What are Four Characteristics of a State
New York City skyline with urban skyscrapers at sunset, USA.

Do you want to know what are the characteristics of a state that distinguishes it from a nation? Below you will find the characteristics of a nation-state. Also, we explain in detail what are the main characteristics of a state? President Woodrow Wilson describes a state as “a group of people who are well organized through the law in a defined territory.” This means a state is supposed to be a territorial society, well organized through principles of bureaucracy. A state has three arms of government, namely legislature, judiciary, and executive promoting separation of power which rely on 4 characteristics of a state to ensure effective management of a country from finance to other important resources. Also fosters law for people occupying the area, ruled through constitutional law.

Origins of the State
  • Force Theory – The force theory states that some people in authority took others and forced them to follow certain rules in society.  Mostly called ‘Dictatorship’, where people in authority are not held accountable by the governed.
  • Evolutionary Theory – The evolutionary theory states that society transforms and evolves naturally, people grow, and learn to make decisions hence there is a need for a state because man is by nature a political animal.
  • Divine Right Theory – The divine right theory talks of the right that God created a state. Made every living creature and placed certain people with royal birth and “divine right” to rule others in society.
  • Social Contract Theory – The social contract theory states that states came into existence after people made a decision with the government to be government-ruled. Social contract theory explains what the government is expected to do to its citizens and people’s expectation of living in the state.

Main characteristics of a state, features, and definition.

Marshal in his book ‘wealthy Nations’, defined the essential attributes of a state, Population, Territory, Government, Sovereignty, Permanence, Recognition, Taxation, Regulatory laws, and people or citizens. Characteristics of a state in international relations refer to an organized community governed politically and acting under the laws of the land as required by the government.

Key Terms
  • Nation-State: This means a political state closely associated with the cultural norms of an entity.
  • Civil Society: A group of people or community which comprises citizens, organized collectively and share similar interests. These people work together in institutions, corporate bodies, and voluntary groups.
  • Sovereign State: This means a political organization with well structured centralized government and sovereign authority over a specific territory.

How is a nation different from state?

Often people in the world apply terms such as country sovereign state, a state, nation-state, and nation, commonly used interchangeably. This brings about confusion because few know how is nation different from a state.

Definition of a state and Nation

A nation refers to and means a group of people who inhabit a large territory, sharing the same culture, values, tribe, beliefs, and with the same nationality. While a state refers to a territory that has its own population and institutions performing certain duties. A state is an important institution that facilitates antiquity. Enhances associa­tion between laws government in charge of a certain country within a specific territory.

Types of a State: States are classified into two types, namely;

  • The sovereign state is subject to making its own laws and policies. They are not dependent on another state.
  • The subject state depends on external sovereignty to function and make laws. They are not wholly hegemony, because their ultimate sovereignty and control depend on another state.

The four essential features of a state

Now that we know a state is a community well organized, politically governed, and has a government. What are the four characteristics of a state? These are the characteristics of a state that distinguishes it from a nation. A state has these four characteristics, namely;

4 characteristics of a state

  1. Population
  2. Territory
  3. Government
  4. Sovereignty

A state is defined as a political unit that has the power of enforcing laws within a certain well-defined territory and over a group of people. Here are four characteristics of a state

4 Characteristics of a State explained:

  1. Population – A state must have people governed by the government. These people are commonly referred to as ‘citizens’ sometimes, and a number does not even matter.

2. Territory – A state must have a well and clearly defined territory. This is referred to as ‘border’ which is a mark that symbolizes the end of one state and where another begins from.

3. Government – Government is powerful machinery that enforces rules and regulations through common law of the land. Government is the institution in which any society enforces public policies through Bureaucratic institutions.  Consists of people with legitimate authority to exercise their powers. Elected politicians and public administrators, work together in management or leadership, to deliver people’s needs. Administrators have been known to also play a huge role by introducing control within a well-defined country’s territory.

Government makes public policies through administrators. It highlights things the government wants to do. This list of making public policy and implementation can take years, which helps in promoting Public choice theory. Most states are governed through a written document, known as the ‘Constitution’. The state requires such a government must be recognized within its defined territory and by any other nation or community.

Every government has these three kinds of powers:

•Legislative power – This is the power to make laws, decisions, and policies at a national level.

•Executive power – This is the power to enforce the law, and administer the law to the people and the country.

•Judicial power – Through the arm of the government judiciary, the government has the power to interpret laws, pass to the legislature any changes the power to interpret laws, explain the meaning, and coordinate society by resolving conflicts.

4. Sovereignty – A state must have supreme power and authority to act. This includes the authority to make its own decisions, policies, reforms, public affairs, external affairs, etc. with little or no interference from the other states or countries.

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