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Max Weber

“But what is a ‘political’ association from the sociological point of view? What is a ‘state’? Sociologically, the state cannot be defined in terms of its ends. There is scarcely any task that some political association has not taken in hand… Ultimately, one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force.

‘Every state is founded on force,’ said Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk. That is indeed right. If no social institutions existed which knew the use of violence, then the concept of ‘state’ would be eliminated, and a condition would emerge that could be designated as ‘anarchy,’ in the specific sense of this word. Of course, force is certainly not the normal or the only means of the state — nobody says that — but force is a means specific to the state. Today the relation between the state and violence is an especially intimate one. In the past, the most varied institutions — beginning with the sib — have known the use of physical force as quite normal. Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. Note that ‘territory’ is one of the characteristics of the state. Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the ‘right’ to use violence.”

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Sociologist Max Weber, writing in his seminal 1919 essay “Politics as a Vocation”.

This is the best definition of the state that I’ve read. It is also, in a nutshell, what we Americans have never understood about our guns — that although we may have the right to violently defend our selves and our property, we ultimately cede to the state the right to legitimately exercise force.

Read on:

  • Andrew Jackson elaborates on the importance of the rule of law
  • Martin Luther King outlines when and how you should break the law
  • Chief Justice Robert Jackson argues why the state must let people think freely