The Physical Basis Of The State

Importance of the state’s physical basis: in the last analysis, all phenomena are manifestations of physical energy, and the activities of the state are no exception.Given the individuals that compose the state, the various combinations of these individuals that the natural environment in which they exist, and the interrelations among these, natural science will explain the state in its own terms. Without encroaching upon this field, political science may view the raw materials that the state is composed of and their influence on state formation and development. The analysis of the essential factors of the state has already indicated its physical basis.

Territory and population, or stated more broadly nature and man, are the foundation of man’s efforts may, of course, modify the influence that the contour of the earth’s surface would otherwise exert on states’ area. The maintenance for several centuries of Roman legions along the Rhine frontier served the same purpose at an impenetrable mountain barrier. It helped to explain the present separation between France and Germany.

On the other hand, man’s engineering skill, the development of transportation and communication, and improvements in the methods of government enable modern States to include several geographic unities, as the expansion of the United States bears witness. Even in early times, the Romans’ military genius and governing ability enabled them to establish a great empire regardless of geographic obstacles.

The mere question of size exercises considerable influence on state development. It was Rome’s expansion that checked her democratic tendencies and caused a reaction toward the centralized despotism of the Empire. The territorial growth of modern democracies has necessitated the present highly developed forms of representative government and federation.

2. The isolation of the physical basis of the state:

The earth’s configuration determines in large degree whether a state shall develop apart from external influences or whether it shall constantly have peaceful or hostile relations with other states. The Rhine boundary, the weak spot in France and Germany’s frontiers, has been the bone of contention between them and the battlefield of Europe.

With her excellent harbors and her coast fringed with islands, Greece was naturally led to intercourse, commerce, and colonization. Spain and England, both cut off by natural boundaries from neighboring states, worked out their political institutions with little interference, and each developed commerce, a navy, and a colonial empire. States such as Russia, France, and Germany, with powerful neighbors across weak frontiers, naturally maintain large armies. States sum as England, Japan, and the United States, protected by the sea from Powerful neighbors, depend primarily upon naval protection.

What a state gains in the way of protection by a natural frontier is partly offset by the danger of provincialism and internal stagnation, in the case of water boundaries by the dependence upon naval strength to maintain external relations. The wall that keeps others out also shuts those behind it in. An isolated state tends to develop a strong but narrow national spirit; a state with many external contacts becomes more cosmopolitan in its point of view.

The fall of Spain was brought about both by her internal narrowness and by the loss of her colonies due to naval decline. England, comparatively safe from invasion, must protect her commerce to avoid a similar fate. The body of water that separates Ireland from the remainder of the British Isles is largely responsible for the differences of nationality and religion and the feeling of hostility against England that the Irish retain.

The existence of mountains in Wales and Scotland have had somewhat similar effects upon the Unity of Great Britain. Customs and laws are affected by isolation. For example, Blackstone states that in the Isle of Man, take away a horse or ex was no felony. Still, a trespass, because of the difficulty in that little territory of concealing them or carrying them off but to steal a pig or a fowl, which could easily be consumed was a capital misdemeanor, and the offender was punished by death.

The arrangement of land and water areas largely determines the commercial importance of a state. When the Nile and Euphrates valleys were the seats of the empire, Phoenicia, the middle country facing the Mediterranean, was the great commercial power as civilization shifted westward and surrounded the Mediterranean. Greece and Rome, in turn, held the strategic position. The discovery of the New World and the growing importance of the Atlantic gave Spain, France. Holland and England’s advantages of the geographic location while present conditions, in the opening up of Pacific lands, find the United States, facing both oceans, in an enviable position.

The direction of external activity :

Social and physical movements tend to follow lines of least resistance to the arrangement of mountains, rivers, and seas, determining in large measure the trend of migration and conquest. With its chief mountain system on the west and with good harbors and numerous islands on the east, Greece naturally came into contact with the old and powerful Asian peoples.

Rome facing in the opposite direction, had early relations with Carthage and with the Gauls and other barbarians to the west. While not until late in her development, did she contact Greece, with whom she stood, as it were, back to back? As a result, Greece, compelled at first to wage defensive wars against powerful invaders, was thrown back upon herself and developed an internal life of remarkable energy Rome, thrown into relations with inferior peoples, naturally began her career of external conquest that resulted in worldwide dominion and an imperial form of government.

River valleys have always formed the easiest means of access to new lands and mountains, deserts, and the sea, the greatest barriers. St. Lawrence and Missionaries the French traders and missionaries to scattered settlements, while the Appalachian Mountains restricted the English colonists to a narrow strip of the coast for over a century. The resultant spirit of unity and common interests among the English colonists was manifested later.

