The Rise of State-Level Society Essay
Human beings lived in bands or villages for the first 2 million years of their existence. It was not until about 5,000 BC that these settlements started to merge into larger political units.
The process of amalgamation continued at a progressively faster pace, resulting in the formation of the first state in history at around 4,000 BC. The rise of the state-level society is said to be the most important – but very misunderstood – political development in human history.It is true that this phenomenon introduced several practices and institutions that are being observed in present-day society, such as the centralized form of government, collection of taxes, drafting men for work or war and the decreeing and enforcement of laws. However, most established theories behind the origin of the state-level society are often vague and circuitous. They elucidate the presence of the state-level society in abstract, philosophical terms, rather than in concrete and rational ideas.
Classical thinkers cannot be blamed for coming up with ambiguous theories following the emergence of the state-level society. Aristotle, for one, was unfamiliar with other forms of political organization. Thus, he argued that the state is a “natural” phenomenon that requires no explanation at all. Like-minded intellectuals portrayed the state-level society as something metaphysical or adventitious – it was either a manifestation of a people’s “genius” or a “historical accident. ”At present, major premises behind the origins of the state-level society are classified into two general types: voluntaristic and coercive.
Voluntaristic theories argued that certain peoples, at some point in history, formed a larger political unit deserving to be called a state by spontaneously, rationally and voluntarily giving up their individual sovereignties and uniting with other communities. Coercive theories, meanwhile, believed that war transformed autonomous villages into states. Force – not enlightened self-interest – was the primary mechanism that induced this political evolution.Karl Wittfogel’s hydraulic hypothesis is a current example of the voluntaristic theory of state origins.
Through this conjecture, he argued that the need for extensive irrigation works brought the state into being. Village farmers in certain arid and semiarid areas of the world struggled to maintain agriculture by way of small-scale irrigation. But they eventually realized that merging individual autonomies into a single large political unit would produce officials that could devise and administer to broader and more extensive irrigation structures.The importance of government in the aforementioned regions became even more pronounced when the concept of big productive water works shifted from irrigation to flood control. Because productive agriculture required substantial and centralized works of water control, government officials in charge of farming and water management inevitably monopolized the economy, political power and societal leadership of their respective countries. Japan, for instance, managed to establish a simpler version of medieval European feudalism through hydroagriculture.
Hydroagricultre in pre-Hellenistic Greece, meanwhile, resulted in aristocratic and democratic ways of life. Simply put, the combination of a hydraulic agriculture and a hydraulic government produced a single-centered society that focused itself on improving their farming-based economy. In the process, the advance of strong competitive forces such as self-governing guild cities, a feudal knighthood and an autonomous church were prevented. People did not see the need for divisive factions, as all of them were entirely dependent on hydroagriculture for survival.
Every process, from digging and re-digging ditches and furrows to flood control, was a community effort. Hydraulic tribes such as the Suk and Chaggs of East Africa and the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico required all able-bodied males to participate in ditch construction. The same mobilization pattern was customary in small, state-centered hydraulic civilizations like Bali and the early Mesopotamian and Indian city-states – the only exception was that their ditch workers came from commoner families.In larger hydraulic civilizations, however, the development of irrigation involved not only the agglomeration of large numbers of men, but also the formation of a bureaucracy.
In Oriental hydraulic civilizations, for instance, there were permanent offices and officials tasked with planning, record-keeping, communication and supervision. Wittfogel’s hydraulic hypothesis reflected his interests in Marxism and the analysis of nature. Hydraulic hypothesis was said to be based on Karl Marx’s Asiatic mode of production.According to the latter, irrigation agriculture was the means of production prior to the advent of capitalism. Although the peasants directly owned the land, they only did so in the sense that they belonged to a village community. The ruling class still appropriated surplus labor in the form of taxes.
Wittfogel’s hydraulic hypothesis took the concept of the Asiatic mode of production to a higher level by arguing that the necessity for large-scale irrigation brought about the despotic-bureaucratic state machine.Enormous irrigation structures required a gigantic bureaucracy in order to coordinate the activity of hundreds of thousands of workers. In the process, “a state stronger than society” was formed. This apparatus was tasked to exploit natural resources through the monopolization of the labor force. However, Wittfogel’s theory is not without flaws. For one, archaeological evidence has shown that Mesopotamia, China and Mexico – the areas that he used to exemplify the hydraulic hypothesis – had already progressed much even before they discovered large-scale irrigation.
In addition, some critics pointed out that communities have traditional, informal means of allowing large-scale irrigation without interference from a state apparatus. Although the direct involvement of the state in intensive agriculture is undeniable, there have been some instances when this obviously did not happen. A careful assessment of history, however, suggests that the coercive theory is responsible for the rise of the state. For this conjecture, war is the root cause of the transition from autonomous villages to the state.
