2

The State is an organization intended/designed/created and maintained by a People in order to make known, apply and defend People's Will. The State ensures the progress in fulfilling the People's Will by subduing the individual's will to the Law, the Law to the Consensus of the majority of the People and by ensuring equity - the equality of All human activities before the law, thus allowing for the Benefit of any Activity to be the only argument giving it Priority over another.

Can I improve this? (I am not a native English speaker.)

6
  • 2
    "The State" is not a technical legal term in anglophone countries, as far as I know, and the content of the question is not about law, rather it is about politics (hence migration to Politics SE is appropriate).
    – user6726
    Mar 2, 2017 at 18:11
  • This is really a question for the Politics forum and should be migrated there. "State" in the sense used in this post is a political science term and not a legal one.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 2, 2017 at 19:52
  • Please don't change the premise of the question after you already received answers. That's unfair to the answer authors. If you want to ask about the definition of the much more specific term "democratic state" than rather the more broader term "state", please open a new question.
    – Philipp
    Mar 3, 2017 at 21:55
  • I think it has been about democratic state from the beginning. Now I have managed to clear up my mind and to better cooperate with you. Mar 3, 2017 at 22:04
  • Just ask a new question. Long explanation why you should do this on meta.
    – Philipp
    Mar 4, 2017 at 0:06

4 Answers 4

6

The State is an organization intended/designed/created and maintained by a People in order to make known, apply and defend People's Will.

Many Democratic States are not designed or created by "the People", they are often created by a monarch or a colonial power or a military regime. A "State" is merely a sovereign government and need not have any particular endorsement or involve of "the People."

The State ensures the progress in fulfilling the People's Will by subduing the individual's will to the Law, the Law to the Consensus of the majority of the People and by ensuring equity - the equality of All human activities before the law, thus allowing for the Benefit of any Activity to be the only argument giving it Priority over another.

The phrase "the progress in fulfilling the People's Will" is not idiomatic. I imagine you mean to say something like: "The State carries out the People's Will by".

I have no idea what you mean by "subduing the individual's will to the Law". The word "subduing" doesn't mean what you think it does, but I don't know what you do mean by it. Could you mean perhaps "subordinating"?

The phase "the Consensus of the majority of the People" is an oxymoron. Consensus means unanimous approval, while "majority" is any level of approval more than 50%. This is also inconsistent with other parts of your mission statement/manifesto about "activities".

With regard to "by ensuring equity - the equality of All human activities before the law," you surely don't mean this either.

Government exists to favor some activities over other activities. For example, to discourage murder and rape and theft, and to encourage building roads and providing clean water and education to its people. A government may want "all humans" to be equal (although this is not inherent in the concept of either Democracy or of a State), but no government wants all human activities to be equal.

thus allowing for the Benefit of any Activity to be the only argument giving it Priority over another.

This could be an argument for a utilitarian state, of which there is no example on Earth, but not for a democracy or a republic or a non-democratic state that is not a utilitarian one. There are all manner of reasons other than the "Benefit" for an activity to favor it over something else.

I certainly wouldn't want to live in a State defined in this manner, and this certainly isn't anything like a political science definition of a State or even of a Democratic State. It sounds more like the manifesto of a fringe political party of utilitarian idealists.

4

There are innumerable definitions of the state, all of which are substantially different.

Practically

In practical terms, this definition is not very good. It isn't clear that states in general operate in favor of the people's will or rule by any kind of majority. This sounds like a description of a liberal democracy, rather than a state.

A definition of "state" must be applicable to all states. Try to find examples where your definition doesn't apply. My first thought is about states like Turkmenistan - a dictatorship consistently ranked as the worst in the world. It's hard to see how that state embodies the public will. Overtly there is no mechanism of majority rule.

There is also a problem with the idea of "equality of all humans before the law". That would prevent every government currently existing from being a state! In America, people can't vote until they are 18 - which is an example of legal inequality. Other countries have similar restrictions.

Finally, the governments we have today almost never decide purely on the basis of the "benefit of any activity" (unless you define "benefit" in a very broad way). Politics often happens: Legislators have to decide what proposals are likely to be successful, how members of their own (and other) parties will react, whether their constituents will appreciate the proposal, whether the groups funding their campaigns will approve, etc. Legislators are also people, and they have human emotions and viewpoints which color their world. This is all just to say that they are far from utilitarian, even though in some cases they try to be.

Philosophically

Since this was tagged , I suspect you might intend this to be a moral or ethical description of the state. It's not a bad starting place - it's reminiscent of the work of French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. One significant difference is that Rousseau is describing the ideal form of government, not setting a definition.

To further develop your thoughts on a philosophy-styled definition, here are a few questions you might consider:

  • How does the state know what the people's Will is? Can it ever be mistaken? If it is mistaken, does it cease to be a state?
  • The minority of people will have a different opinion than the majority. Is it just or fair to impose the majority's will on them? This could include imprisonment or death. What rights does the minority have against the majority?
  • If the state is empowered by the people's Will, is there any limit on what it can do?

A Proposed Definition

Like I said, there are a lot of definitions. Here is one from the world of international relations. I think it will give you a better starting point:

According to the Montevideo Convention, a state is:

The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications:

a ) a permanent population;

b ) a defined territory;

c ) government; and

d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

If an organization governs a piece of territory with a permanent population and this ability to govern is recognized by other states, then the organization is a state.

