The State


Many thinkers have argued the definition of state, how states emerge, and the measure of the strength of state. While there are multiple definitions of state a state, Dickovick and Eastwood define a state as a sovereign set of political institutions within defined geographic borders. The functions of state are policing, taxing, and defense. A famous definition of a state comes from Max Weber who writes that a state is, “The organization that maintains a legitimate monopoly of violence over a territory”.

Along with the debate over the definition of state there is the debate over how and why states emerge. The bellicist theory explains that states emerge out of war because violence forces people to mobilize, tax, and organize a central government. The Economic theory explains that economic modernization is the core of a state. The cultural theory states that states form because people of similar ethnicities, religions, and ideologies come together.


Dickovick and Eastwood 2016.


Essential Questions:

  • What role do states play in global politics?
  • Why has the nation-state become the dominant political institution?
  • How do social identities affect states?
  • How do the various theories of state formation affect the legitimacy a state has?
  • What are autonomy and capacity and how do they define the functionality of a state?


Shannon K. O’Neil, “Mexico Makes It: A Transformed Society, Economy and Government” Foreign Affairs (March/April 2013)

Thomas L. Friedman, “Democracy Is in Recession,” The New York Times, February 18, 2015, 


Past AP Questions:

2015 Test Free Response #6 Topic: State Sovereignty  Questions, Sample Answers 

2014 Test Free Response #5 Topic: Military and the State in Nigeria Questions, Sample Answers 

2013 Test Free Response #4 Topic: Political Legitimacy in Russia and Iran Questions, Sample Answers 

2011 Test Free Response #1 Topic: Constitutional Legitimacy in Iran Questions, Sample Answers 

Max Weber Max Weber Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes Karl Marx Karl Marx

Theories and Ideas:

Max Weber crafted the dominant theory about the state.  The idea that the state is defined as a organization that maintains a “legitimate monopoly of violence” over a territory

Thomas Hobbes wrote during the first part of the English Civil War and believed that the only way to escape war and violence is to create a state or a sovereign power with autonomy

Karl Marx contributed to the economic theory of state formation that states are created out of economic reasoning

Other Readings 

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson Why Nations Fail (2012)

Jared Diamond , Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) 

Comparative Chart:







Bellicist Theory of State Formation 

Taxation evolved from the American Revolution Nigeria has a weak state because it has not been to war as often as European countries Mexican-American War    Never a colony of Europe, but adopts European style of rule  Coercion-intensive- When wars needed funding the Czars forced the population to create an excess of agriculture goods

Economic Theory of State Formation 

Installment of protection of property Oil has caused Nigeria to develop but is also said to be a reason for the weakness of the state NAFTA caused Mexico to develop Mao and communism

The Great Leap Forward

The theory doesn’t really apply b/c China is such an old state
Oil Bolshevik- an of communism in Russia Fall of the Soviet Union

Culturalist Theories for State Formation

Calvinist- protestant A vast amount of ethnic groups have caused Nigeria to be a weak state   Confucianism 90 percent is Shi’i and the majority of the country is Islamic Nationalism and national identity

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