• With the exception of anarchists, all political thinkers have regarded state as a worthwhile or necessary association.
  • The traditional political scientist like Garner, Gettle, Pollack and Strong accept the centrality of the concept of State in Political Science.
    • “To Garner, Political Science begins and ends with State.”
  • While describing the scope of the subject, these political scientists had preferred to use the term state because it is so comprehensive that it includes all other institutions like Government Constitution etc.
  • The term State in the modern sense was used for the first time by Niccolo Machiavelli in his book ‘The Prince’.
    • To the Greeks, the concept was ambiguous. They used the word ‘polis’ which means ‘city state’.
      • In these city states, the emphasis was on rights and duties, not upon supremacy and obedience. As Catlin points out, “they could more appropriately be described as the city community rather than the modern state”.
  • However the concept of State began to emerge during the later medieval age, but it was not well articulated, it was only in the 16th century that the term or concept of State became current.


  • The modern term “state” is derived from the word “status”. The state is the most universal and most powerful of all social institutions. The state is a natural institution.
    • Aristotle said man is a social animal and by nature he is a political being. To him, to live in the state and to be a man were identical.
  • The state is the highest form of human association. It is necessary because it comes into existence out of the basic needs of life. It continues to remain for the sake of good life.
    • In common usage the term State is used in varied sense. We often come across such phrases as ‘state transport’, ‘State College of education’, ‘State aid to industries’ etc. Strictly speaking all such usages of the term ‘state’ are wrong.
      • The fact is that when we talk of the state transport we refer to that transport which is run by the government, as distinguished from the one that is managed by a private company or an individual capitalist.
      • We thus confuse the two terms state and government and do not understand the difference between the two. Another equally wrong usage of the term is with regard to the units of federation. We often describe Punjab, Haryana and Himachal are the units of a bigger state, India. All these so-called states in India are the units of federation.
      • In this way, we can say that though term ‘State’ has been distorted in a number of ways to cover a number of diverse units and usages yet in political science it has a definite meaning and a precise definition.
  • Burgess says that state is “a particular portion of mankind viewed as an organized unit.”
  • Woodrow Wilson says that the state “is a people organised for law within a definite territory.”
  • Aristotle defined the state as a “union of families and villages having for its end a perfect and self – sufficing life by which it meant a happy and good life”.
  • According to Sidgwick. “State is a combination or association of persons in the form of government and governed and united together into a politically organized people of a definite territory.”
  • Bodin defines the state as, “an association of families and their common possessions governed by a supreme power and by reason”.
  • Prof. Laski defines “state as a territorial society divided into government and subjects whose relationships are determined by the exercise of supreme coercive power.”
  • According to Garner, the state is “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”.
    • This definition covers all the elements of modern state which are: first a number of persons, second, the occupation of a definite territory, third, having a well-organized government, fourth, possessing independence of external control.

Elements of State

The State may thus be said to consist of four elements namely;

  • Population,
  • Territory,
  • Government,
  • Sovereignty


  • State being a human institution, cannot be conceived of without human beings. Population is essential to a state as threads are to a piece of cloth. A desert or a mountain peak where people normally do not live, cannot be described a state. This much is, therefore, certain that there must be some people to constitute a state.
  • Now the question arises how many people should be there to form a state? This question regarding the number of persons necessary or desirable for constituting a state cannot be answered in concrete terms. There is no limit to the size of its population. All that is required is that there must be some human being living in it. This does not mean a dozen people or so living in place will form a state. Their number should not be very small, but there is no ceiling (limit) to the population of the state.
  • Some writers have tried to suggest a limit, for example, Plato felt that an effective number of 5040 citizens should be sufficient.
  • His disciple Aristotle opined that the population should be large enough to be selfsufficing and small enough to be well-governed. According to him a hundred persons would rather be too small a number but a hundred thousand would be too unmanageable.
  • Likewise Rousseau, a great admirer of small republics and direct democracy, thought that ten thousand may be an ideal number.
  • While some states like the U.S.A., Russia, and Canada are still under populated relative to area, resources and similar factors. Other states like India, China and Italy are confronted by the problem of a population which is expanding too rapidly for their natural or technological resources.
  • Therefore, every state strives to confine its population within its exiting or potential resources. The former set of states (U.S.A., former U.S.S.R. and Canada) encourages increased population in comparison to the latter which attempts to control the population.