4
  • 1
    The Montevideo definition of statehood is still quite vague (how long does one have to stay in a territory to be "permanent" population? what "defines" the territory of a person of international law? What's the definition of "government"?) but I think it's the closest we can get to an internationally accepted definition.
    – Philipp
    Mar 3, 2017 at 16:01
  • The voting age in the U.S. is 18 not 16.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 3, 2017 at 17:28
  • @ohwilleke - D'oh. Fixed. Mar 3, 2017 at 17:46
  • @Philipp Those are good questions, and I think the answers are more likely to be operational rather than definitional (i.e. "I know it when I see it"). I'd suggest that "permanent" means "intending and expected to stay indefinitely" rather than "having been there for N years", "territory" would mean laying claim to control of an area, excluding anything outside that area, and "government" would mean having a reasonable claim to be in control of substantially the whole of that area (i.e. ignoring stuff like the India-Pakistan dispute). Sep 18, 2021 at 11:26
3

It's probably a good definition of a social contract theory and popular sovereignty based Enlightenment state, but not all states derive their legitimacy from popular approval. Most states don't have explicit goals; to quote Max Weber, you can't define a state with regards to its ends (see Weber's Politics as a Vocation).

A state's legitimacy could be derived from divine will embodied in a sovereign (e.g., the European concept of divine right of kings and the Chinese concept of the Mandate of Heaven) or in a theocratic government (e.g., the Islamic Republic of Iran). It could also be derived from a charismatic ruler (e.g., Napoleonic France) or a government that simply works without necessarily representing the people's will (e.g., Singapore, South Korea before democratization, post-reform PRC).

Moreover, not all states, and not even all democratic states, are created to ensure equality. Actually, to the opposite, many regimes explicitly derive their legitimacy from being committed to maintaining a social system that ensures inequality, e.g. Apartheid South Africa, the Confederate State of America (racial inequality), and Soviet Russia (in this case, the ruling proletariat class ruling over all other classes; the Russian Revolution did NOT attempt to create a state with equality as many think). Apartheid era South Africa and the American Confederate are both democracies (although only for their white citizens), and albeit Soviet Russia was not very democratic in practice, democracy was its main source of legitimacy.

Since you have political theory in your tag, I'd go with Weber's idea to define the state with regards to its means opposed to its ends, and adopt his definition of a state: a state is an entity with a monopoly on legitimate violence within a given territory (see ibid.).

Alternatively, you could also go with the Marxist theory that a state is an institution to enforce the subjugation of all classes to a ruling class and to preserve certain relations of production, by making use of forcible coercion (now you can see why Soviet Russia didn't appeal to an equality ethos).

6
  • Well, this is excellent. Now I have moved to ask for a definition of a democratic state and I am bothered by the present need for "representatives" and the lack of transparency of the state. How can this be solved, in theory? Mar 4, 2017 at 8:16
  • @LaurenceDwin I don't quite get what you are asking. Would you mind rephrasing your question?
    – xuq01
    Mar 4, 2017 at 8:24
  • Define democracy. The majority rules, but are "representatives" OK to the very notion of democracy? If so, are the types operating today - legislators, governors etc OK? Also, should we include full transparency of such a state in its definition? Mar 4, 2017 at 8:38
  • @LaurenceDwin I believe you should open a new question for this.
    – xuq01
    Mar 4, 2017 at 8:38
  • I have, a few hours ago, it only ollected 2 neg votes so far Mar 4, 2017 at 8:40
0

The issue with this definition is that there is no perfect definition for 'the State'. One of the best definitions for the state is something I explained in a previous answer here on politics stack exchange:

Depending on who you ask, the definition of a government is “the system by which a state or community is controlled or regulated”. According to Enlightenment thinker John Locke in philosophy, if a system regulating a community provides three things (law and order, protection of property rights, and enforcement of contracts), then it counts as a government. Sources like Encyclopedia Britannica refer to militias as political institutions with many informal communities and nations having militias as their governing bodies, so even those can be seen as governments. With these definitions, a simple clan or neighborhood watch, or group of people forming a citizen’s arrest group would count as a government as long as it protects the public against the many people who lack empathy and compassion or simply don’t want to follow the rules (who will always exist because many mental disorders associated with a lack of empathy like Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder may be caused by genetics or a combination of genes) , those who would misuse private/public property, and guarantee that contracts are enforced instead of ignored by those who just don’t want to follow through. Human beings naturally form into groups since we need to socialize or suffer negative effects. Heck, in his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, socialist libertarian Robert Nozick created the concept of the night-watchman state: a concept where any of the governments previously described can be considered a 'state' as long as it meets the requirements set by John Locke & the concept has been accepted by scholars such as Charles Townshend. It is also considered the minimum requirement for a 'state' according to Oxford in their peer-reviewed book The Oxford History of Modern War & and other peer-reviewed political works.

Basically, a state according to Oxford is a system where a community is regulated by doing the three things John Locke defined: protect the public from bad actors, guarantee the enforcement of contracts, and defend property rights. It is a very relaxed definition that is not as strict as many would like it, but it shows how organizations that do not seem to properly meet these criteria could be considered to not be a state or be a failed state.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .