Scholars of the First World War have long recognized the critical role played by the state in leading, organizing and managing the mobilization of belligerent societies, and the state’s transformations have testified to the impact of industrialized warfare. Since the late 1980s, however, the cultural turn that largely accounts for the renewal and dynamism of First World War studies has shifted the emphasis away from the wartime state and its operations. Its study relatively suffered as a result. This article aims to bring the state back into the centre of the historiographical discussion, since its transformations testified to the nature and political impact of industrialized warfare. The article therefore focuses on three critical aspects of the relationship between state and society: the deployment of coercion, the expression of national solidarity and the redefinition of sovereignty. It demonstrates how the logic of mass participation in modern warfare transformed both the contours and the foundations of the state. To do so, the article draws on a renewed engagement with social scientific literature and the sociology of the state in particular.