The State and Government: Understanding the Difference and Importance

Category: Democracy, Ireland, Welfare
Last Updated: 31 Mar 2023
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The state refers to the shared ideas and expectations regarding the ordering of social life, it is seen by social scientists as a set of practices and organisations. The state is an institutional order striving to create some order, thus preventing chaos in order to ensure law and order to encourage social stability. Governments include a part of the state, with the main concern being the protection of individual freedom, the government demands the right to represent or rule some areas of society’s lives.

Social scientists are able to see the differences between what the government is and what the state is all about. On the whole the government includes a group of ministers who rule and administer the laws concerning national issues, whereas the state is seen to have continuity, therefore it is not temporary, the state is based on shared beliefs concerning the arrangements of social life. The English historian AJP Taylor argued that until August 1915 “a sensible law abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state beyond the post office and the policeman” (Exploring social lives 2009).

This shows that from the end of this period and onwards across the United Kingdom the state appears to be everywhere, it shows that the lives of society have been made and remade by the state as during World War 1 and World War 2 acts of parliament were passed, the state legitimised acts which could not be contested by society as they were faced with war and great turmoil. The state is part of the discourses that can be seen in day to day life and can be seen by such organisations as schools, hospitals, housing and transport to name a few.

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The making and remaking of the state is also shown to be constructed by society, whereby individuals have had to become “active citizens”. This making and remaking can be seen by the members of society who pay their taxes, who comply with the speed limit, individuals who renew their MOT and so forth, on the other hand many may also unmake the state by not complying with the law, this however would lead to consequences by the state and shows that the state can claim legitimacy over such members of society.

Christopher Hood (1982, Exploring social lives) a political scientist argues that the bodies that now make up the state are a “formless mass”. By this he means that the state is so large and made up of many organisations and practices compared to a century ago that it is full of complexity.

With reference to the essay title it is difficult to actually decipher what legitimacy actually means, this is because the government or state have their own ideas of what is legal and lawful whereby they pass acts of law which lead to legislation, however some members of society may not agree with what the state deems to be legitimate, one such example is the evidence shown in the Exploring Social Lives DVD involving the coal miners’ strike.

Although the miners’ strike was caused by the massive pit closure programme that was introduced by Thatcher and her Conservative government; the government used the state and the police to help defeat the miners’ strike. The miners were also prevented from claiming state benefits this was due to the fact that welfare benefits were not permitted to individuals who were on strike. Another act was also passed in 1980 concerning the social security act, this saw that any dependents of any individual striking would not be permitted to receive any payments even if they were in “urgent need”.

The German sociologist Max Weber defined the state as “a human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”. By this he means that the state can choose to pass laws that cannot be contested by others, the state is therefore more dominant. In the case of the coal miners it shows that the state claimed legitimacy when passing such acts of law and showed they were more dominant than the coal workers.

Members of society can show whether they are opposed by some acts passed by the state by having elections, however this does not mean that society can question the states legitimacy it is merely a way for individuals to question government policies and elect a new government if need be. David Beetham a democratic theorist argued that political A9363176 legitimacy can come into being from a number of points, firstly legal validity, by this he means that a government is formed, and then state agencies operate according to the rules of the constitution.

Secondly justifiability of those rules in terms of local values, by this he questions the constitutional rules and asks if they are satisfactory to the members of society who are ruled by them. Thirdly evidence of express consent, this is whereby members of society can have the opportunity to either withhold or not their agreement with the government and its policies (1992 Exploring social lives). The general idea of Beetham’s statement shows that the legitimacy of a state can be if the constitutional rules are acceptable to the members of society that are ruled by them.

The state can also be experienced through the census, which is carried out every ten years. The state claims legitimacy through the census as you are required by law to complete it. However in many cases members of society do not comply and choose to ignore aspects of some of the categories that they are meant to complete. Other ways in which the state can claim legitimacy is through indirect influences such as education, for example in Exploring Social Lives parents such as Jill have to make choices in the selection of nurseries and schools that would be appropriate for their child.

This shows that education is an indirect legislation, although the parent can make choices as to where the child is taught not all parents can be successful in choosing the school of their first choice in addition the child cannot vote or take part in the system so the state can claim legitimacy through the educational system. Another example of how the state claims legitimacy is in the way it is connected to democracy.

This type of democratic system is whereby society decides which representatives should be elected to run the country, however democracy is seen to be more than just voting it is based upon the principles of equality and freedom of speech and a way of life. Legitimacy of a state however can only be practised in countries where laws are enforced. Most importantly individuals from a democratic state have particular liberties and freedoms that are protected by the state. Democracy is a political order that happens in the majority of countries, there are very few individuals who would actually object to democracy as it would be denying freedoms.

Now in the twenty first century democracy is closely linked to state legitimacy. “while democracy is not yet universally practised, nor indeed uniformly accepted, in the general climate of world opinion, democratic governance has now achieved the status of being taken to be generally right. The ball is very much in the court of those who want to rubbish democracy to provide justification for that rejection” (Sen 1999 Exploring Social Lives). The political theorist John Hoffman argues that the state cannot exist unless it is being contested.

A state claims a monopoly of legitimate force, but ironically it is only because ‘competitors contest the state’s claim to have a monopoly of legitimate force that the state exists at all. A state that really did have a monopoly of legitimate force would have no reason to exist” (Hoffman 2007, Exploring Social Lives). One such example of a state that has been fought for is Northern Ireland. During the years 1919 -1921 after the war of independence Ireland was divided, this new division of Ireland created in the south saw a new independent Irish Republic, whilst the North of Ireland was ruled by the British.

The population of Northern Ireland was divided which saw much hostility within societies living there. Most of the population of Northern Ireland looked upon themselves as British (Unionists). Others saw themselves as Loyalists and were mainly Protestants, whilst others saw themselves as Irish Catholics. The Nationalists and Republicans began to contest against the state as they felt they were being discriminated against, this led to civil rights marches during the 1960’s. However in 1972 on the 30th of January a march led to the start of what is known as “Bloody Sunday”.

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The State and Government: Understanding the Difference and Importance. (2017, Mar 20). Retrieved from

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