Distinction between State and Society


In ordinary parlance, the term society is used to denote groups and associations formed within the society by a limited number of persons to fulfill one particular purpose or another, e.g., Red Cross Society, Co-operative Society,etc. This is in fact, an incorrect usage of the term.

In Political Science, these groups may be termed associations representing different purposes. Society is, however, a much wider term. It is the sum total of all associations. It includes the whole range of human relations—social, economic, political, religious, cultural etc.

It is a work of social relationship. While individual associations are a part, society is the whole. The term society may be defined as “the complex of organized associations and institutions within a community”. Human beings in relationship with each other form the society.


Plato and Aristotle made no distinction between state and society because a Greek city-state was co-extensive with society. Likewise, idealist philosophers like Hegel and Kant also identified state and society.

But the fact of the matter is that the two concepts are different in their scope, province and range. The distinction between the two may be brought out as follows:

1. State is a community of persons organized for law within a definite territory. It has a definite scope and limited membership. The state is only concerned with political relation of organized communities.

Society, on the other hand, is comprehensive and covers the whole range of human relations, i.e., social, economic, political, religious etc. all relations between man and man, whether direct or indirect, conscious or uncon­scious, organized or unorganized, co-operative or antagonistic are cov­ered by society.


It is a universal, all pervading and all-inclusive group of human beings. The purpose of the state is to maintain only the external conditions of society.

2. State enjoys the power of coercion. Disobedience to its laws is followed by punishment. Society, on the other hand, does not enjoy the powers of coercion.

Disobedience to its principles may not be followed by any physical punishment. The only basis of the authority of society is social customs, conventions and moral pressure. Society secures the cooperation of its members by persuasion.

3. State is a territorial organization. It has well-defined boundaries of its own. But society is not restricted to any geographical area. The Jews, for example, constitute a society although they are spread all over the world.


So is the case with Hindu Society, Islamic Society or the Christian Society. It has thus no territorial reference as the state always has. Its scope may cover the entire world crossing the boundaries of various states.

In the same state, the people may be organized into different societies having different social traditions. Thus society may be narrower or broader than the state in its territory. There may be a society spread all over the world like the Red Cross Society.

4. State is compulsory organization, whereas society implies volun­tary co-operation.

Thus State and society have some common features as well. State and thus society sometimes include practically the same members and in most cases an overwhelming majority of the members of a particular society fall within the limits of a single state. Relationship between state and society is, therefore, very intimate.


Both go hand in hand. Progress of society depends upon the efficiency of the state and the working of the state is influenced by social customs and traditions. They contribute a lot to each other. Baker has beautifully summed up the distinction between State and society in the following terms; “State and Society, overlap, they blend they borrow from one another.

But roughly we may say that the area of tilt one is voluntary cooperation, its energy that of good will its method that of elasticity; while the area of the other is that of mechanical action, its energy force, its method rigidity”.

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