  • Territory is the second essential element of the state. The people do not become a state unless they permanently settle down in some territory.
    • Previously, philosophers like Hall, Duguit, and Seeley etc. did not attach much importance to the permanent settlement of a people on some territory.
    • There is now a consensus that nomadic people do not form a state though they may not be deficient in political organisation.
  • There have been numerous organised groups in the early periods of human civilization which occupied no fixed territory.’ It is now a fairly common opinion that such tribal formations, so long as they do not settle down on a definite piece of territory, do not constitute states.
    • There is no such thing as migratory state, For example, the Jews were not able to form themselves into a state till recently because they had no homeland of their own. They lived scattered over various parts of Palestine and the Jewish state of Israel; has consequently come into being.
  • Therefore, territory is indispensable in the making of the state. The authority of the state extends not only over persons, but over the territory also.
  • With regard to the extent of territory also we cannot fix any hard and fast rules. The modern states vary greatly in size. On the other hand, the state of San Marino has an area of only 38 square miles. There was a time when political thinkers considered the smaller state to be better. This view prevailed in ancient Greece. Aristotle was of the opinion that if the size of the state was very large, good administration was difficult. Rousseau also subscribed to this view.
    • These writers were to some extent justified partly because the means of transport and communications were then un-developed and partly because the representative institutions had not yet been well organised.
    • But now when the problems of communication and government no longer hamper us, large size states are preferable. That is why we find smaller states drawing closer to each other and forming federations. Larger states have an added advantage of a vast economic potential.
  • The extent of territory that a state should possess depends upon the size of the population it has to support.
    • If the population is larger than what the natural resources of the country can sustain, complications are likely to arise unless it rapidly becomes highly industrialised and economically efficient.
    • On the other hand, if the population is small many tracts of the territory and the population of the state had impelled Aristotle to remark that the territory of a state should be small enough to be well governed and large enough to be self-sufficient.
  • It may be added that the territory of a state also includes, besides the land surface the entire air space above the land surface. Further, the authority of the state also extends over a part of the sea that touches its territory coast. The extent of this maritime or coastal belt as it is called is generally three miles.
  • Finally, it may be remarked that the territory of a state should preferably be contiguous. If it scattered and separated, it will pose administrative difficulties.
    • Pakistan as it existed before the creation of Bangladesh consisted of the East and West Pakistan separated from each other by two thousand miles has been a victim of this geographical misfortune.’


  • Government is the concrete expression of the state. The people may live in a particular piece of territory, but that inhabited territory cannot be termed as state unless the people are controlled by a common government.
  • Government forms the agency through which the will of the state is formulated, expressed and executed.
    • Population in the absence of government is only an unorganised mass of people. The government brings about regulation and adjustment in the life of the people. The ends of the state can be achieved through the government only.
    • Moreover, the state is incapable of collective action in any sphere without such an agency. All this means that government in one form or another is essential for the existence of the state.
  • The Government has three branches: legislature, executive and judiciary. The legislature makes laws, the executive enforces and execute them and the judiciary interprets and punishes the breach of laws.
    • The government exercises the physical coercion at the disposal of the state and “punishes disobedience to its command.
  • The form of Government is immaterial so far as the state is concerned. It may be kingship, democratic or dictatorial, parliamentary or presidential, federal or unitary. A change in government does not bring a change in the state.


  • Sovereignty is the most important element of the state. It alone distinguishes the state from other associations. There are two kinds of Sovereignty (a) Internal and (b) External.
    • Internal Sovereignty implies the supremacy of the state over its citizens, over all their associations and over their entire possessions. This means that the state possesses authority to secure unquestioned obedience from all citizens to its laws. If any one of them throws a challenge to its authority by disobeying its laws, it can inflict upon him any type of punishment, ranging from a simple warning to death penalty depending of course on the gravity of the crime.
    • External sovereignty implies that a state is independent in its external actions. This means that outside the territorial bounds of the state, there is no other state, government, king or any authority, who may issue command to this state. It is completely free from any such limitation. It may voluntarily accept and abide by the dictates of the international law and obligations.
  • To sum up, sovereignty means full authority over the citizens within and complete independence from outside.
  • But several other essential elements of a state are described by writers. Burgess for example, gives all comprehensiveness and permanence as peculiar elements of the state. But those are the merits of a state not the essential elements constituting a state.
  • Population, definite territory, well organised government and sovereignty are thus the essential elements of the state.

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