The State and Associations

Society is not a mere aggregate of individuals, but a collection of groups composed of individuals. These groups are voluntarily formed by man for the satisfaction of his various and diversified needs, such as, social, religious, cultural, economic, educational, recreational, and many others.

All these groups express and develop the sociability of man. In the beginning man’s social wants were few and the groups were limited in number. But in the complex life of our times social wants have multiplied enormously and today society is a veritable network of such associations. Barker says, “We see society less as a number of individuals leading a common life, we see it more as an association of individuals already united in various groups, each with its common file, in a further and higher group for a further and higher common purpose.”

An association is defined as “a group of persons or members who are associated and organised into a unity of will for a common end.” Cole defines it: “Any group of persons pursuing a common purpose or system or aggregation of purposes by a course of cooperative action extending beyond a single act, and for this purpose agreeing together upon certain methods of procedure and laying down, in however rudimentary a form, rules for common action.”

An association, therefore, embraces a group of people having a common purpose or purposes for which they associated and organised themselves. A mere group of men do not form an association. Every association must have, in the first place, some specific purpose or purposes to fulfill. Secondly, individuals so associated should be duly organized.

Without organisation it becomes just a collection of individuals or a crowd. A crowd has no method of doing things and achieving its purpose, as there is no common bond of cohesion between them. And there must be some man or body of men to see that the rules of the association are duly obeyed to realize its purpose. Every association necessarily has its constitution, a code of rules and a way of setting up its government; churches, political parties, and trade unions, for example.

The State, too, is a group of human beings. It comes into existence, like other groups, to satisfy human needs through concerted action. The term State can be used to refer to a bewildering range of things: a collection of institutions, a territorial unit, a historical entity, a philosophical idea and so on; however we can simply define the State as an organization that has a number of political functions and tasks, including providing security, extracting revenues, and forming rules for resolving disputes and allocating resources within boundaries of the territory in which it exercises jurisdiction.

Since the State and Association both involve memberships of groups of people, they possess similar characteristics and features which make people see them as the same concept. Both the state and other associations consist of groups of human beings. So it is individuals who are members of the state and associations. Both are created and organised for the pursuit of an interest or a group of interests.

Promotion of common interests is the moving force behind all forms of associations including the state. Looking at the distinctive structures of an association and the state we can identify a number of similar features which make the two political concepts look the same in certain aspects.

One important similarity of the state and association is that both bodies have a union of members. They consist of groups of human beings. So it is individuals who are members of the state and an association. Without these members or individuals a state or an association will cease to exist or function.

Another prominent resemblance between a state and an association is that both bodies are created with defined purpose. There is an aim behind the formation or creation of every association and state. Both are created and organised for the pursuit of an interest or a group of interests. Promotion of a common interest and the achievement of these aims and interest are the driving forces behind all forms of associations and states. It is the duty of every member of an association or state to help in achieving these aims or ensure that the state and an association follow the right path in pursuing their interests and prevent them from deviating or diverting from their reason of formation.

The third major similarity of the state and association is that both are structured. Both are characterized by organization and a well knitted framework for the purpose of achieving or realizing their goals and aims.

They are structured in a hierarchical form clearly distinguishing the common members from the leaders who serve as guides in achieving and pursuing their interests. This well knitted framework helps in a reliable and dependable way of co-ordination and dispensation of information, making and implementing of policies for the achievement of theirs goals and interests as well as the enforcement of their rules and regulations.

Another important similarity which cannot be overlooked is that both the state and association have a code of conduct. That is both the state and association have a way of regulating and checking the behavior of their members. There is a means of checks and limitations binding on their members. Every association has a set of rules to be obeyed by members to secure their membership.

Non-compliance to these rules or code of conduct can lead to punishments or expulsion from the association. In the case of the state it has a constitution which is the supreme law of the land and shows the sovereignty of the state. The constitution must be obeyed by all members of the state since refusal to obey the rules of the constitution will result in punishment of the culprits in the form of fines, imprisonments or curtailing of rights of the culprit.

Simply said by Max Stirner in his book The Ego and His Own(1845)- ‘The purpose of the State is always the same: to limit the individual, to tame him, to subordinate him, to subjugate him.’ Although an association may impose rules of membership on its members, the rules must conform to the rules (laws and policies) of the state; if not, the state can penalize the association with violent force or consider the rules of the association as inconsistent and void to the level of inconsistency thereby nullifying the rules of the association.

Another common trait between an association and a state is that they both have an executive body. As every state has government as its executive, every association has an executive council which implements its decisions. Depending on the type of system of government practiced by the state it could have a presidential executive system or a parliamentary executive system.

In spite of this close resemblance between the State and other associations, there are some fundamental differences which distinguish the State from any other association.

1. The State is a territorially integrated association and its territory is most distinctly demarcated. The jurisdiction of each State lapse beyond its territorial limits. But voluntary associations are not restricted to a definite territory.

Many of them are international in scope, spread the entire world over, and include in their membership citizens of many States, as the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, the Red Cross Society, and the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. The membership of each State is distinct. I am a citizen of India while John is a citizen of, say, United States of America.

2. Membership of the State is compulsory. One must be a member of one State or another there is no other option for him. But membership of other associations, except the family, is voluntary and optional.

It is for each individual to decide whether he should be a member of one association or many associations at the same time; it is his own option and choice. He is also free to withdraw from any association whenever he elects to do so; it is his own decision.

3. The State is a permanent and enduring association unless it is conquered and annexed or its units disintegrate and secede as in the erstwhile Soviet Union. Governments may come or go, the sovereignty may shift from one center to another; the State continues.

But many associations have only a temporary existence. An association may cease to exist as soon as the purpose for which it came into existence had been realized. Some associations disappear, because of internal dissensions. Even violent internal commotions and changes do not affect the existence of the State; they may simply lead to a change in the government.

4. Each association is promoted for a specific object or objects and its activities are limited to the pursuit of those interests. In other words, the sphere of activity of every voluntary association is well defined. The province of the State, on the other hand, is much wider and its activities are manifold.

It is charged with the care of general rather than particular interests. MacIver says that the State “is essentially an order-creating organisation. It exists to establish order, not, of course, merely for the sake of order, but for the sake of all the potentialities of the life which require that basis of order.”

5. The State is sovereign and it possesses the power to enforce its decisions. Voluntary associations do not possess the legal power of coercion. If the members of an association disobey its rules and regulations, they cannot be physically punished.

It has no means to command and enforce obedience. It can only morally condemn the wrong-doer, though it may be admitted that in some cases moral condemnation is worse than physical punishment.