Government » Introduction to Government » Basic Concepts of Government

Functions of a State

Functions of a State

There has been incessant controversy about what the state shall do. Political thinkers have from time to time advanced many theories to define the sphere of state activity. On the one hand, there are thinkers like anarchists, communists, etc who question the very existence of the state and advocate a stateless society. On the other hand, there are the absolute thinkers like idealists who regard the state omnipotent and entrust to it every action pertaining to human life. Well, here are some of the agreed-upon functions of a state:

The very nature of the state already sets limitation on the functions of the state. The state has limits to what it can do. The state, though universal, is a limited agency. It is limited by the means at its disposal. It is limited by the customs of the community.

Maintenance of Order

The primary function is the maintenance of order in society. The state possesses peculiar attributes which enable it to perform this function. For the maintenance of order, its primary task, the state performs a number of subsidiary functions like that of regulating and coordinating the work of other associations, defining the rights and obligations of citizenship, establishing and controlling means of communication and transportation, establishing units and standards of computation, measurement value etc., formulating specific rights and obligations of persons within the family, within the economic order and within other social relationships, maintaining armies and police and providing for justice.

Conservation and Provision of Social Amenities

If the exploitation of natural resources is left in the hands of private individuals, then they will seek their own gain at the cost of communal gain. The state can better uphold the interest of the whole and the interest of the future as against the competitive interests. So conservation of forests, fisheries, and exploitation of mineral resources are functions which the state should undertake.

It is the responsibility of the state to provide such social amenities like schools, hospitals, roads, portable water, electricity, public toilet facilities, recreational facilities, housing, etc. This function is carried out by government agencies but in recent times, some governments create the enabling environment for some individuals to provide these amenities for profit.

Provision of Employment and Promotion of Economic Activities

The state is expected to provide employment for its citizens. In many countries this is included in the constitution of the state. In Africa, for example, where entrepreneurship is minimal, the bulk of the employment is created by the state through state and Para-state institutions. It is the function of the state to promote the economic development of the country. Governments are expected to establish public corporations to produce goods and services for the people as well as create the enabling environment for private individuals to do so also.

Guarantee of Human Rights and Protection of Citizens

Another important function of the state is to guarantee the rights of its citizens are protected especially the fundamental rights such as the right to life. This creates the environment for the citizens to enjoy everything the state has to offer. This also helps to make sure that citizens feel safe and secure in their homes, thereby, fostering trust and societal stability.

It is also the function of a state to protect the rights of its citizens. The rights of the citizen include the right to life, freedom of association, free movement, to own property etc. This responsibility is carried out on behalf of government by the combined effort of two arms of government, the Judiciary and the Executive.

Fostering Foreign Relations

A country does not and cannot live in isolation. For this reason, the state establishes external relationships with other countries to bring about the mutual benefit of all. This function is dedicated to the ministries of Foreign Affairs of the countries involved. We will look and Nigeria’s foreign policy as well as the foreign policies of some other countries in another tutorial.

[Attributions and Licenses]


This is a lesson from the tutorial, Introduction to Government and you are encouraged to log in or register, so that you can track your progress.

Log In

Share Thoughts