This essay tries to specify the origins, mechanisms and results of the autonomous power which the state possesses in relation to the major power groupings of ‘civil society’. The argument is couched generally, but it derives from a large, ongoing empirical research project into the development of power in human societies. At the moment, my generalisations are bolder about agrarian societies; concerning industrial societies I will be more tentative. I define the state and then pursue the implications of that definition. I discuss two essential parts of the definition, centrality and territoriality, in relation to two types of state power, termed here despotic and infrastructural power. I argue that state autonomy, of both despotic and infrastructural forms, flows principally from the state's unique ability to provide a territorially-centralised form of organization.
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