chapter  3
29 Pages

States and societies

In 1897, Otto Hintze, the distinguished German contemporary of Weber, insisted that ‘the relationship between the state and society is one of the most obscure and controversial topics of science’ (Hintze, 1973:154). Over a hundred years on, the relationship between state and society remains just as controversial and, despite or perhaps because of everything that has been written and said in between, not much less obscure. We have seen (in Chapter 2) that, for much of human history, drawing a distinction between state and society would not have made much sense. Indeed, for most of human history, conceptions of state and society in anything like their modern senses simply did not exist. We also saw that for many commentators the very origins of the state lie in its emergence as a particular institutional ensemble differentiated from society. It is perhaps natural, then, that we should so frequently find the pairing ‘state and society’ or, rather more pointedly, ‘state versus society’. But, at the same time, the uncertainty we have already identified in attempts to define the essence of ‘the state’ is more than matched by the ambiguity that surrounds contemporary understandings of what constitutes ‘society’. This, in its turn, helps to explain why their interrelationship should have remained so unclear.