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What is the difference between a state and a government?

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Roosevelt Paulsen eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A state is a political corporation, an association of people or other units who have organized together for mutual benefit.

A government is the entity responsible for ruling a state (or a political sub-division thereof).

In other words, a state is like a club, while a government is the officers of said club. Governments come and go, but the state remains.

While state and government are separate things, a state cannot exist, usually, without a government, and a government cannot exist without a state. One example of this point in practice comes in the declarative theory of statehood. According to it, a state is only sovereign if it is in possession of four qualities: (1) a permanent population, (2) a defined territory, (3) the ability to enter into relations with other states, and (4) a government.

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The words state and government are often used interchangeably in English, but they do have different definitions. The state refers to a type of political organization in which a group of people is ruled by one system of government. States can be federated (one of many states within a federal union), sovereign, or ruled by a different state. Government can be differentiated from the state because the term refers to the grouping of people or the bureaucratic political structures that control the state. It is through governments that the power of states is exercised. Essentially, a state is an abstract concept describing a political unit, while a government is a body of individuals who exercise state power by creating and enforcing laws.

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