Is the United Kingdom a State? Northern Ireland as a Test Case

  • Richard Rose


Neither the ‘state’ nor the ‘United Kingdom’ are terms commonly or carefully used in contemporary British politics. In Maitland’s judgment, the explanation was that the state is ‘a person whose personality our law does not formally or explicitly recognise’ (Marshall, 1971, p. 12). So careful a scholar of modern English history as G. Kitson Clark (1959, p. 551) can casually assert that defining the state ‘is relatively easy’. The definition he gives — ‘The State is the Community organized for the purposes of government’ — begs more questions than it answers. This implies that the United Kingdom is a single community, embracing both Northern Ireland Protestants and Catholics, or that the United Kingdom is not a state.1 Loose contemporary use of the term justifies the conclusion of Peter Nettl’s (1968, p. 551) polycultural review that the idea of the state is a variable not a constant, because of the relative ‘statelessness’ of British and American non-thinking about the subject.


Security Force Irish Government Armed Attack Irish Unity British Subject 
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© Richard Rose 1982

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  • Richard Rose

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