Over the last three decades the idea of the state and the ideals of the state service have been subject to extensive and near constant political, ideological and theoretical criticism. The book seeks to counter these criticisms by offering a positive account of the state and of the conducts informing the unique activities it undertakes. It addresses this endeavour through a combination of historically informed conceptual analysis and detailed empirical description. The state, it is argued, maintains its distinctive character because of the singularity of its object. That object is the activity of governing. With respect to that activity, the state has a range of 'core tasks' to perform, and the book seeks to show how it undertakes them, and why the nature of these 'core tasks' sets limits to the manner in which they can be conducted. By taking a closer look at this thing we call 'the state', and seeking to appreciate it in its own terms, the book will contribute to a wide range of debates in the social sciences concerning, for example, the changing meanings, identity and ethos of public service.