This article will help you to differentiate between society and the state of a nation.
The nation, one in itself and always retaining the same identical body of members, confronts us, none the less, in a double aspect. This double aspect may be seen from three different points of view. The first point of view is that of purpose or function.
On the one hand, the nation, legally organized and assuming the aspect of a single legal association, acts in the terms and under the ‘articles’ by which that association is constituted (that is to say, in the terms and under the rules of the ‘constitution’) for the single legal purpose of making and enforcing a permanent system of law and order.
On the other hand, the nation, socially organized (within the framework, but not by the act, of the legal association), and assuming the aspect of a plurality of associations (owing to the number and variety of the different social impulses), acts for a variety of purposes other than the legal purpose; purposes religious, moral, intellectual, aesthetic, economic, and recreational. (The Football Association and the Marylebone Cricket Club must also be counted among ‘associations’.)
In personal composition the legal association and the social organization—or in other words the State and Society— are one: they both include the same body of persons. In purpose they are different: the State exists for one great, but single, purpose; Society exists for a number of purposes, some great and some small, but all, in their aggregate, deep as well as broad.
The second point of view from which the nation may be seen in its double aspect is that of organization or structure. Function determines structure; and the difference of purpose or function just noted necessarily involves (as indeed the argument has already implied) a difference of organization or structure.
As organized legally, in the terms and under the rules of the one legal purpose, the members of a nation belong to one organization only, the State; though that one organization, if it be federal, may be a State composed of sub-states, and even if it be unitary may still (at any rate where local self-government is practiced) be a State composed of units cherishing and practising some measure of ‘autonomy’ and thus, as that term implies, ‘making laws on their own account’.
As organized socially, in the terms and under the impulse of their many social purposes, the members of a nation belong to many organizations; though these all combine and coalesce in the general complex of Society. Yet the multiplicity of Society still remains in spite of such combination; and it shows itself twice over.
In the first place, there is not only economic society, as the radical economist too readily assumes: there is also the society of religion, the society of moral conscience and of the virtue of charity, the society of art and aesthetic taste, the society of education and culture, and still other forms of society as numerous and as various as the needs of the human mind.
Man belongs to some form of society for every purpose he can conceive, since every purpose can be advanced by social action, and none can be far or fully advanced without such action. In the second place, it is well to remember that even economic society itself is various, plural, and even multiple.
There is no one economic society, unless or until we attain an undifferentiated workers’ society. There is a wide-flung range of economic groups, from the simplest partnership or shop to the greatest of federations or the largest of amalgamations; and in all this wide-flung range, so long as there are still two sides to the economic process (a side of the employers and a side of the employed), the groups are ‘two and two, one against another’.
The third point of view from which we may see the double aspect of the nation is that of method. The State employs the method of coercion or compulsion: its purpose of declaring and enforcing a scheme of law and order makes the method necessary; and the unity of its organization makes the method possible.
Society uses the method of voluntary action and the process of persuasion: the nature of its purposes can be satisfied, and is best satisfied, by that method; and the multiplicity of its organization, which enables men to choose and relinquish freely their membership of its various and alternative groups, enables them also to escape coercion by any group if coercion should be attempted.
But we have to admit that this distinction between the method of the State and the method of Society, if true in the main, is not always true. Economic forms of association begin to acquire a power of coercion when trade unions become organizations which a man must enter, and cannot relinquish, if he wishes to get or to keep employment. Distinctions of thought are always clearer than differences of fact.
In fact, and in actual life, there is always a ‘margin of imprecision’. The State, if it is coercive, has also a voluntary aspect, at any rate under a democratic system of government by virtue of which each citizen lays his mind alongside of other minds in a voluntary process of common debate and mutual persuasion. Conversely, social groups, though voluntary in their nature, may assume coercive power, as churches no less than trade unions have done in the course of history.