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Tentative Definition


"A state is an association of individuals that claims a certain amount of sovereignty over the property those collective individuals occupy. In this way we see a shared private property estate operated as a corporation or organization or enterprise is very similar." (

2. David Bollier, citing Bob Jessop and Silke Helfrich:

"Despite this variability of “the state,” there are four basic aspects of statehood that seem to apply in every case:

  • Spatial control of territory;
  • functional power in setting and enforcing rules;
  • institutional capacities such as bureaucracy and organized power;
  • and social control in subjecting people to state authority.

These criteria of states and “statehood” were formulated by Professor Robert Jessop in his 2013 book, The State: Past, Present and Future.

Based on this understanding, Helfrich notes, “thestate” consists of “territorialized political power over a society that is exercised on the basis of rules and norms, but also by procedures and practices and accustomed ways of thinking about things whose socially constructed functions are accepted as binding by the people governed.” (email, April 2016)


The State as a social relation

From an interview with Bob Jessop:

Q. "What do you mean by the state as a social relation? Is it the state, state power, or both that is relational? How would you explain ‘as a social relation’ plainly to lay people?

Bob Jessop: The idea that the state is a social relation, first explicitly advanced by Poulantzas, is an elliptical claim. It can be interpreted in the same way as Marx’s claim that capital is a social relation, which refers to a relation between people mediated through the instrumentality of things. So we can translate this idea into the claim that the state (or, better, state power) is a social relation between people or, better, political forces, mediated through the instrumentality of things. As to the nature of these ‘things’, we should mention the state apparatus, state capacities, state resources, specific modes of political calculation, and so on. To explain this to lay people it would be best to give some obvious examples — the effects of different systems of voting on the chances of minor parties winning seats in elections, the capacity of peripheral regions influencing government policy in decentralized as opposed to centralized states, the differences in opportunities for subaltern groups to influence decision-making in democratic states and exceptional regimes, and so on. In essence, the strategic-relational argument is that states are not neutral terrains on which political forces struggle with equal chances to pursue their interests and objectives and with equal chances of realizing their goals, whatever they might be. Instead the organization of state apparatuses, state capacities, and state resources (and, more specifically, the overall articulation of forms of representation, the internal architecture of the state, the forms of state intervention, the distinctive social bases of the state, specific state projects, and the prevailing view of the nature and purposes of government for the wider society) all mean that state favours some forces, some interests, some identities, some spatiotemporal horizons of action, some projects more than others. This in turn implies that there can be three levels of political struggle: struggle to transform the structurally-inscribed selectivities of the state, struggles over state policies within these limits, and struggles at a distance from the state to modify the balance of forces within the state and among those with privileged access to it with the result that more or less excluded interests enter into the political calculation of those with more direct access to state capacities and resources. All of this indicates that it is hard to separate, other than analytically, the state and state power. This said, it can be useful to separate them and thereby generate sets of complementary concepts appropriate to the more structural and more strategic dimensions of the state as a whole. You would develop more structural concepts to analyse the state apparatus but in a strategic-relational way; and more strategic concepts for analysing state power that would nonetheless refer to the differential capacity of actors to engage in strategic context analysis of changing structures and conjunctures. [...] " (


Georgist Conception of the State

According to Albert J. Nock, a Georgist, the state

- "did not originate in the common understanding and agreement of society; it originated in conquest and confiscation. Its intention, far from contemplating "freedom and security," contemplated nothing of the kind. It contemplated primarily the continuous economic exploitation of one class by another, and it concerned itself with only so much freedom and security as was consistent with this primary intention.... Its primary function or exercise was... by way of innumerable and most onerous positive interventions, all of which were for the purpose of maintaining the stratification of society into an owning and exploiting class, and a propertyless dependent class."

The positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation.... Moreover, the sole invariable characteristic of the State is the economic exploitation of one class by another. In this sense, every State known to history is a class-State." (

The Book

* Harold Barclay: The State. London: Freedom Press, 2003. ISBN 1904491006

"The state is neither an inevitable, nor natural, phenomenon, but the creation of despots. Its history is a history of power, wealth and tyranny. The immortality of the state is the greatest myth of our society. Anthropologist Harold Barclay explains how a powerful elite has hijacked control of society. Through control of agriculture, warfare, trade, labor and other resources the state has seized complete power. Do we really need the state or should we organize society ourselves?"