The origin of the state

Forces in State-building the origin of the state. The exact origin of political me cannot be historically determined, since the first subjection of man to some sort of authority must have existed in the earliest beginnings of social life and the search for these beginnings carries us back to periods of human development of which we have no accurate knowledge. The human race is highly gregarious, and its evolution was made possible by the formation of social units of various types. Like other social institutions, the state arose from many sources and under various conditions, and it emerged almost imperceptibly.

No clear cut division can be made between earlier forms of social organizations that were not states and later forms that were states, the one shading off gradually into the other. However, in the light of the huts presented by the earliest archaeological and literary records and interpreted by analogy with the customs of peoples now living in the lowest stages of civilization, some conclusions concerning the Origin of the state may be reached.

Certain tendencies seem permanent in human life. One is the social nature of man, his tendency to live in groups Another is the segregation of kind, the tendency to form groups based on some from of similarity or common interest, such groups may be based on kinship , locality, age, sex, occupation, rank, wealth and many other distinctions. Such groups perform various functions and control certain aspects of social life. There is also the tendency toward integration, toward the subjection of individuals and groups to a common unity and authority for the regulation of the common interests of the larger group, and for the protection of this group from other similar groups.

This latter tendency treated the state. At first its governmental organization was simple and the extent of its control comparatively slight but the establishment of a public authority for the maintenance of an orderly existence and for common protection created a political society, which developed later by elaborating in governmental organization and extending its control over additional interests and activities.

Aside from those influences of the physical environment that caused men to aggregate in certain places, that separated one group from another and that created ethnic similarities among individuals of the group, thus paying the way for state formation, the most important forces that have contributed to the origin of the state are

  1.  Kinship,
  2.  Religion,
  3. Industry,
  4. War.

These factors are all fundamental and permanent in human life. They arose from the nature of man and his needs. Each tended to create that unity and organization which the state requires, and that realization of common interests and needs which is the subjective basis of the state. The existence of all these forces in early social groups explains, in part, both the reasons for state origin and the form in which it first emerged.


What is known of the early history of mankind in dicates that social organization was closely connected with kinship. Not individuals, but groups of individuals who considered themselves of the same blood, formed the units. The primitive family took various forms, ranging from a condition approaching promiscuity to restricted groups within which intermarriage was forbidden. Descent was traced through the mothers only At a later stage stage of development, usually associated with the domestication of animals and the adoption of pastoral life, the patriarchal family appears.

In this form descent is traced through males, and authority is vested in the oldest living male ancestor of the group. The patriarchal family consisted of the father, his wives, his unmarried daughters, his sons with their wives and families. together with the slaves and other property. The authority of the patriarch was absolute. The sons had no rights except of their father’s granting, and the property and even the lives of the family were at his disposal.

Many matters now regulated by law were in the hands of the head of the family and the family as a unit was often held responsible for offenses committed by one of its members. Combined families tracing their descent to a common male ancestor, formed a clan, over which a chief kinsman exercised authority. The main function of this group was to perpetuate the worship of deceased ancestors.

It is probably not true, as was formerly believed, that the state developed directly from the patriarchal family. The family was a social, rather than a political, unit its members were virtually chattels of the head of the family, rather titan citizens and the interests and authority of the family were essentially private, rather than public. The state developed more directly from the tribe, a large unit composed of many families, and governed by a chief, whose right to command was based largely on personal prowess.

Moreover, the tribe was based, not on kinship, but on the need for the protection of common interests and the settlement of disputes that arose concerning them, and especially on the need for concerted action for offense and defense in case of war. Nevertheless, the earliest states retained many traces of the patriarchal family and incorporated some of its principles and forms of organization into their political life.

The tie of kinship strengthened the feeling of unity and solidarity which is essential to political life. In the authority of the chief, especially in settling disputes, reappeared many of the powers of the patriarch and in some cases the same man held both offices. The advisory council that assisted the chief was frequently composed of the heads of the various family groups.

