Some of the difference between state and society are as follows:
Therein we noted that society includes every kind of willed relationship of man to man. Here to understand the state it may be distinguished from society.
The father of Political Science, Aristotle, and other early Greek thinkers did not make any distinction between state and society. This was due to the peculiar circumstances prevailing in the Greek city-states. The city-state being a small and compact body included the activities of the whole life of man. The citizens knew one another personally and met together in common assemblies to pass laws and choose magistrates.
The problems facing them were simple in character. The city to them was the state, the church and the school, all in one. Today, however, no such identification is possible because in the words of Maclver, “to identify the social with the political is to be guilty of the
grossest of all confusions, which completely bars any understanding of either state or society.” The state exists within the society but it is not even the form of society. Interpreted strictly the state is a political organization. It is society politically organized. It is different from society both structurally and functionally.
The following points of difference between state and society are worth remembering:
(i) In point of time, society is prior to the state. The people lived in society much before the state emerged.
(ii) State is organized; society may be organized or unorganized. The primitive society was unorganized, but the state is always organized.
(iii) Society exercises authority largely through customs and persuasion. The state exercises authority through laws and coercion. The state alone can legitimately use force. To use the language of Barker, “The area of society is voluntary co-operation, its energy that of good-will, its method that of elasticity; while the area of Stale is rather that of mechanical action, its energy force, its method rigidity.”
(iv) State is a territorial organisation while a society does not occupy any definite territory. A society may extend to the whole world. It may be international like the Red Cross Society.
(v) A society embraces the whole life of man and all those ties which bind men together. But the state is concerned only with those social relationships that express themselves through government. The state cannot regulate every form of social conduct. MacIver expresses this difference beautifully in the following words:
“There are social forms like the family or the church or the club, which owe neither their origin nor their inspiration to the state; and social forces like custom or competition, which the state may protect or modify, but certainly does not create; and social motives like friendship or jealousy, which establish relationships too intimate and personal to be controlled by the great engine of the state”.
(vi) The membership of the state is compulsory but not so of the society. Man like Robinson Crusoe may, if he so likes, live outside the society.
Thus “state is structure not coeval and co-extensive with society but built within it as a determinate order for the attainment of specific ends.” The importance of state to society is brought about by Barker when he says,” Society is held together by the state; and if it were not thus held together, it could not exist.”