Theory of Origin of State

Topics: Agriculture, Amazon River, Amazon Basin Pages: 13 (5539 words) Published: January 12, 2013
A Theory of the Origin of the State “Traditional theories of state origins are considered and rejected in favor of a new ecological hypothesis.” Robert L. Carneiro For the first 2 million years of his existence, man lived in bands or vil-lages which, as far as we can tell, were completely autonomous. Not until perhaps 5000 B.C. did villages begin to aggregate into larger political units. But, once this process of aggregation began, it continued at a progressively faster pace and led, around 4000 B.C., to the formation of the first state in history. (When I speak of a state I mean an autonomous political unit, encompassing many communities with-in its territory and having a centralized government with the power to collect taxes, draft men for work or war, and decree and enforce laws.) Although it was by all odds the most far-reaching political development in human history, the origin of the state is still very imperfectly understood. In-deed, not one of the current theories of the rise of the state is entirely satis-factory. At one point or another, all of them fail. There is one theory, though, which I believe does provide a con-vincing explanation of how states began. It is a theory which I proposed once before (1), and which I present here more fully. Before doing so, however it seems desirable to discuss, if only briefly, a few of the traditional theories. Explicit theories of the origin of the state are relatively modern. Classical writers like Aristotle, unfamiliar with other forms of political organization, tended to think of the state as "nat-ural," and therefore as not requiring an explanation. However, the age of exploration, by making Europeans aware that many peoples throughout the world lived, not in states, but in independent villages or tribes, made the state seem less natural, and thus more in need of explanation. Of the many modern theories of state origins that have been proposed, we can consider only a few. Those with a racial basis, for example, are now so thoroughly discredited that they need not be dealt with here. We can also reject the belief that the state is an expression of the "genius" of a people (2), or that it arose through a "historical accident." Such notions make the state appear to be something metaphysical or adventitious, and thus place it beyond scientific understanding. In my opinion, the origin of the state was neither mysterious nor fortuitous. It was not the product of "genius" or the result of chance, but the outcome of a regular and determinate cultural process. Moreover, it was not a unique event but a recurring phenomenon: states arose independently in different places and at different times. Where the appropriate conditions existed, the state emerged. Voluntaristic Theories Serious theories of state origins are of two general types: voluntaristic and coercive. Voluntaristic theories hold that, at some point in their history, certain peoples spontaneously, ration-ally, and voluntarily gave up their in-dividual sovereignties and united with other communities to form a larger political unit deserving to be called a state. Of such theories the best known is the old Social Contract theory, which was associated especially with the name of Rousseau. We now know that no such compact was ever subscribed to by human groups, and the Social Con-tract theory is today nothing more than a historical curiosity. The most widely accepted of moder voluntaristic theories is the one I call the "automatic" theory. According to this theory, the invention of agriculture automatically brought into being a sur-plus of food, enabling some individuals to divorce themselves from food pro-duction and to become potters, weav-ers, smiths, masons, and so on, thus creating an extensive division of labor. Out of this occupational specialization there developed a political integration which united a number of previously independent communities into a state. This argument was set forth most fre-quently by the late...
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