of their own. When, in 1948, they secured a definite and defined territory, they established the State of Israel.

  4. Sovereignty is essential for State but not for Nation: Sovereignty is an essential element of the State. It is the soul of the State. In the absence of sovereignty, the State loses its existence. It is the element of sovereignty which makes the state different from all other associations of the people. It is not essential for a nation to possess sovereignty. The basic requirement of a nation is the strong bonds of emotional unity among its people which develop due to several common social cultural elements. Before 1947, India was a nation but not a State because it did not have sovereignty.

  5. Nation can be wider than the State: The State is limited to a fixed territory. Its boundaries can increase or decrease but the process of change is always very complex. However a nation may or may not remain within the bounds of a fixed territory. Nation is a community based on common ethnicity, history and traditions and aspirations. Obviously its boundaries can easily extend beyond the boundaries of the State. For example in a way the French nation extends even to Belgium, Switzerland and Italy because people in these countries belong to the same race to which the French claim to belong.

  6. There can be two or more Nationalities living in one State: There can be two or more than two nations within a single State. Before the First World War, Austria and Hungary were one State, but two different nations. Most of the modern states are multinational states.

  7. Nation is more stable than State: A nation is more stable than the State. When sovereignty ends, the State dies, but not the nation. A nation can survive even without sovereignty. For example, after their defeat in the World War II, both Germany and Japan lost their sovereign statuses and outside powers began to control them. They ceased to exist as States. But as nations they continued to live as nations, which after some months regained their sovereign statuses and became sovereign independent states.

  8. A State can be created while a Nation is always the result of evolution: A State can be created with the conscious endeavors of the people. Physical elements play an important role in the birth of a State. For example, after the Second World War, Germany got divided into two separate states West Germany and East Germany. But Germans remained emotionally as one nation. Ultimately in Oct., 1990 the Germans again got united into a single state. In 1947 Pakistan was created out of India as a separate State. A nation is a unity of the people which emerges slowly and steadily. No special efforts go into the making of a nation.

  9. The State uses police power (force) for preserving its unity and integrity, the Nation is bound by strong cultural and historical links: State has police power. Those who dare to disobey it are punished by the state. A nation does not have police power or force or coercive power. It is backed by moral, emotional and spiritual power. A nation survives on the power of sense of unity of the people. A nation appeals, the State orders; a nation persuades, a States coerces; and a nation boycotts, the State punishes. State is a political organisation, while the nation is a unity.

  10. State and nation do not have the same boundaries, and yet there is a tendency for a nation and state to be one. Most of the nations today stand organised into different states. Most of the modern States are multinational States. The modern state is called a nation-state because all the (nationalities) living in one state stand integrated into one nation.


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