The principle of heredity by which authority passed from father to son, has played an important part in political life. Likewise, the principle that age, which gives experience and wisdom, gives also the tight to rule, is based on the patriarchal principle, and has frequently appeared in political organization. The words “senate (Latin senex, or “old man”) and “alderman” suggest the part played originally by age in the council of advisers besides admission into the early tribal states was frequently accompanied by the fiction of adoption into the family, so that the principle of blood relationship might be maintained. The part played by the family in the early political organization of Rome. and in the contest between the patricians and the Plebeians, illustrates the importance of kinship in politics.

Kinship, therefore, both strengthened the bond of unity and contributed to the form of political organization in early states, and many of its features survived to modern times. The theory that the authority of the political ruler was derived from the original patriarchal authority of the father has frequently appeared as a support of absolute monarchy.

Belief in descent from a common ancestor was a frequent tradition in early states and the fact that rights and obligations were respected only among people of the same blood, and that strangers were viewed as enemies, shows the strength of the kinship feeling. The children of Abraham considered themselves God’s chosen People all others were Gentiles; while to the Greeks all non-Greeks were barbarians. A modified form of this spirit still survives in modern nationalism. Personal relations were more important than the territorial basis in early states. Early rulers were lords of their people, not of their land.

Political organizations and organizations based on kinship, therefore, existed side by side in primitive society, the former often incorporating certain features of the latter into their systems, or using them for certain purposes. The process of development by which political organization extended its functions and gradually subordinated the other social unit: to its authority was not uniform in all parts of the earth.

The main factors in this development, however, were war the strengthening of the territorial basis of authority, especially in connection with territorial expansion the differentiation of social classes the rise of property and of economic distinctions; and the growth in the power and prestige of the political rulers and their assistants, who came to form a privileged bureaucracy. Finally, the state emerged as the all inclusive and supreme, or sovereign, form of organization, and brought all individuals and associations within its territory under its control.


Closely connected with kinship as a force in state building stood religion. Early man, surrounded by phenomena which his limited intelligence could not understand, interpreted them as manifestations of supernatural beings, whose wrath must be averted or help secured by gifts or sacrifices and by acts of ceremony and worship.The chief mysteries were the phenomena of nature and of man himself. The former led to the worship of inanimate objects or of the unseen spirits that were supposed to manifest themselves in objects or natural phenomena. This primitive form of religion, called animism, was accompanied by fetishism, a superstitious belief in the effectiveness of material objects, and later took the form of nature worm ship, often developing into a beautiful mythology.

The mysteries of human life birth, death, sleep, dreams, and all the psychological problems which even today are little understood were vastly more wonderful to primitive men. Their attempts at explanation led to the belief that every person was accompanied by another self, or spirit, which after death remained near his body and demanded sacrifices or ceremonies lest it become an evil demon.

The spirit of the powerful patriarch was especially important, and the cult of worshiping deceased ancestors became general. Tribal solidarity and the inviolability of custom and discipline were enforced by a religion common to all members of the group and by the authority Of a long line of divine ancestors. The authority of the patriarch Over the property, conduct, and lives of his people was strength Ended by his position as high priest of a family religion in which outsiders were allowed no share. In course of time a class of medicine men or priests grew up, charged with the special care of the sacred rites, and their authority was placed behind the Observance of customary rules of law.

Kinship and religion were therefore two aspects of the same thing, and the unity and obligations of the group were given religious sanction. The power that such ideas exerted in Strengthening the unity of the group, the authority of its chief mid the sanctity of its customs can scarcely be appreciated today. When a sense of political obligation was first realized, the ideas Of religious sanction, observance of long standing customs, and obedience to law were not distinguished.

Whatever rules were Obeyed were believed to be the will of the gods, who could inflict evil upon those who disregarded them. Early religion however, was narrow and local. As tribes expanded by incorporation or conquest, the bonds of kinship and of ancestor ship necessarily weakened, in spite of adoption and the fiction of common origin frequently found in early states. Nature worship was better adapted to large areas and diverse peoples and to the growing territorial basis of the state and its development, mingled with remnants of the old family worship and with legends of tribal heroes, still formed a common national religion that served as a sanction for government and law.

