Though the State is a necessary and a universal institution, no two writers agree on its definition. There have been many different views about the nature of the State and hence its incompatible definitions.
It may well seem curious, says R.M. Maclver, that so great and obvious a fact as the State should be the object of quite conflicting definitions.
“Some writers define the State as essentially a class structure others regard it as the one organisation that transcends class and stands for the whole community.
Some interpret it as a power system, others as a welfare system. Some view it entirely as a legal construction, either in the old Austinion sense which made it a relationship of governors and governed, or, in the language of modem jurisprudence, as a community ‘organised for action under legal rules.’
Some identify it with the nation; others regard nationality as incidental or unnecessary or even as a falsifying element which inhibits the State in its natural functions. Some regard it as a mutual insurance society, others as the very texture of all our life.
To some it is a necessary evil, and to a very few an evil that is or will be unnecessary someday, while to others it is ‘the word the spirit has made for itself’. Some class the State as one in the order of ‘corporations’ and others think of it as indistinguishable from society itself.”
Gabriel Almond prefers to use the term “Political System” for the State, as the latter is limited by legal and institutional meanings. This disagreement is primarily due to the fact that every writer has defined it from his own point of view.
If the author is a sociologist, like Oppenheimer or a philosopher like Hegel, or an economist, or a behaviourist, or a lawyer, his peculiar prepossessions may lead him either to distort the reality by emphasising some actual characteristics of the State and ignoring the rest, or to free himself altogether from reality and picture the State as he thinks it ought to be.
Out of this maze of confusion we select a few definitions which fairly represent the weight of authority, and by comparing they try to know what is common in them.
Holland defines the State as “a numerous assemblage of human beings, generally occupying a certain territory, amongst 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 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,” and a State exists, according to Oppenheimer, “when a people is settled in a country under its own sovereign government.”
Bluntschli says, “The State is the politically organised people of a definite territory,” and, according to Woodrow Wilson, it “is the people organised for law within a definite territory.”
Maclver defines it as “an association which, acting through law as promulgated by a government endowed to this end with coercive power, maintains within a community territorially demarcated the universal external conditions of social order.”
Harold Laski defines the State as “a territorial society divided into Government and subjects claiming, within its allotted physical area, a supremacy over all other institutions.”
Gabriel Almond says that the Political System, the term he uses for the State, “is that system of interactions to be found in all independent societies which perform the functions of integration and adaptation (both internally and vis-a-vis other societies) by means of the employment, or threat of employment, of more or less legitimate physical compulsion.”
The Political System, he explains, “is the legitimate, order-maintaining or transforming system in the society.” Pennock and Smith define the State as a political system comprising all the people in a defined territory and possessing an organization (government) with the power and authority to enforce its will upon its members, by resort, if necessary, to physical sanctions, and not subject in the like manner to the power and authority of another polity.”
Robert Dahl says, “The political system made up of the residents of the territorial area and Government of the area is a ‘State
Notwithstanding the disagreement amongst these writers, all agree in ascribing to the State the three elements: people, territory and government. Disagreement again becomes prominent in respect of the fourth element of sovereignty. Those who deny to the State the element of sovereignty, attribute a special quality to government.
It is habitually obeyed, says Sidgwick; it is superior to individual wishes, says Esmien; it claims unlimited authority, says Zimmern; it is endowed with coercive power, says Maclver; it is sovereign, says Oppenheimer.
When government is accorded superior quality, it is really the quality of the State. The essence of the State, according to Finer, is in its monopoly of coercive power. “This, then, is the State; and its supreme power and monopoly of coercion (which it can devolve in many ways on its own terms) is sovereignty.
“The sovereign is “legally supreme over any individual or group”, says Laski, and the sovereign possesses “supreme coercive power.” The State and government is by no means the same thing.
Government is merely an essential instrument or contrivance of the State through which its authority is manifested and purpose realized. Taking cognizance of all such considerations, Garner gives a matter-of-fact definition of the State.
He defines the State as “a community of persons, more or less numerous, permanently occupying a definite portion of territory, independent, or nearly so, of external control, and possessing an organized government to which the great body of inhabitants render habitual obedience.”