State And Society


The State is a political society with its four elements : population, fixed (definite) territory, government and sovereignty. It acts through law and endowed to this end with coercive power, maintains within a community the universal external conditions of social order.

Society, as a concept, is both an organization as well as a system of social relationships. It is a social organization encompassing a web of social relationships.

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Distinction Between State And Society

Considering the two terms (state and society) as interchangeable terms lead to the growth of deceptive social and political theories. Thus, we must differentiate between them otherwise we will be justifying state interference in all aspects of human life, thereby affecting human liberty.

  • Maclver rightly warns : “To identity the social (i.e. the society) with the political (i.e. the state) is to be guilty of the grossest of all confusions which completely bars any understanding of either society or the state.”
  • The ancient Greek philosophers (Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) did not make distinction between the state and society. For them, Polis was both the city, i.e. the society and the state.
  • The idealists such as Rousseau, a French political philosopher of the 18th century, also regarded the two as one.

The distinction between the state and the society can be explained as under –

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(a) Strictly speaking, the state is a political organization; i.e., it is society politically organized. Society, on the other hand, is a social organization and has within it, all types of associations (social, economic, religious, political, cultural and the like). Society is both broader as well as narrower than the state. It is broader when it is used to describe the whole community of mankind; it is narrower when it is used to describe a small group of a village.

(b) In terms of origin, society is prior to the state. Society may be said to have been born the day the human life must have begun. But the state did not begin with the society; it must have started at a later stage of social development. Human beings are social being first and then political beings.

(c) Being prior to the state, society is clearly a natural and therefore, an instinctive institution. The state, on the other hand, is artificial, a created institution; its was made when it was needed. That is one reason that we see the state as a formal and legal organization with its body, its structure. The society, too, is a body, an organization; it is not as formal an organization as the state is.

(d) The state exists for the society in the same way as a means exists for its end. The state is, therefore, a means and the society is an end. It is always the means that exists for the end; the end never exists for the means.

(e) The state is sovereign: no sovereignty means no state; the society is not sovereign; it exists without being sovereign. As sovereign, the state is supreme over all other organizations, institutions and individuals within its boundaries; as sovereign, the state is independent of all other like states; sovereignty gives the state a separate and independent existence.

(f) The state has to have definite territory. It is, therefore, a territorial organization in so far as it stays on the definite portion of territory: its territorial boundaries are fixed, definite and permanent. Society does have a territory but its territory is not permanent; its place of operation may extend or may get limited. The Islamic society, for example, transcends national boundaries. So does the Free Mason Brotherhood.

(g) The state has general rules of conduct called the laws; the society, too, has general rules of conduct but they are called rituals, norms, habits and the like. Laws of the state are written, definite and clear; those of the society, are unwritten, indefinite and vague.

(h) The state’s laws have a binding sanction. The violation of the laws of the state is followed by punishment: physical or otherwise or both. The rules of the society, if violated, lead to social boycott, i.e. social exclusion. The area of the state, we may say, is the area of that of taking action in case of disobedience; it has power is force. The area of society, on the other hand, is the area of voluntary cooperation and its power is goodwill; its method is its flexibility.

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Inspite of these distinctions, society and state are closely inter-connected and interdependent. Social conduct and the structure of the society must conform to the laws of the state. The state, on the other hand, must be responsive to the will of the society.

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Bibliography : NIOS – Political Science

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