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Max Weber on State (Polity) - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 195
State/Weber/Morris: [a „definition“ of the state most often is] an abbreviated version of Max Weber's well-known characterization of the state as 'a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory' (1919(1): 78). Weber says that '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. '
MorrisVsWeber: This oft-cited definition, however, is problematic for a number of reasons.
The first thing to note about it now is its simplicity.
Gaus I 196
Could an organized criminal organization or one of Nozick's protective agencies be a state?
Weber: Elsewhere [Weber] offered a much more complete characterization: „Since the concept of the state has only in modern times reached its full development, it is best to define it in
terms appropriate to the modern type of state, but at the same time, in terms which abstract from the values of the present day, since these are particularly subject to change. The primary formal characteristics of the modern state are as follows: It possesses an administrative and legal order subject to change by legislation, to which the organized corporate activity of the administrative staff, which is also regulated by legislation, is oriented. This system of order claims binding authority, not only over the members of the state, the citizens . but also to a very large extent, over all actions taking place in the area of its jurisdiction. It is thus a compulsory association with a territorial basis. Furthermore, today, the use of force is regarded as legitimate only so far as it is either permitted by the state or prescribed by it.“ (1947(2): 156)
Morris: A number of additional features or attributes are singled out by Weber in this passage: the existence of an administrative and legal order subject to change by legislation, maintained by a substantial administrative staff, itself regulated by legislation (...). >State/Morris.


1. Weber, Max (1946 [1919]) 'Politics as a vocation'. In From Max Weber: Essays in Sociologv, eds and trans. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford University Press.
2. Weber, Max (1947) The Theory of Social and Economic O,'ganization (Part I of Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft), trans. A. M. Henderson and T. Parsons. New York: Oxford University Press.

Morris, Christopher W. 2004. „The Modern State“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Weber I
M. Weber
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism - engl. trnsl. 1930
German Edition:
Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus München 2013

Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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