The value of religion in the evolution of the state can scarcely be overestimated. In the earliest and most difficult periods of political development religion alone could subordinate barbaric anarchy and teach reverence and obedience. Thousands of years were needed to create that discipline and submission to authority on which all successful government must rest, and the chief means in the early part of the process were theocracies and despotisms, based mainly on the supernatural sanctions of religion.

The importance of religion as a force in state evolution was not limited to the earliest states alone. The priestly class has been powerful in government and politics throughout all history, and the theory of the divine right of kings has only recently been abandoned as the chief support of the authority of rulers. Long after the ties of kinship had been forgotten or merged in the general feeling of nationality, common religious beliefs were sufficient to unite peoples, to support dynasties, and to create states.


In addition to the bonds of kinship and religion, other forces existed, which, even in the absence of these, would probably have necessitated some form of organization and authority. No aggregation of people could long exist without some forms of association, of communication, and cooperation. In those parts of the earth where population became numerous such conditions were particularly necessary. Increasing contact of man with man compelled some sort of regulation concerning personal relations, even if at first it were nothing more than the enforced subjection of the weak to the strong, or the combination of several against a common enemy. The economic activities by which men secured food and shelter, and later accumulated Property and wealth, were important factors in state building.

Even the crudest forms of economic life demanded a certain amount of cooperation under recognized rules. Organized hunts were undertaken by hunting groups, with the proceeds shared according to generally understood arrangements. Pastoral life made possible an increased accumulation of property, a greater division of labour, and a greater differentiation of social classes based on wealth. Laws concerning theft and inheritance appeared, and the predominance of males over females was given a marked impetus.

Agriculture made possible an increased population in a given area, bound men to the soil in a fixed place of abode, made land the chief form of wealth, and increased the economic value of a slave class. It increased social distinctions based on wealth, and necessitated a growing body of law to settle disputes over property. The exchange of goods gave a stimulus to craftsmanship and developed commerce. It further differentiated occupations and classes, necessitated standards of value, created new forms of wealth, broke down the isolation of early groups, and substituted peaceful for warlike intercourse. New forms of organization and an increasing body of regulations resulted from this process and from the concentration of population in villages and cities.

The economic activities of early peoples, therefore contributed to the origin of the state in several ways. Differences in occupation and in wealth created social classes or castes and the domination of one class by another for purposes of economic exploitation was an important factor in the rise of government. As wealth increased and the idea of private property developed laws were needed for the protection and regulation of property rights and the settlement of property disputes.

However the early patriarchal form of organization that resulted from ties of kinship and religion and from primitive economic activities differed in several respects from the more purely political form of association that grew up later.

1. It was personal. not territorial. Membership in the con mutiny was based on kinship, real or fictitious, rather than on residence in a common area. Law and jurisdiction went with persons, not with the land.

2. It was exclusive. Strangers could be admitted only by adoption or as slaves. There was no desire for large numbers, and the Wholesale admission of aliens, as permitted by modern states, would have been inconceivable.

3. It was noncompetitive. Life, even in its details, was regulated by custom. The idea of change or progress was looked on with disfavor.

4. It was communal. In modern states authority deals with individuals in patriarchal society it dealt with groups. Interdependence rather than independence was the ideal. Freedom and rights were the possession of the group rather than of the individual.

War :

The development of political institutions, as distinguished from earlier family religious, and economic groups, was largely the result of migration and conquest and the new form of organization was essentially military in character. An association was created which united the population within a given area into an aggregate which functioned as a unit, regardless of other social affiliations or subordinate types of social groups.

The tie of kinship was thereby weakened and the territorial bond of union was strengthened. Earlier local and family religions were replaced by more general forms of worship in which target and more diverse groups could be united. A coercive force, exercised by a person or a group of persons, sometime temporarily in case of necessity, but gradually growing stronger and more permanent, developed into political sovereignty; and the sentiment to the rulers and to the group was established and sanctified the form of organization that resulted from this process was the tribe.

In contrast to the family, which was primarily a kinship group, and to the clan, which was essentially a religious group, the tribe existed for the purpose of offense and defense against other tribes. Community of religion in the tribe was rather an outward symbol of its unity than the basis upon which it was founded.

