State: Meaning, Definitions, Elements, Theories, and Functions

What is State?

What is State?
What is State?

The state is the union of a living people in a collective personality under a supreme power and a definite constitution for the realization of all common purposes, especially the establishment of the legal order.

In other words when a group of people are permanently settled on a definite geographical area and form a government of their own, free from any kind of external control, then that group of people constitute a state.

Definitions of State

Some definitions of state are given below:

“The state is a community of men which possesses an organized authority as the highest source of all force.”

According to Lasson

defines the state as a “particular portion of mankind viewed as an organized unit.”


Essential Elements Of State

The four essential elements of state are discussed below:


Population In the formation of the state, the population is considered to be the most vital element. According to the various definitions mentioned above, it becomes clear that there will be no state in an unpopulated region. For instance, Antarctica is a territory, but without a population; hence, it cannot be considered a state.


The second important element in the formation of a state is territory. The importance of territory would become clearer with the example of the Jews. The Jews did not form a state until they settled in Palestine. Thus, the territory is considered to be an integral part of a state.


The third important element of a state is its government. For the formation of the sovereign will, every state requires a government. It is the duty of governments to formulate laws and enforce an order to maintain peace and harmony in the state. In the absence of a government, there will be lawlessness and chaos in a state.

Government plays a crucial role in state administration, regulating all its policies and procedures and performing its common functions.


The supreme and independent authority over a definite territory with a defined population controlled by a valid government is termed as sovereignty. In the absence of sovereignty, a politically organized community cannot be considered a state. It is sovereignty which differentiates a state from other organizations and communities.

In a state, sovereignty has two aspects

  • Internal: The internal aspect of sovereignty pronounces that the state has supreme power over all its subjects.

  • External: The external aspect of sovereignty ascertains that the state is independent and free from ‘the control of any outside authority.

Theories of State

Some major theories of state are discussed below:

  1. Divine Origin of State
  2. Force Theory
  3. Social Contract Theory
  4. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Theory
  5. Evolutionary Theory

Divine Origin of State

Divine Origin of State The theory of the divine origin of the state is one of the oldest theories in political science. According to it, the State was created by God and governed by His deputy or Vicegerent. The ruler of the state was a divinely appointed agent and he was responsible for his actions to God alone.

As the ruler was the deputy of God, obedience to him was held to be a religious duty and resistance a sin. Thus, according to this theory, the ruler of the state was above the people as well as the law.

Force Theory

The force theory of the state stresses the origin of the State in the subordination of the weak to the strong. The theory suggests that man apart from being a social animal is bellicose by nature.

There is also a lust for power in him. Both these desires prompt him to exhibit his strength and in the early stages of the development of mankind, a person physically stronger than the rest captured and enslaved the weak.

Social Contract Theory

Hobbes’ Theory

Laws of Nature and the Covenants: In Hobbes’ opinion, it is a natural law which prompts men to abandon the state of nature and to establish law and government. Natural law consists of the following rules of self-preservation:

  • Everybody should aim at securing peace;
  • A man should be willing, in concert with others, to give up their natural rights;
  • A man should keep their contract;
  • A man should show gratitude or return beneficence for beneficence.

Covenants and the Sovereign: As discussed earlier, individuals renounced the state of nature and enter into a covenant out of which an independent sovereign power emerged. The sovereign power was not a party to the contract but he was a beneficiary of that.

The third-party, the sovereign which was a consequence of the contract was an artificial person distinct from the natural individual. Individuals gave up all their natural rights to all things through common consent to a person or body of persons. Thus, they confer all rights on the sovereign for enforcing the contract by using forceLocke’s Theory of Social Contract and Civil Society

Locke’s Theory of Social Contract and Civil Society: Locke proceeded to derive civil society from the consent of its member. The consent, by which each person agrees with others to form a body politic, obligates him to submit to the majority.

The compulsion to constitute a civil society was to protect and preserve freedom and enlarge it. The state of nature was one of liberty and equality but it was also one where peace was not secured being constantly upset by the ‘corruption and viciousness of degenerate men. It led to three important wants:

  • The want of an established, settled, known law;
  • The want of a known and indifferent judge;
  • The want of an executive power to enforce just decisions.

Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Theory

Jean Jacques Rousseau is considered the greatest thinker that France has ever produced. Not only in France but in the entire history of political theory, he was the most exciting and provocative. By the very magic of his style, no other political thinker could come anywhere near him. He was a genius and a keen moralist who was ruthless in his criticism of 18th-century French society.

Evolutionary Theory

The Evolutionary Theory of the state is now considered the most widely accepted theory on the origin of the state. According to it, the state is neither the work of God nor the mere extension of the family.

Rather, it is the product of growth, a slow and steady evolution extending over a long period of time and ultimately shaping itself into the complex structure of a modern state. According to the evolutionary theory, there are basically five factors responsible for the evolution of the state. These are discussed below:


This is the most vital factor in the origin of the state and was based upon blood relationships. Family constituted the first connection in the process of the evolution of the state with the expansion of the family arose new families and the multiplication of families led to the formation of clans and tribes.


The second connection that helped unify society was religion. The worship of a common ancestor and common goods created a sense of social solidarity.


Force also played a vital part in the origin of a state. Force helped create and expand empires.

Property and Defence

These also played a critical role in state formation, especially amongst nomads and tribes. According to Laski, the need to protect property ultimately compelled the ancient people to establish the state.

Political Consciousness

This arose from the fundamental need for protection and order. When people settled at a particular place, they felt a desire to secure it from encroachers.

Functions of a State

The functions of state are as follows:

  • Limiting internal power struggles between different classes or groups to maintain internal peace in society.

  • Bringing power to bear on other societies in defence of national interest or in expanding and building an empire.

  • Controlling the population of the society so as to bind them to the pursuit of collective objectives.

  • Recognizing and implementing the interests and demands of various groups.


What is State?

The state is a community of men who possesses an organized authority as the highest source of all force.

What are the Essential Elements Of State?

The Essential Elements Of State are as follows:

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