State (polity)

The State is the political and legal organization of a community permanently settled on a territory. As the authority governing a territory and a population, the state constitutes a territorially based legal order. Moreover, according to a widely held view, the order established and guaranteed by the state, or with which the state identifies itself, is also sovereign because it is externally independent and internally supreme.

There is no unanimously accepted and uncontroversial definition of “state”. Legal scholars often use a concept originally proposed by the German jurist Georg Jellinek, which centers on three constituent elements: a territory with definite boundaries, a people settled on that territory, and a supreme authority capable of governing the people and the territory.

In the social sciences and political anthropology, broader definitions are found, sometimes identifying the state with the political community in the broad sense, that is, with those aspects of social and cultural organization concerned with the regulation, including informal regulation, of the behavior of group members and control over the appropriation of scarce resources. In this broad sense, every social group has a state, and one could speak of a “state” even with respect to an Amazonian tribe.

Historians, on the other hand, have tended to narrow the concept of the state, seeing it as the product of a gradual process of concentration of political power that took place in European societies from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries, resulting in the state as an impersonal institution exercising supreme political power over a given territory, demanding loyalty from its subjects, and exercising its functions for purely civil rather than religious purposes. In this narrow sense, the state is an institution characteristic of modernity and, at least originally, of the West.

Finally, the definition of the German sociologist Max Weber, who identifies the state with the institution capable of exercising a monopoly over the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory, has gained wide currency. According to this definition, not every political community constitutes a state, but states, or institutions approximating the state, can be traced before the modern era and outside the West.

Forms of State

The form of state refers to the relationship between the rulers and the ruled (state and people) and defines how the state as a whole is structured.

Absolute State

It is the type of state in which the monarch has unlimited powers and exercises unlimited control over each institution, which is therefore subordinate to the will of the monarch. The state itself is considered to be the property of the sovereign, who makes the laws but is at the same time superior to them (“l’├ętat c’est moi”, I am the state). This form of state has characterized the world for many centuries, until other forms of state (liberal and democratic) took over, but it is still present in many realities, such as the monarchies of the Middle East.

Authoritarian (or totalitarian) State

It is the type of state in which every aspect of the individual’s life is controlled by the authority of a party or a dictator (propaganda) who also has the right to control the other institutions. There is political representation, but it is strictly limited by the power of the government. This form of state is often referred to the countries of the XX century that gave birth to fascism and those that followed, but it can be any state that imposes an authoritarian law on its citizens.

Liberal and democratic State

The liberal state is the form of state in which the law prevails over the arbitrariness of everyone, including the sovereign, institutions and civil society, which in turn are protected by the law itself through rights. The supreme law is the constitution, which defines the division of powers. It gained popularity after the French Revolution in 1789. The democratic state is considered its development, since the liberal state still limited political life to a certain layer of society. In the democratic state, the constitution has been perfected to give everyone the right to vote, to be politically represented, or in the case of the social state, to receive equal starting conditions and assistance at the expense of the state. It became the standard model of the state in the Western world in the XX century, after the Second World War.

Socialist State

It is the form of state in which the sovereignty is completely in the hands of the people, represented by a single party, usually the communist or socialist one, in the contest of the proletarian dictatorship. There is no private property and therefore every means of production is owned by the state itself. Production is planned by the state through the preparation of ultra-annual plans. Everyone is considered completely equal and has equal duties to the state. It was born after the Russian Revolution of 1917, but fell after 1991. However, there are some countries that still have this model of state, such as China or North Korea.

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