In contrast to the patriarchal head of the family group, who was determined by birth and who ruled as the owner of the persons subject to his authority, the chief of the tribe was selected voluntarily by its members, or at least derived his right to rule from the agreement and acquiescence of his Subjects.

His ruler ship was based on personal qualifications, especially ability as a leader in war; and his duties were mainly direction in time of war and judgment of disputes in time of peace. Sometimes he might also be the head of the tribal religion ; again, the religious organization might develop its priestly class distinct from the political organization.

In its beginnings political organization was simple, and the extent to which it controlled the acts of individual members was comparatively slight; but, once established, the tribe and its authority furnished a beginning from which the modern state could develop, by elaborating its governmental organization and extending its control over a wider field of human interests and activities. Its executive and judicial functions were first expanded; finally the exercise of direct legislative authority enabled it to develop into the sovereign political unit which practically monopolizes the legal right to employ physical coercion.

Concerted action for defense or aggression strengthened the solidarity of the group and increased the authority of its organization. The results of conflict demanded regulation concerning the relation of conqueror to conquered and the division of Spoils. Successful leadership in war created a ruling military class, and elevated the military head to a position of political supremacy.

The other forms of organization, based on kinship, religion, and economic activities survived and left their traces in the principle of heredity and in the powers exercised in government by the priestly class and by the wealthy aristocracy. The political organization, however, subordinated the other form of association to its final control, and demanded from all their members an ultimate loyalty.

Evolutionary Nature of State Origin.

Obviously no definite Step in the history of civilization can be pointed out as the origin of the state. While a general ethnic grouping probably occurred before the stale arose, and men sometimes developed a type of family life before they formed political communities, yet even when family grouping was uncertain, elements of the same often appeared.

As soon as man rose from the earliest stages of savagery, the need for order and protection for person and property, in the relation of man mart Within the group, and of group to group in peaceful and warlike contact, made some form of law, and of government to enforce that law, inevitable. Religious and political authority were for a long time not differentiated, and organization, even when comparatively highly developed, might be for purposes of economic cooperation or temporary military need.

However, the general process by which states were formed is fairly definite. It was marked by a growing separation of political ideas from those that were more broadly racial or religious. It emphasized the territorial rather than the personal basis of unity. At the same time political organization became more authoritative. Its functions were subdivided and its parts became more closely interrelated. Custom, enforced by religion, grew into law, enforced and finally created by governmental authority. Political consciousness developed and patriotism, replacing declining family and religious ties, indicated the new spirit of unity.

A number of causes aided this transition:

Possession of permanent abodes, owing largely to the change from pastoral to agricultural life, with resultant increase in property and in population, demanded protection and adjudication which the earlier kinship system was often unable to furnish. Seldom did the state arise without a considerable mixture of peoples. Both peaceful assimilation and conquest required compromises regarding rights and duties, and emphasized the relation of the individual to the whole rather than to his own narrow group especially in case of war did political aspects develop.

The patriarch, whose authority was formerly unquestioned, was often unfitted to lead the hosts, and a more vigorous warrior, chosen for this purpose, retained large powers, if successful. Under changing conditions, decisions concerning disputed points and new rulings on questions unprovided or in tribal customs created new concepts of law and sovereignty. As the duties of government increased, its organization became more elaborate and more consciously political.

A subjective feeling of unity created a psychological basis for political existence, and the expression of this unity in a ruling political organization created the State Once established, the state created its own tradition to secure its permanent support; and it’s rulers determined to maintain and expand their powers because of the material and social interests and honors that their position gave them.

The transition from ethnic to political organization did not take place uniformly or reach everywhere identical results. The time required for the process, and the remnants of former family and religious bonds, depended on the circumstances in which each state was formed. The organization of government, the attitude of the people to their rulers, and the relations existing among neighboring states all varied in different times and places.

The chief fact upon which emphasis must be laid is that the state is a gradual and natural historic evolution. It was neither the gift of divine power nor the deliberate work of man. Its beginnings are lost in that shadowy past in which social institutions were unconsciously arising, and its development has followed the general laws of evolutionary growth.

