8 Main Difference between State and the Society – Explained!

8 Main Difference between State and the Society are as follows:

The terms society and State have often been inter-changeable used. For example, Aristotle saw no difference between the State and society.

That is why the Greek City-states were said to be co-existensive with society. These two terms-Society and State-are usually employed as synonyms but they differ from each other in several respects. Society is a social organisation whereas the State is a political organisation.

“By Society”, says Laski, “I mean a group of human beings living together for the satisfaction of their mutual wants”. Society deals with the social order whereas the State deals with the political order.

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In this connection MacIver has very aptly remarked, “To identify the social with the political is to be guilty of the grossest of all confusions which completely bars any understanding of either society or State”. “Social relations are threads of life” and social institutions “form the loom on which the threads are woven into a cloth or garment”.

Leacock has pointed out that the term “Society” suggests “not only the political relations by which men are bound together but the whole range of human relations and collective activities. G.D.H. Cole has defined Society as “the complex organised association and institutions within the community”.

MacIver believes that, “Society precedes the state just as it precedes the family, the church, the corporation, the political party. It unites all of these as the tree unites its branches. “Society exists for a number of purposes”, some great and some small but all in their aggregate deep as well as broad, “The state is not a social organisation”.


MacIver has pointed out that “the ends for which the state stands are not all the ends which humanity seeks and quite obviously the ways in which the state pursues its objects are only some of the ways in which within society, men strive for the objects of their desires”. Thus, it is quite clear that society and States are different organisations. They are different in their modes and structure.

The eight main points of distinction between the State and society are given below:

(1) State indicates political and Society indicates social system:

As has already been stated, State is a political whereas society is a social organisation. State deals with the political order and society deals with the social order. Society deals with the people who live in a socially organised institution of human beings whereas the State deals with the politically organised people.


State is a political system whereas society is a social system. The origin of the state can be traced back to the tribe, which was once the first political institution. Whereas the origin of society can be traced back to family which is regarded as the first social institution.

The chief distinguished feature of the State is that its government issues orders and gets them carried out by its people. This was the distinguishing feature of the tribe also. The leader of the tribe used to issue the order and others used to carry out. Since every state has its government, the State is a political institution, which society is the enlargement of family.

(2) State possesses Sovereignty but the Society does not:

Every state possesses sovereignty, while society does not possess it. The state rules supreme over its territory. It can forcibly impose its decisions on its population and can make use of power in order to get its orders carried out. But society does not possess any such power. If anybody violates the laws of the State, the State can punish him. But if somebody violates the laws of society, society cannot punish him. The only punishment which it can inflict upon him is to boycott him socially. The state employs its Police, Army and the Court of Law in order to get its collective will executed. But society does not possess any such power.

Professor Barker has very remarkably explained this fact by saying, “The area of the society is voluntary co-operation, its energy is that of goodwill and its method is elasticity; while the area of the other is rather that of mechanical action, its energy is force and its method rigidity”.

(3) State controls our external relations and society influences our inner motives:

With the help of law enforced through the agency of the government, the state attempts to regulate the external relations of its citizens. It determines the right to property. If a citizen causes harm to another citizen, the government punishes him with the help of laws but society does not possesses such laws. The only thing it can do is to inspire us to shun the sins and do good deeds.

In this connection, MacIver has very aptly remarked. “It is perfectly obvious if only we look at the facts of the case that there are social forms like the family or the church or the club which own neither their origin nor their inspiration to the State and social force like custom or competition, which the State may protect or modify but certainly does not create and social motives like friendship or jealousy which establish relationship too intimate and personal to be controlled by the great engine of the State”.

(4) Society is prior to state:

Now it has been universally acknowledged that society is prior to the state. Society existed before the political organisation of the State. Society existed even when people were not socially organised and wandered from one place to another in the form of tribes. By and by Society was organised and people started becoming civilized.

People learnt the art of cultivation and felt the need of a properly organised political institution-the State. In this way the state came into existence. Family is a social institution and decidedly it came into being earlier than the State. In this connection Maclver has very aptly remarked, “Society precedes the State just as it precedes the family, the church, the corporation, the political party. It unites all these as the tree unites its branches”

(5) Society is wider than the State:

From the structural point of view, Society and State are different. Society is wider than the State. Society unites all the human institutions including the State. “The State exists within the society, points out MacIver, but it is not even the form of society. It supports or exploits curbs or liberates, fulfills or even destroys the social life over which it is invested with control-but the instrument is not life”.

Society deals with the various aspects of human life like social, political, cultural, religious, economic and normal, etc. Society aims at promoting the welfare of man whereas the State is chiefly related to the political aspect of human life.

The state is related to the social aspects of human life as the society is. Society aims at eliminating evils from the society, more than the State. For example, in our country the social reforms first of all tried their utmost to eliminate the evils from the society then the State framed the laws for curbing and rooting them out.

First of all the social reforms dealt with such social evils as illiteracy, child-marriages, drinking, dowry system, etc. Then the government passed the laws against these evils. The State interferes little or not at all in the religious affairs of human beings, whereas society is intimately related to these affairs.

(6) Territory is the essential basis of the State but not of Society:

Fixed territory forms an essential constituent of the State. No State can exist without territory. The State rules supreme over the people living in its territory. But Society does not require territory as its essential constituent because it may be national or international. The State always remains very cautious of its territorial integrity whereas society does not care for its territory.

(7) Organisation is essential for the State but not for Society:

Society can be both organised or un-organised. When men lived in families and tribes and even before the dawn of the State when they used to wander from one place to another, society existed; through it was not in an organised form. The State or the government organised the society first of all. The State of the government cannot exist without social organisation. The state came into being with the establishment of the government.

(8) State is only a part of Society:

As has already been stated that society is wider than and prior to the State. Like other human institutions of society, the State is also one of its institutions. And it is the society that unites all such institutions as family, state, clubs, political parties and trusts. Thus, we have to regard the State as a part of society which deals with the various aspects of human life.

The foregoing discussion clearly indicates that there is a marked distinction between the State and Society. Ancient political thinkers like Aristotle and Plato, did not see any distinction between the State and society. The reason is that when they dealt with the term “State” they had the idea of city-states in mind.

But now the city-states do not exist. Like Plato and Aristotle, Hegel, Hitler and Mussolini also saw no difference between the State and society. They considered the State all powerful with its sovereignty over its population living in a fixed territory. But gone are the days of Hegel, Hitler and Mussolini.

MacIver, an eminent American political thinker, fails to accept the opinion of Hegel, Hitler and Mussolini. He says, “In this first place we must distinguish the State from Society. To identify the social with the political is to be guilty of the grossest of all confusions which completely bar any understanding of either society or the State”.

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