What is the meaning of the concept State ?

The fact of the existence of the state is older than its name. The state as a word ‘Stato’ appeared in Italy in the early part of the sixteenth century, in writings of Machiavelli (1469-1527). The meaning of the state in the sense of body-politics became common in England and France in the later part of the sixteenth century. The word staalnkunst became the German equivalent of ragione de state during the seventeenth century and a little later the word staatscrecht got the meaning of jus publiceem. Thus came the use of the word State.

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The word ‘State’ has its origin in the Latin word ‘Statue’ which means ‘standing’ or ‘position’ of a person or a body of persons. The Latin ‘status’, Ernest Barker tells us, gave three English words: (i) ‘estate’, in the sense of a ‘standing’ or ‘position’ in regard to some form of property (ii) ‘Estate’, using the word in the primary sense of a grade or rank in the system of the social standing or position belonging to such grade or rank and (iii) ‘State’, i.e., stateliness vested in one person or some body of persons … primarily a peculiar standing, of a kind which was political and of a degree in that kind which was superior or supreme.

The word ‘State’ came to be understood, during the 16th -17th centuries and even down to the last days of the 18th century, some what identical with the terms ‘sovereign’, or/and ‘king’. No wonder if Louis XIV said, ‘I am the State’. And to this context, Barker adds, “Was he (Louis XIV) not in his own view, as in that of his subjects, the person who enjoyed the ‘State’ and position of being the supreme political authority, and was he not therefore ‘the state’?”


The use of the word polis in ancient Greece or the word ‘res publica’ in ancient Rome or the word ‘commonwealth’, ‘Commonweal’ during the medieval age in the West do not clearly and definitely contain in themselves the idea of stateliness, i.e., sovereign political position of a person or a body of persons. This is why these words ‘polis’, ‘res publica’, ‘commonweal’ meant much more than the pressure of the rulers.

These meant, in fact, the whole body of people living on a territory, the rulers forming only one part, though prominent indeed. It was only in the writings of Machiavelli and the theorists after him that the word ‘state’ came in vogue, defining not only the position of the ruler in regard to his subjects, but also the degree of the position the ruler eventually came to obtain. During the later part of the 18th century and the larger part of the 19th century, emphasis came to be laid, owing largely due to the efforts of the jurists in England and France on the internal supremacy and external independence of the sovereign authority.

As democracy, in the form of franchise, came to be associated with liberal-capitalist system, the concept of the State was itself liberalized to include the great body of people residing in it. Barker pointed out, “The State is now whole community; the whole legal association; the whole of the juridical organisation. This is democracy, or a result of democracy; we must henceforth think of the state as ourselves; and we must henceforth give the name of ‘government’ to the authority before called ‘state’.

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