Stagnation and Progress:

Several of the causes that created the state tended to discourage further change or growth. It is therefore not surprising that the earliest states made few permanent contributions to political ideas, and that it was only after long and tedious evolution that the difficult problems of government approached solution. The warm climates in which social progress began were not conducive to energy and large populations, making labor and life of little value, minimized the importance of the individual and prevented initiative and ambition.

In fact, the very conditions that at first were most necessary became later the greatest evils. That which was most needed in the formation of the state was discipline and organization. Primitive man must subordinate his anarchic selfishness and learn obedience. Under these conditions the groups with the best family systems the strongest religious bonds, and the most rigid customs survived at the expense of more loosely organized groups.

Early states arose and maintained themselves only by perfecting their discipline, by making the rule of the patriarch or chief absolute, the sanction of religion and custom inviolable Stagnation, however, is the fate of any organization that fails to adapt itself to changing conditions; and the ideals which the infancy of political society created formed a system of caste, of custom, of superstition, and of despotism that still controls a large part of the earth. Progress is a recent and, in many respect, an exceptional idea.

It has been in comparatively recent times, and in a part of the earth only, that the fixity of early ideas has been replaced by the ideal of progress, and that the modern state has developed. This was made possible by the gradual spread of civilization west ward and by the movements of peoples. Aside from the natural advantages of the new environment, mere change of scene and of conditions Opened the minds and modified the customs of the new comers.

The contact of tribe with tribe slowly but powerfully affected the ideas of both. New institutions were imitated by some and forced upon others. Change once begun, further change took place more rapidly. In the fermentation of ideas resulting from these movements and conquests, the way for the first time was opened for individual initiative. Under new conditions men disregarded the authority of former conventions and success was followed by further experiment and improvement.

The contact of peoples, with the resultant mingling of conquest, broke down the unity of kinship ; and the narrow tribal religion was replaced by a belief less powerful as it became more cosmopolitan. Thus the bonds of custom that lettered early states were broken by war and by new condition! of life. The idea of individual enterprise and the possibility of conscious change and reform arose, preparing the way for new forms of government and for vastly different ideas of individual liberty

This progress has taken different form and has proceeded with varying rapidity among different peoples. In general, it has been marked by the increasing control of man over the natural environment and by the growing intellectual ability and social organization of the population. Physical ties of kinship have been replaced by psychological ties of nationality as the basis for state formation, and religious and political functions have become more definite and distinct. In this process, law and authority have taken on a human rather than a supernatural sanction and the need for order and protection, owing to the increasing complexity of economic and social life, has become the chief reason for political life.

At the same time, unconscious evolution has given way to purposeful action; and, utter numerous costly experiments, men have learned how to extend governing authority safely over wide areas and how to entrust governing powers safely to a large proportion of the people. In this way authority and liberty have been reconciled, and the state, no longer looked upon with dread as a tyrannous monster, has entered upon a constantly widening sphere of usefulness. Many peoples have contributed to this progress; and modem states, building upon the foundations of the past, are still occupied with the effort to adjust political institutions of changing conditions of civilization.

Theories of State Origin:

Various attempts have been made to explain in a speculative manner the method by which the state came into existence. These theories were concerned, not primarily with the actual historical process of state origin, but rather with a rational explanation of the way in which the state may have been supposed to originate. These theories were put forward for the purpose of explaining and justifying the existence and authority of the state. They were attempts to give rational answers to the questions of why men lived in political organization, of why they should submit to political authority, and of what limits should be placed to such authority. Among the most important of such theories were the following:

1. The force theory:

The theory of force held that the state came into existence as a result of the forced subjection of the weak to the strong. One group of thinkers used this theory to justify the state on the ground that the state is power, that might makes right and that the essence of the state is a sovereign will. Another group of thinkers used this theory to attack the state because of its injustice and to urge individual freedom and limited state action. The theologians of the Middle Ages argued that the state was based upon force and injustice, and decried the origin of earthly sovereignty in order to subordinate temporal to spiritual power. Individualists and anarchists believe that the state is an evil, because of their desire for individuals freedom. Socialists argue that the state resulted from the aggression and exploitation of laborers by capitalists; and attack, not |the idea of the state itself, but the particular form of the present state, which they ascribe to its iniquitous origin,