This philosophy is not a new one – the Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote 2,500 years ago that “war is the father of all things. ” Less than a hundred years ago, thinkers such as Herbert Spencer, Ludwig Gumplowicz, Gustav Ratzenhofer and Franz Oppenheimer likewise conducted their own studies on the role of warfare in the rise of the state. Oppenheimer, for example, asserted that the conquest of pastoral nomads by settled agriculturists resulted in the emergence of the state. This phenomenon actualized the state by combining the energy of the former with the productive capacity of the latter.
His theory was a reflection of the prevailing socio-political belief during his time – the state used warfare to satisfy economic impulses. Critics often argued that World War I and World War II were both carried out in order to expand Western markets overseas. These hostilities likewise revived slumped Western economies by increasing production and employment. A growth in production and employment stimulated consumption by increasing the purchasing power of consumers.
But Oppenheimer’s theory has two serious flaws.First, it overlooked the fact that some states, such as those in aboriginal America, rose even in the absence of pastoral nomadism. Second, it has now been proven that it was not after the emergence of the earliest states in the Old World that pastoral nomadism was practiced in the region. Thus, pastoral nomadism was not a key component for the formation of the state. Despite discrepancies in particular coercive theories, their ideas in general are still not without validity – areas such as India, Egypt, Rome, Greece and Peru contained historical or archaeological evidences of war in their early stages of state formation.
But while there is little debate over the decisive role of war in the rise of the state, there is still an exception to this. It must be noted that there were wars in various parts of the world that did not result in the emergence of the state. War, therefore, is a necessary – but not sufficient – prerequisite for the materialization of the state. To be more specific, war either produced or was a result of several underlying conditions, which, in turn, gave rise to the state.
The first condition was environmental circumscription.Regions in which states were formed indigenously – locations including the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates and Indus valleys – have mountains, seas or deserts that sharply restrict agriculture. Thus, people in these areas fought one another over arable land. In the long run, war became a means of obtaining land. Warfare increased as land shortages persisted and became even more pronounced.
Worsening the situation was that the competing units had shifted from small villages to large chiefdoms. Political units rapidly grew in size and lessened in number as chiefdoms attempted to conquer one another.The strongest chiefdom eventually united the entire valley, turning it into a sufficiently centralized and complex political unit called a state. The process of acquiring territories brought about the second condition – political evolution. The expansion of a successful state requires administration of conquered peoples and territory.
Hence, the individuals who have distinguished themselves in war were tasked with maintaining law and order, collecting taxes and mobilizing labor for the construction of irrigation works, roads, fortresses, palaces and temples.The prisoners taken in war, on the other hand, became the servants and slaves of their captors. In the process, the concept of social class was developed. The war heroes, along with the ruler and his kinsmen, became the upper class, while the slaves and the servants constituted the lower class.
The third condition was resource concentration. States such as those found near the Amazon River and in Peru have specific areas where food sources were abundant. But while the supply was plentiful, it was not unlimited.Consequently, the sharp rise in population in these regions led to shortages both in food and in land. People eventually resorted to war to compete for scarce resources. The outcome of this competition, in turn, gave rise to the state.
The fourth and the last condition was social circumscription. Napoleon A. Chagnon came up with this concept while studying the Yanomamo Indians of Venezuela. The idea of “social circumscription” referred to his theory that high population density in a particular area can produce effects on neighboring regions that are similar to those caused by environmental circumscription.Simply put, overpopulation depletes the resources not only of the affected area, but also those of surrounding regions.
Chagnon’s studies on the Yanomamo revealed that their villages that are located at the center of Yanomamo territory are built closer together than those found at the periphery. Thus, wars are more common and more severe among villages at the center than those at the peripheral areas. Furthermore, the inhabitants of Yanomamo villages at the nuclear area have a more restricted ability to move because of their location.Therefore, it is more difficult for them to escape by moving away.
The aforementioned setup, however, is conducive to the formation of a state – a large and strong nuclear area has provided the Yanomamos both a central government and an advantage for both attack and defense in times of war. But high population density at the center of Yanomamo territory could likewise cause wars over problems such as land shortage. The defeated villages at the nuclear area will have no other choice but to flee to regions at the periphery.As a result, wars would also erupt at the periphery villages due to competition over scarce resources. The formation of the state-level society is one of the hallmarks of human evolution. As soon as the state-level society was formed, the creation of other social institutions such as the government, church and the family followed.
For the first time, human beings became civilized. Although they had to surrender some of their individual freedoms, they received more benefits such as norms, institutions and innovations that improved their way of life.Numerous theories attempted to explain the reasons for the emergence of the state-level society. Karl Wittfogel’s hydraulic hypothesis argued that the state-level society was formed out of the need for people to unite and create irrigation structures that would improve agriculture.
The coercive theory, meanwhile, believed that war was the major factor behind the emergence of the state. Despite differences in explanation, both conjectures agree on one thing – humans came up with the state-level society in order to better their standards of living.