What is the Difference between State and Government?

Differences between State and Government are described below:

The terms State and Governments have been indiscriminately and erroneously used for each other.

They have often been inter-changeably employed as if there is no difference between the two.

The Stuart in England never differentiated the State from the government.

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They did so in order to justify their absolute authority. King Louis XIV used to say, “I am the State”. Some political thinkers have also gone to the extent of using these two terms inter-changeably. Hobbes employed the terms the State and the government as if they meant the same thing.

It was John Locke who first of all attempted to differentiate the State from the government in nineteenth century. Otherwise, the two terms had been inter-changeably used by the political thinkers. Recent political thinkers like Harold J. Laski and G.D.H. Cole also find little or no difference between the two.

According to Cole, the State “is nothing more or less than the political machinery of government in a Community “.” Laski also observes, “For the State is for the purposes of practical administration, the government”.


This identification of the State and government misses an important fact. “While the government is a body of some citizens, the State consists of all the citizens, however, inactive and inarticulate their will may be in the governance of the country”.

In this connection Professor W.W. Willoughby has very aptly remarked, “By the term Government is designated the organisation of the state – the machinery through which its purpose are formulated and executed”.

But we should not forget the fact that the government is only one of the four essential constituents of the state. It is true that a state cannot exist without the well-established Government. But, however, organised and established the government may be, it cannot attain the status of statehood.

The government is only an agency of the state through which the collective will is formulated, expressed and executed. According to Leacock, the term government used in its widest sense, “rests on the fundamental idea of control and obedience; it implies authority and submission to that authority”. Here are certain differences found between the State and the government.


(1) Government is the agent of the State:

MacIver says, “when we speak of the State, we mean the organisation of which government is the administrative organ…. A State has a constitution, a code of law, a way of setting up its government, body of its citizens. When we think of this whole structure, we think of the State. “The State”, said the United States Supreme Court, “itself is an ideal person, intangible, invisible, immutable.

Government is an agent, within the sphere of its agency of perfect representative but outside of that is a lawless usurpation. Elaborating the point Woodrow Wilson remarked that the State “is juristically wholly organised in its government and can only speak through the government”. So from this it is absolutely clear that the government is the organisation or machinery through which the State manifests itself.

According to Dr. Gamer, “Government is the agency or machinery through which the collective will of the people or state may be formulated, expressed and executed”. Prof. Laski has also regarded the government as an agent of the State.

He says, “It exists to carry out the purposes of the State. It is not itself the supreme coercive power. It is simply the mechanism of administration which gives effect to the purpose of that power”. These definitions very clearly indicate that the government serves as an agent to carry out the purposes of the State.

It formulates the collective will of the public, expresses it and executes it. It is concrete whereas the State is abstract. It is through the government that the state operates. This is the reason why in Democracy the government is regarded as servant and the State as master.

(2) Government is only a part of the State:

As has already been stated that the four essential elements constitute a State. They are Population, Territory, Government and Sovereignty. Government is the most essential constituent because the State cannot operate without government. It is the government that carries out the purposes of the State and maintains law and order in society.

(3) State possesses Sovereignty but government does not:

State possesses sovereignty which is one of the four essential constituents of the state. There can be no state without sovereignty. For example, before 1947, India could not claim the status of statehood because at that time it was under the control of the British Empire.

The government does not possess sovereignty because in democracy, public is regarded as source of all powers. It has been clearly stated in the Constitution of India that the people are the main source of sovereignty. This is the reason why after every five years a general election is held in India.

(4) Government changes frequently but the state remains more or less permanent:

Government changes frequently. Government collapses owing to certain political reasons and the other parties get the opportunity to form their own governments. During the Second World War, Chamberlain’s government was functioning in England. After that his government was replaced by the other government. In this way, many governments were formed under the leadership of most popular leaders like Churchill, Attlee, Macmillan, Edward Heath and Wilson.

Similarly, in Pakistan after 1947 a number of governments were established under the leadership of the most popular leaders like Liaquat Ali Khan, Muhammad Ali, Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In the same way, under the leadership of Eisenhower, the Republican Leader, his government was established in the U.S. A. in his tenure of President Ship. His government was replaced by the governments established under the leadership of President Kennedy and Johnson, both Democrats.