2. The natural theory:

The natural theory viewed man as a political animal, and the state as a natural result of the instinct of sociability. It justified the state as a necessity determined by the very nature of man. It was not the creation of man but an inevitable and natural result of human nature. Accordingly, man could have no existence outside the state. His interests and those of the state were identical, and the state needed no further justification. A modification of this theory viewed the state as arising to meet the essential needs of man, and justified it on the grounds of its usefulness. The purpose of the state was to promote general welfare, and it was justified in taking any action that would be conducive to justice and the general good.

3. The divine theory:

During a large part of human history the state was viewed as of direct divine creation, and its government was theocratic in nature. In the early Oriental empires rulers claimed a divine right to control the affairs of their subjects and this light was seldom questioned. The Hebrews believed that their system was of divine origin, and that Jehovah took an active part in the direction of their public affairs

The rise of Christianity and the growth of the temporal power of the Catholic Church in the medieval period led to a bitter conflict between church and state and to an active discussion of the divine origin of political power. All were agreed that the ultimate source of authority was divine, but the supporters of the church declared that the Pope alone received his power directly from Goad. The Emperor, they held, received his authority indirectly through the Pope. The supporters of the state argued that the authority of the church should be limited strictly to spiritual affairs and that God delegated to rulers directly the control of temporal affairs.

The leaders of the Protestant Reformation gave further impetus to the theory of divine origin, and taught that civil authority is delegated by God to the temporal rulers and that subjects should give obedience. When the medieval conflict between church and state was replaced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by the contest within the state between king and people the controversy took a new form.

In opposition to the growing ideals of popular sovereignty and of the state as a deliberate creation of the people, the rulers again appealed to the theory of divine origin and looked to the church or support. Interest centered, not so much in the origin of political power itself as in the question of the persons by whom and the manner in which it could rightfully be exercised.

Those who supported royal power argued that God had delegated authority directly to kings, and that resistance to royal power was sin. Even after the success of the popular revolutions by which modem democracy was established, the idea of the “divinity that doth hedge a king” continued to exert a considerable influence upon the ideas of the people.

4. The social contract theory:

The social contract theory starts with the assumption that man lived originally in a “state of nature,” antecedent to the formation of political organization. In this condition he was subject only to such rules of natural law as are prescribed by nature itself, and was the possessor of natural rights. This primitive condition he was compelled to abandon, either, as some held, because it was too idyllic to last, or, as others held, because it was too inconvenient or terrible to be tolerated. In its plant: men deliberately formed an agreement, or contract, by which they set up a body politic.

Submitting to the control of all, they received in return the protection of all, thus losing their natural liberty but receiving in return Security. Human law replaced natural law, and each individual became the possessor of political rights and obligations. The Mate was thus of deliberate human creation, and authority Wag derived from the consent of the people.

while none of these earlier theories gives a satisfactory explanation of the actual historical and evolutionary nature of political origins, nevertheless each contributes elements of value. The, force theory overemphasizes one factor in state origin, but points out the important fact that the state, unlike all Other associations of mankind possesses the physical power to compel obedience. Force and power are distinctive Characteristics of the state, and war has played a prominent part in state origin and development.

The natural theory, while explaining neither the actual influences that created the state nor the nature of the process, emphasizes the important fact that the state is not an artificial creation but an inevitable and, at first, largely unconscious result of man’s nature and needs. The divine theory, while used mainly to bolster the claims of rulers and of churchmen, nevertheless suggests the moral responsibility of political authority and points out the important part played by religion in the early period of political life.

The social contract theory. While historically inaccurate, suggests the value of consent as a mythological basis for the spirit of unity necessary for state existence, as well as the necessity that law should be “natural” in the sense that it should represent accepted principles of justice and correspond to the needs of human nature and the circumstances of its time and place. This theory supported the revolutions by which tyrannical governments were overthrown and served as a basis for the growth of modern democracy.

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