The state is a political society, and 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 an organization, a social organization encompassing a web of social relationships.
The distinction between the state and the society can be explained as under:
(a) Strictly speaking, the state is a political organization; 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; it 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; sovereignity gives the state a separate and
(f) The state has to have a definite territory. You have read that definite territory is an
essential element of the state. 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.
(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
(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.
An association is an organized group of people which seeks to achieve some specific
objectives through joint efforts. An association has, therefore, three features:
(a) organization of the people
(b) some common/ specific objectives
(c) joint efforts.
Though the state speaks through the government, it is proper to differentiate between the two.
(a) The state has authority inherent in itself whereas the government has no inherent
powers. The government gets its structure, authority and power from the Constitution
of the State.
(b) The state is a larger entity that includes all the citizens; the government is, relatively
a smaller unit that includes only those who are employed to perform its functions.
We are all citizens of the state, but we are all not functionaries of the government.
(c) The idea of state is quite abstract. The government is the concretization of the idea
of the state. We see the government, not the state.
(d) The state is a near permanent institution; it is so because it does not die unless it is
attacked and made a part of the other state. The government is temporary; it is so
because it may change. To put it the other way, the state may be the same everywhere whereas, the government may vary from one state to another.
(e) The sovereign powers lay with the state; it is the state which is sovereign. The
government only exercises power. The government’s powers are delegated and
derivative; the state’s powers are real and original.
(f) The opposition to the state is different from the opposition of the government. We
criticize the government; we never condemn the state. The criticism of the state is a
revolt; the criticism of the government is not a rebellion.
(g) The government is merely an element of the state. Accordingly, it is one part of the
state. It is a part of the whole (of the state). As a part, the government is not greater
than the whole. When we talk of the state, we talk of the population, the definite
territory, the government and sovereignty. But when we talk of the government, we
talk of one part, one element of the state.
(h) The state’s territory is always definite. It remains unchanged. Its boundaries remain
where they are. The government’s territory is never permanent.
The distinction between state and nation can be explained as under:
(a) Nation and state are distinct entities. A nation may not be always a state; India was
not a state before August, 1947. A state may not always be a nation. Austria –
Hungary was a state but not a nation before World War I because the heterogeneous
people did not form a culturally homogeneous people.
(b) The state is a state because it is sovereign. The nation is not a state if it is not
sovereign. Sovereignty is the chief characteristic of a state; it is not a feature of the
nation. A nation becomes a nation-state when the nation attains statehood.
(c) The state is a political concept while the nation is a cultural, and a psychological
(d) Laws bind the people together in a state; sentiments and emotions bind the people in
a nation. The unity of the state is always external; the unity of the nation is eternal.
In the case of the state, unity is imposed; it comes from above through laws. In the
case of nation, unity comes from within, through emotions.
(e) The state’s laws are binding. There is a coercion exercised by the state if its authority is defied. In the case of the nation, there is the element of persuasion.
(f) The elements of the state are definite: population, fixed territory, government and
sovereignty. The elements of a nation are not definite. Somewhere common language
helps constitute a nation, somewhere else, common race makes a nation. Common
religion, for example, was a factor in making Pakistan as a nation; it was common
language in the case of the United States as a nation whereas it was common heritage
that made India a nation.
(g) A state may be larger than a nation. The former USSR had, within it, more than a
hundred nationalities. Conversely, a nation may be larger than a state; a nationality
may spread over two states. The Korean nationality is spread over two states: North
Korea and South Korea.
Important definitions and points:
The Constitution being the collection of basic rules, is the fundamental law
according to which the government of a state is organized.
Parliamentary Government is a system of government where the legislative
organ of the government is closely related to its executive organ; the cabinet
is taken from the legislature and is responsible to it, especially to the lower
house of the legislature.
Presidential government is a system of government where the legislative
organ of the government is independent of the executive organ; the executive
exists separately from the legislature and is not responsible to it.
Nation connotes the concept of people who are conscious of their historical
and cultural background and who wish to perpetuate this background
politically, i.e. within the framework of a state.