In 1952, the English emperor-George VI-expired but his empire did not come to an end. Queen Elizabeth II, his daughter, was enthroned after his death. In 1917, a revolution broke out in Russia and after that Nicolus Czar II was dethroned. As a result, the government was replaced and not the State.

The State meets its end only when it loses its authority to have a control over its population or its sovereignty is usurped by another State. For example, Mussolini enslaved Ethiopia and Ethiopia could not retain the status of statehood. Similarly, before the Second World War, when Hitler conquered Austria, Poland and Belgium, these countries could not retain the status of statehood. When these countries became free once again after the Second World War, they regained the status of statehood.

England has been and is a free nation for centuries. It has been and is enjoying the status of statehood, though a number of governments were established and replaced. In the same way before 1947, India could not claim the status of statehood. It could enjoy this status only after its independence in 1947.

(5) State is Uniform throughout but the governments are of many kinds:

The four essential constituents, namely Population, Territory, Government and Sovereignty, are indispensible for the organisation of the state. Any human organisation having all the four essential elements will enjoy the status of statehood.

So far as the government is concerned, it has many types. For example, Parliamentary Government is popular in England, France, Italy, Western Germany, Australia, Sri Lanka, India, Japan, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden etc. Whereas Presidential Government is popular in the U.S.A. and a few countries of South America.

The Communist Government is popular in Russia, China, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Finland, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Monarchy is popular in Nepal, Saudi Arabia. Some years ago Pakistan, Burma, Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama and Chile saw the outbreak of military revolutions. Thus it is quite evident that the state is uniform throughout but the governments are of many kinds.

(6) Membership of the State is Compulsory but not of the Government:

Every person by virtue of his birth or his blood relation is a member of the state. But it entirely depends upon the will of the person concerned to become the member of the government or not. Every-one has to become the member of the state. So far as the government is concerned its membership is not compulsory. Those people who actively participate in the functioning of the government are recognised as its members.

(7) Territory is the essential characteristic of the state but not of the Government:

Fixed territory is an essential constituent of the state but not of the government. No state can exist without territory but a government can function without territory. Sometimes the government of a state is established in some other State.

For example, during the Second World War when Norway was defeated by Germany, the Government of Norway was established in England and it functioned from England. When Germany was defeated at the end of the Second World War, the King of Norway came back to his own country and the well-established Government of Norway started functioning properly.

(8) State is Abstract but the government is concrete:

The State is abstract. It is not concrete and nor it has any practical concern. Ancient political thinkers thought of the State as a political organisation having seven essential constituents but according to the western political thinkers the essential elements of the state are only four. American scholar Professor W.W. Willoughby opines that the five essential elements constitute a state.

There is no consensus of opinion among experts as to the number of the essential constituents of the state. So far as the government is concerned, it is practical, it has its concrete establishment. It carries out the purposes of the state through its various departments and agencies.

In daily life for the ordinary person there is no distinction between State and Government. “For those who see concreteness rather than abstraction”, says Crorce, “The State is nothing but government and assumes complete reality only in the government”, Laski is accordingly correct in a way when he says that for the purposes of practical administration the State is nothing but government”. G D.H. Cole is also of the same opinion. For him, the State is nothing more or less than the political machinery of the community”.

(9) The people can oppose the government but not the State:

The people cannot afford to oppose the state because they have no right to do so. Government is the servant of the state and if it goes against the collective will of the people, they oppose it and a suit can be filed against the government in the court of law. And if the common interest of the people suffer, it becomes the moral obligation of the government to take remedial steps.

(10) The State includes the whole population but the government includes only a few people:

The whole population of a state forms an essential constituent of the state, but the government includes only those people who actively participate in the working of the government. There is no doubt that broadly the government includes the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, but strictly speaking, it includes only the Executive. Therefore, generally speaking, the President, Prime Minister, other Ministers and their Secretaries are recognised as the members of the government.

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