Max Weber defined the state as the “human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”

While reading Skyler Collins’s article on government vs. the state, I realized that this definition is too restrictive and also lacks descriptive power. In the U.S., the state does not fit the strict description of a monopoly on force. Here, the state monopolizes force only if you squint your eyes just right. The only way to classify the state as a monopoly here is by cheating, by including everyone who wields “legitimate” force, while ignoring the separations and rivalries among the various organizations that command their loyalty. So, we actually have an oligopoly. Can we stop worrying about the state, because no true monopoly exists?

We need a definition that describes more accurately the reality of the state, but still distinguishes it from ordinary criminal gangs (the distinction being, ordinary criminal gangs have not succeeded in indoctrinating the general public to accept an ideology justifying their authority). Here is my attempt: The state is a coercive hierarchy of authority and obligation enforced with violence and based on a popular ideology that classifies people into different classes with different rights and obligations, some of which have a legitimate, justifiable right to give commands that obligate members of other classes to obey without regard to their conscience or free consent. This is a bit windy and redundant, and if we want to keep it short, we can probably make do with “The state is a coercive hierarchy with a successful ideology of authority and obligation.”