A State of One

My (attempted) unambiguous definition of a state.

6 min readOct 20, 2021

Note: It is worth pointing out here that I could be incredibly wrong. Or maybe this has been said before. If either, I shall learn. If neither, my autograph is free.

An image of the world with each country’s banknotes covered over their territory.

“A state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a territory.” — Max Weber

Generally, states are defined with regard to human communities or societies, implying that there is a required minimum number of people beyond which a state is formed. On the question of legitimacy, this question is trickier. Who recognizes the legitimacy of a state? If it is other states (or say bodies like the UN), then who recognizes their sovereignty? This logic is circular and, hence useless. Is it the people who reside within the state who recognize its legitimacy? If yes, by what method do these people recognize the legitimacy of violence?

While the argument of constitutions and laws may be made, where illegitimate violence will be punished in a court of law, to assume that legitimate violence is what bounds a state disregards the fact that unrecognized states exist, both in international terms and in terms of the society that resides within internationally recognized states.

The best example of the former is Taiwan, while the latter is Mexico. Taiwan is not internationally recognized and yet many other states keep diplomatic ties with the country, and it proclaims itself (with the approval of its people) that it is an independent State (I shall stick to definitions I have read. The definition of States is that of what we in common parlance call countries. For example, we live within the Indian state. The government is the party who sits at the center). The example of the latter can be found in many states. Mexico is one prime example, where there are many places where cartels exercise violence over that territory, rather than the Mexican government.

If we understand states in terms of violence, then we fall prey to the idea that political power flows through violence. While such a definition may seem plausible, it does ignore the fact that violence is not an end. It is a means to an end. So what then is the end for which the monopoly on violence is the means?

States are those entities that possess the ability to take wealth from a populace.

Populaces give a part of their wealth to the state.
Ought to be Wealth instead of Capital

Let us assume that there is one person on a solitary island with no natural food or water. If this person is able to produce food and water, then they will survive. Such a person has no need for money or exchange of goods for there is no one else to exchange with. The wealth they have are the food and water that they gather. Their worth in modern monetary terms in not useful because there is no monetary system at play here. Rather, all that he creates is that to sustain himself.

This example is the edge case of a state. Since it is the populace of one, the creation of wealth is carried out by one person, and since they choose to do with the wealth as they wish, this means that they are the state.

Now let us assume two people on the same island. The trivial case would be if they separate the island into two halves and continue on with their lives with no interference from the other, each producing the sufficient amount of food and water required in half the land. Then we may assume that this is similar to the first case, except a repeated experiment with two people instead of one.

Otherwise it may be assumed there are 2 cases:

  1. They split duties: Should they do this, we assume that they split the duty of creating water and food (the wealth, if you will). In this scenario, the wealth is created by both the men and shared by both men, then they are also the populace and the state.
  2. One dominates over the other: In this scenario (putting aside moral quandaries), one person is able to establish a scenario where he is physically able to take the created wealth of the other person. This is essentially the monopoly of violence that Weber talks about, however its purpose of controlling the wealth of the populace.
    This is the bare minimum case, where two people exist in an unequal system (how this inequality came to be is not important). In this situation, the person who is able to take the wealth is the state while the person from whom the wealth is taken is the populace.

Only in the second scenario does the monopoly of violence take place and even then, it is for the purpose of attaining created wealth. It is also worth pointing out that there is no condition of legitimacy in the 2nd case, nor is there what can be considered a human community.

Now should more people be added, they will either be part of the state or the populace. It is worth mentioning that in this situation, the state is an exclusionary institution. One is either a part of it, or not.

Should we consider a population of N people on an island with limited resources, welcome to Earth. There is the state apparatus and there is the population.


What then are governments?

Governments are those that utilize the wealth obtained by the state to achieve certain goals. In the initial example of 1 person, we saw the populace, government and state embodied by one person. He created the wealth, collected it (He gave it to himself) and used it according to his needs. In the second example, we saw the separation of a populace from the other two and the state and government embodied in a single person. In the case of N people, one may look at modern day sovereign territories.

Symbolically, the wealth of a nation flows as follows :

The total sum of the wealth of each person multiplied by his wealth given to the state is the total wealth of the State. The State gives between 100% or 0% of this wealth to the government, a percentage which divided by 100, I call the reduction constant.
The total sum of the wealth of each person multiplied by his wealth given to the state is the total wealth of the State. The State gives between 100% or 0% of this wealth to the government, a percentage which divided by 100, I call the reduction constant.

Where i is the individual, n is the population, alpha is the wealth taken from that specific individual and beta is the reduction constant i.e the amount that is lost before it reaches the government. Beta can vary between 1 and 0.

What governments use this wealth for is irrelevant. What is important however, is that governments use this wealth to achieve objectives. Not the state.

The only true function of the state is essentially to collect taxes. Everything else is a function that is imposed upon it by governments. Using the example of the solitary island, we can conclude that the state is not an agreed upon political arrangement that arrives after a certain number of people create societies and communities but rather an economic arrangement that is inherently present, that is only differentiable from a government given adequate development and size of a populace.

The final chart can be shown as below.

In essence, the State is an administrative entity that is discovered and slowly expands with an increase in populace, rather than being created after certain political or societal conditions of a population are met. The only true purpose of the state is to take wealth from its populace, using force to do so if necessary. The legitimacy of a state is not an abstract concept by this definition but rather straightforward. The state you belong to is the administrative body to which you give part of your wealth to.

Through societal mechanisms, governments are created that set priorities for the state which in turn may provide services for the populace.

Note: While I mention that governments come through societal mechanisms, I did not mention societies. I shall revisit this in the future.




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