An association may be defined as a group of persons having similar views and organized for the pursuit of certain common aims. Man is a social animal and he organizes a number of associations for the satisfaction of his associative instinct and various needs.
The distinction between state and association will be clear from the following:—
1. State is territorial. It may be big or small but it must have well- demarcated boundaries. An association, on the other hand is non- territorial.
It may be limited to a small locality or it may be international in its scope. A badminton club is an example of a local association while the Red Cross Society is an association having its branches all over the world.
2. Membership of a state is compulsory but that of an association is optional. A man is born in the state and cannot withdraw from it but one can easily withdraw from the membership of an association.
3. Membership of the state is singular. One cannot be the citizen of more than one state simultaneously. But one may be the member of as many associations as one likes.
4. State has got the power of coercion with it. The physical force possessed by the state is its differentia. No other association possesses physical coercion.
5. State is sovereign. Its sovereignty is legally absolute and final. Its laws are obligatory backed by physical sanction. Other associations are not sovereign.
They are limited organizations to achieve specific purposes. The state on the other hand represents the community as a whole. It maintains the external conditions of social order.
6. A state is more or less permanent and is not easily subject to dissolution but an association may be dissolved at any time and on any pretext.
An association may be dissolved due to internal differences among its members or when its purpose is fulfilled. Such is not the case with the state. The state has a much greater degree of permanence than the voluntary associations.
7. State has multi-purpose activities, whereas an association is a small group with a particular purpose. The state, on the other hand, is concerned with general rather than specific interests.
8. The state is the supreme association. It controls and co-ordinates the activities of all other associations. Sometimes it creates associations like the universities, trade unions etc., to exist and function.
The state is therefore, all-pervasive, all embracing and all inclusive association. It is the most powerful of all associations. It brings harmony by controlling the external behavior of these associations.
Although state is the supreme association entrusted with the job of controlling all other associations yet a new school of thought known as Pluralism has come into existence.
According to this theory, the associations are as important as the state itself. Associations perform functions which are as vital to human existence as the state is.
They cater to human needs as much as the state does. So much so that state without the contribution of variety of associations is likely to become meaningless.
The state, in the opinion of Pluralists should not have the monopoly of authority. The same should be decentralized and equitably distributed among the various associations.