What Is a State: Evaluation of Academic Sources

What is a state?

Political science has defined the “state” numerous times, but researchers have not come up with a universal definition yet. However, one of the most widely used definitions of the state belongs to Max Weber. He defines the modern state as a “human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”. (Heywood, 2013, p. 57). Thus, the state consists of three outlining elements: legitimacy, a monopoly on violence, and given territoriality.

Nowadays the majority of societies are governed by modern states. According to Pierson (2004), the modern state has evolved from ‘traditional’ states, such as feudal systems (p. 31). Almost any existing state can be taken as an example of Weber’s definition. For instance, Germany is an illustration of the abovementioned concept. The country has clear borders, and the government is the only legitimate actor to control those borders and to impose restrictions.

Another concept that defines the state relates to constitutive theory. According to it, a state can be considered as such only through the recognition of other states (Oxford Reference). Considering the example with Germany, the country can be regarded as a state due to the fact that it is recognized by the UN and all its members. The difference between the two definitions lays in the way a state is considered. Weber’s definition refers to means that a state employs in order to exist and to be considered as such. The constitutive theory concentrates on other actors’ recognition when defining a state.

Evaluation of Academic Sources

“The Modern State” book by Christopher Pierson was chosen for the evaluation task. The source was used in the first part of the portfolio for a deeper understanding of Max Weber’s definition of the modern state and its historical origins. Christopher Pierson’s book takes a deep look at the modern state through the analysis of the economy, societies, citizens, and its position in the international system.

Considering the evidence of the reliability of the source, firstly, it is vital to pay attention to the publisher. Pierson’s book is published by Routledge that belongs to the Taylor & Francis Group, an international publisher of academic journals and books. Secondly, it should be mentioned that Christopher Pierson is a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham. Last but not least, the book and other academic papers by Pierson are widely cited among other researchers. Due to the above-described points, the source can be considered reliable.

Relevance is another important criterion when choosing an academic source. “The Modern State” is a relevant source for the previous part, as the book’s content pertains to the topic of the assignment. The first chapter of the book is devoted to the question of defining the state. In the following parts, the concept of state is reviewed through a historical perspective. Thus, it is clear that the source is relevant to the discussion in the current paper.

It can be concluded that the book by Christopher Pierson is a reliable and relevant source for part 1 of the current assignment. Firstly, the source is written by a professor in a political science field, and published by a company widely recognized in the science community. Secondly, the source is directly related to the topic of the assignment.


In this part of the paper, direct democracy’s mechanisms will be discussed. Nowadays, in some democratic countries people can participate in politics by using pure democracy forms of action attributable to pure democracy, such as referendum, citizen initiative and recall. However, scholars have not come to a consensus whether these mechanisms contribute to representative democracies or on the contrary compromise them. Despite the fact that they are two conflicting opinions on the issue, it can be stated that the importance of using direct democracy mechanisms is overrated by some scholars.

Referendum is one of the most frequently used mechanisms that modern democracies appeal to. Referendum is “a vote in which all people in a country or an area are asked to give their opinion about or decide an important political or social question” (Cambridge Dictionary). Firstly, it should be mentioned that the pure democracy mechanisms, such as referendum, require a high level of knowledge on a current political agenda. The lack thereof can lead to a low quality decision-making (Bulmer, 2017). Secondly, voters’ fatigue is another issue that affects a referendum’s turnout (Garmann, 2015). Thus, it results in voters’ disengagement from the decision-making that undermines the legitimacy of referendums. Thirdly, some questions that require a simple majority might deepen existing social conflicts, especially involving minorities (Donovan, 2012). The abovementioned three shortcomings of referendum demonstrate the complexity of its employment speak in favor of representative democracy’s mechanisms.

The fact that most of the established Western democracies are representative, and referendums are not often held, speaks against a common practice of direct democracy mechanisms (Svensson, 2007). However, it is crucial to note, that the idea of using the pure democracy’s mechanisms cannot be fully denied. For instance, the Swiss experience can be considered as a successful adoption of direct democracy mechanisms that is analyzed in details in the further referred study. Other examples of the use of direct democracy mechanisms are referendums that are held around the world on crucial political questions: the UK’s membership in the EU; a presidential constitution in Turkey; Dutch Ukraine-EU Association Agreement referendum. However, Premat (2006) does not promote the internationalization of the procedure and suggests studying referendums further on using a case study method. Consequently, even though the direct democracy mechanisms have not been fully justified, they cannot be completely rejected.


Bulmer, B. (2017). Direct Democracy. International IDEA.

Donavan T. (2012). Direct Democracy and Campaigns Against Minorities. Minnesota Law Review, 97(1730).

Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d). Referendum. Cambridge dictionary. Web.

Garmann S. (2015). Voter Fatigue and Turnout. Web.

Heywood, A. (2013). Politics. 4th ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Oxford Reference (2020). Overview: Constitutive Theory. Web.

Pierson, C. (2004). The Modern State. 2nd ed. Taylor & Francis e-Library.

Premat C. (2006). Direct Democracy in a Comparative Perspective. Taiwan Journal of Democracy, 2, 137-142.

Svensson P. (2007). Direct and Representative Democracy – Supplementing, not Excluding Each Other. The ECPR Joint Sessions, Helsinki.

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DemoEssays. "What Is a State: Evaluation of Academic Sources." December 26, 2022. https://demoessays.com/what-is-a-state-evaluation-of-academic-sources/.