Role Of The State

The term ‘State’ in its modern sense was first used by Machiavelli (1469-1527), the Italian statesman. The study of the State has since remained the focal point for the political scientists.


The State consists of four elements. These are –

  • (a) the people;
  • (b) the territory on which they live;
  • (c) the government to rule and regulate the lives of the people and
  • (d) sovereignty, which implies unrestricted authority to take decisions and manage its own affairs.

The role and nature of the State have been interpreted differently. Modern western liberal thinking, arose with the Commercial (Mercantile) Revolution in Western Europe in the sixteenth century and became prominent with the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century. These Revolutions brought into focus a new economic system called capitalism.

Market is a place where goods and services are sold and bought. It operates on the basis of demand and supply. Many people regard it as a self-regulating, self-correcting place, provided there is no interference by the state. Competition is the chief hallmark of market. Capitalism and market are considered two sides of the same coin.

The social group consisting of traders, merchants and businessmen and later the industrialists (also known as the bourgeois) was the major beneficiary of this system. The liberals emphasized that the consent of the people is the true basis of the state. Early liberal thinkers also considered the state as a ‘necessary evil’ – an evil but necessary for the purpose of protecting the individual from the external and internal enemies. According to this view, that government is the best which governs the least. In other words, the state should be a ‘police state’ and hence a limited one. It should also be limited in a different sense: as John Locke, the famous English liberal philosopher of the seventeenth century, said it is there to protect the individual’s natural right to life, liberty and property.

Rights are claims by an individual on the state. Natural rights are those rights with which an individual is supposed to have been born. These are, so to say, God-given rights. More importantly, individual is supposed to have acquired them even before the state came into existence. The important implication is that since the state has no role in the creation or granting of these rights, it cannot take away or abridge these rights.

By contrast, the Marxist view, does not consider the State as an impartial institution. It asserts that, throughout the centuries, the state has been a tool in the hands of the “haves” for exploiting and dominating the “have-nots.” In the future classless society like the communist society, the state would “wither away,”.

In Gandhian view, the State would justify its existence, by acting as a “trustee” of the people. It should help the poorest and the weakest one. It should restore to him or her, a control over his or her own life and destiny.

The Welfare State, which slowly emerged during the 1930s, tries to promote the well-being of its citizens, especially the poor, the needy, the unemployed and the aged. It is now generally agreed that the Welfare State exists to promote common good. So the functions of the state have increased manifold.

The state to act as ‘trustee’ of the people means that it should hold people’s power as a trust for welfare of the people. It should not consider people as helpless subjects, but as co-rulers in its governance.

Power refers to the ability of one person affecting the attitudes or action of another. I have power over you if I can make you do what you would not have done otherwise. But power is not always exercised openly. It can be exercised in unseen way, as in controlling the agenda. However, power can be best exercised when I can convince you about what is good/bad for you. To that extent, my power over you would be complete. And this dominance would always go unchallenged.

By power of the government, we think of the different aspects of government. We think of ministers who have departments under them for the exercise of power over the area of their domains. There is the bureaucracy and the enormous structure of governmental administration, which has power over us. It can control our lives in various ways by making, administering and implementing laws.

Here, one thing is to be noted. Power does not lie only in the highly publicized areas of social life, like government, administration, elections, etc. It also exists in small institutions like family etc. Many feminists are of the opinion that inside the private world of family man exercises power or dominance over woman. Hence, it is very aptly said, “even the personal is political.”

Legitimate and illegitimate power : There can be power, which is considered right or proper, while another may be improper. A dacoit’s power over me is very real, because if I do not comply with his wishes, I might lose my life or limb. But it is not proper power as is generally understood. Contrary to it the power that the government’s representatives, policemen or judges exercise over me is proper power. The dacoit’s power is illegitimate power while the government’s is legitimate. And the power of constitutional authorities over me is called authority. Authority contains the two ideas of power and legitimacy. Authority is that form of power which is legitimate. It is power plus legitimacy.



Bibliography : NIOS – Political Science

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