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June 1, 2013 / C H Thompson

Defining the state

by Sam Cook a former student

What is the state and how do we define it? Attempts by philosophers to describe the state that was emerging are as much a part of the history of the state as are the political changes and legal innovations. Bodin, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Montequieu, Hume, Rousseau, Madison, Kant, Bentham, Mill, Hegel, Tocqueville, and Marx were among the most insightful thinkers to offer theories of the state during the course of its evolution, with theorists developing their ideas into the 20th century like Max Weber.

Weber’s definition of the state is ‘a human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force with a given territory’. For the UK this legitimate force expands across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland although there is a degree of devolved power to Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

From Weber’s definition we can understand the state as comprised of government, civil service, the police and armed forces although some sociologists have sought to include welfare, education and health service into their definition. However most sociologists still see the government and the civil service as being the key institutions which constitute the state. The government’s own website provides an excellent insight into its composition while this Guardian article highlights the extent of the civil service.

The following page takes you to a discussion on what type of state do people want.

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