What Is The Role Of The State?

According to Gerth and Mills (1948), “the state is a human community that successfully claims monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” It can consist of the government or legislature which passes the laws, the bureaucracy or civil service, which implements the governmental decisions, the national security forces, such as the police and army, which enforces the law and protect the state from threats respectively. Some political scientist believes that the state can also consist of health and welfare services and education.

Political Scientists have argued that there are three types of states. There is the Stateless, Feudal and Modern States.

The stateless, according to Evans-Pritchard (1951) is like a tribal society in Africa, where there is no head. Few decisions had to be taken which affects the tribe; such as raiding another tribe and how to initiate young men into adulthood. Decisions are normally reached informally through discussions among tribe members. There is no legal system, where specific individuals are charged for deviation. Instead, the accused must duel to death his accuser and whoever wins is right.

Whereas, the feudal state, according to Gianfranco Poggi (1978), is like those of Europe, where a Monarchy system is in place. In this type of state, the monarch rule at the center, in practice, military power and control of particular territories which are in the hands of lords of their respective regions. On the hand, the modern state, according to economist C.V. Brown (1982), is a centralized state which development is based upon the modernization and industrialization of societies. In present day United Kingdom, the state is involved in and controls the economic affairs, provision of welfare, healthcare and education.

Perspectives of the State

The functionalist Talcott Parsons (1967) sees the state as an authoritative being. It is regarded as legitimate as long as it achieves what he calls ‘collective goal’, which are to care for the society. He looked at it from the electoral perspective where that “the deposit of power by constituents are revocable, if not at will by the politician, by the constituents at the next election”.

In contrast, the Marxist believes that the state should be in the hands of the minority in society. According to Engels (1950), this means that the minorities provides the basis of the state’s dominance, because it’s the only way to return to the power to the people. However, the real power would always be resting in the ‘owners of the means of production’ or as Karl Marx call them, the Bourgeoisie. He added that in the primitive societies, there is no such thing as a state, because all individuals share the same interest and there is no existing class system.

Additionally, the classical pluralist sees the state as a constant concept. There seem to be a fixed amount of power which is distributed among the society. This is similar to the Marxist belief on the state, except that they believe that there exist a class system, whether it be age, gender, religion or ethnicity, there is a class system present. According to the French writer, de Tocqueville (1945), each arm of the society is required to have a large and equal interest in the state business. He believed that the state would become selfish if one class decides to dominate the other classes.

Nevertheless, Poulantzas (1976) posed the state as ‘the factor of cohesion of social formation’; in other words the state was vital for maintaining the stability of capitalism. As part of the superstructure, it would automatically tend to serve the interest of the ruling class. Therefore, the elite or ruling class does not have to become members of the state, because the capitalist system is benefiting them. Members of the state, no matter if they backgrounds are from humble beginnings, would never take harmful action against the ruling class.

The role of the state

The role of the state in modern contemporary societies or ‘Human Community’ is to address the current issues of its people regardless of geographical region, identity and culture. The features of the state interconnects the idealist, functionalist and organization perspectives as it acts in unison in relation to its sovergnity, private and public sectors, legitimating, domination and territorial aspects. This involvement is characterized by at least three fundamentals; increasing human interconnection (networking globally), examining the pace and depth of human evolution (history) and linking the scale of anthropological and ecological transformation (social, cultural, economic and technological).

In contemporary societies the state is governed by common ideologies although there is a major difference between the state and the government. Martin Wolf (2009) affirmed that the core purpose of the state is to protect. However, anarchists believe that state protection is pointless and one can depend on voluntary programs such as community policing. On the other hand, it is a common belief that majority of citizens willingly acknowledge the protection of the state from all factors that may seek to destroy or cause harm to them, whether internally or externally.

Furthermore, the late Mancur Olson in his book, Power and Prosperity, believed that the state is a ‘stationary bandit’ rather than a ‘roving bandit’. A ‘roving bandit has little or no interest in the improvement of the economy, but the ‘stationary bandit’ seeks all means possible to develop the citizens. Bear in mind that executives of the state would always seek to take from the surplus that is being generated and controlled.

The classical liberals believed contrarily that the role of the state is so narrow and the needs of individuals can be so excessive, that there would be a fear of not meeting these needs. In other words, it seeks to abolish politics through constitutional restraints.

According to Pacem in Terris (n. 69), the role of the state is to attempt to solve all issues that may occur in a way that is both pleasing to their function as a state and to the complexity of the issue that was brought to light. This may involve regular changes in the legislative conditions, changes in the constitution and changes in the moral standards of the state and its citizens. Furthermore, the authorities must rule society with discretion and make decisions with the full knowledge of the law.

Careful consideration must be given to person of certain circumstances and the court must be impartial, limit favoritism and stop being pressured into administering fair justice. Society demands that citizens as well as organizations need to be protected by the state whenever they are being done wrong or have been faced with injustice.


The social agenda of the state is to maintain some form of authority through the respective bodies; this is accomplished through moral and civil control. Democracy is further developed to facilitate civic education and maintenance of public order and peace. Government’s role in the political sphere is to intervene in the public authorities such as the political and juridical structure of the state.

The role of the state is to make a positive legislative environment and policy framework that enables various arms of the state to explore and achieve their potential while maintaining a high standard of operations to protect public interest. As these arms adhere to basic government structures, the economic and physical environment in which the state establishes would dictate the needs of the activities undertaken.

Henry Thoreau believes that the state needs to understand the issues of its citizens. This view was also stirred by Rousseau (1778), where that all institutions in society is corrupt. “Both private and public produce `absurd’ results that have no legitimacy” (McCraw, 1992).

Within the state a complete valued consensus does not exist, because political leaders cannot reflect the interest of all members of society in decision making. The state acts as the mediator between various groups who often have influence on government policies. To achieve a level of equilibrium, a compromise is reached to protect areas of interest, because the division within society does not make it possible for the state to satisfy everyone all the time. The sharing gradually increases income distribution. In Raymond Aron’s words “government becomes a business of compromise.