Besides, it was no accident that the final clash between the English and French in America should occur over the possession of Ohio’s headwaters, one of the natural en~ trances into the western lands. The early migrations of peoples, the colonization of newly discovered areas, and the immigration of recent times have followed natural movement lines.

Civilization and culture and war and conquest expand in the directions where natural barriers least prevent social intercourse. In ancient times physical features determined the trails of savages and the routes of caravans. In modern times, cities’ location and the direction and nature of facilities for communication, travel, transportation, and trade have been fundamentally affected by geographic contour.


Climate, by which we mean especially natural conditions of light, heat, and moisture, affects the individuals that compose the state, rather than the state as a unit. However, it isn’t easy to separate its influence (tom that of the sail’s fertility and resultant animal and vegetables resources, which affect the group and the individual. In general, it may be said that climatic extremes of any kind interfere with the higher forms of state existence.

The dazzling brilliancy of reflected light from arctic snows or tropical deserts, the long nights of the polar regions, the extreme cold, which checks vigorous growth, the extreme heat, which enervates, the malarial marshes of rainy regions, the parched lands of rainless areas all these make existence and organized political life possible only in its undeveloped forms. All great states have arisen in areas where a temperate climate is combined with a moderate moisture amount.

While the earliest states emerged in a comparatively warm climate, where the bounty of nature furnished food in abundance and gave leisure for social development, the highest forms of state life arose in those cooler climates that stimulated energy continuous progress. A temperate climate also gives contrasted season, with resultant variety of activities which react sharply on one another and make for progress.

In general, a close correspondence obtains between climate and racial temperament, with important consequences in state life. People are energetic, provident, serious, thoughtful rather than emotional, cautious rather than impulsive in the colder temperate zone. The peoples of warm countries are easy-going, improvident, gay, emotional, and imaginative. A cold climate, where they struggle with nature for food is severe and where shelter is essential, gives an autumn tinge to life and has a steadying effect on the human heart and brain.

In warmer lands, where nature is generous, national life has the buoyancy and thoughtlessness of childhood, with its charm and its weaknesses. The tropical climate tends to relax the mental and moral fiber, induces indolence, self-indulgence, and various excesses, which lower the population’s physical tone. The political stability of northern peoples has often been contrasted with the instability of their southern neighbors.

A people’s ability to adjust itself to a climate different from that in which it originated has important effects on political life. The black race is not adapted to the rigors of life in a cold climate; its death rate increasing markedly as it moves into a winter zone. The white race finds it difficult to live in the tropics. As it expands its colonial policy, it is compelled to import a ruling class, constantly renewed the machine of governmental and economic exploitation being supported by a servile native population engaged in agriculture, which in the tropics is fatal to the white man. The Chinese’s ability to adapt to a wide climatic range gives them a marked advantage in the world’s political future.

The effect of climate on birth rate and the age of maturity influences the state indirectly. It has even been asserted that the type of crime in warm countries differs from that in cold countries.

In the former, where the population is dense, human life cheap, and the contact of man with man consequently great, crime takes the form of offenses against the person murder, assault, rape in colder climates, where sparser population brings man less in touch with his fellows, and where the means of overcoming nature are more important, crime takes chiefly the form of offenses against property.

As a result, different ideas of morality, influenced somewhat at least by climate, will prevail, which will affect the laws and organization of the state. While it is, of course, easy to push such reasoning to extremes, the truth remains that political existence, as one of the forms of social activity, is modified by every phase of the physical environment in which that activity takes place.

Natural Resources.

Natural products which man may apply directly to his wants are powerful factors in-state development:

1. Mineral resources:

In the early stages of civilization, mineral resources were so important that the terms “stone age,” “bronze age,” “iron age” is often used to characterize certain forms of culture. Some writers go so far as to interpret the entire progress of humanity in terms of the metals. From the standpoint of political life, those people who used weapons and tools of bronze or iron had enormous advantages over tribes that retained cruder implements of wood or stone and the conquest which naturally followed, necessitating closer organization and some form of rules to determine the relation of the conqueror to conquered, were powerful actors in the rise of government a d law.

Later, when gold and silver had become standards of value, these metals’ possession was eagerly sought. The desire for plunder been at the basis of many wars that have made unmade states search for gold underlay much of the early conquest and colonization in the New World, and the preeminence of Spain in European affairs during the sixteenth century Was due, in part, to the power brought her by the wealth of Mexico and Peru.

In the modern industrial age, deposits of coal and iron are essential. Those states fortunate enough to possess large quantities of these minerals, easy of access, have an enormous advantage. The present importance of oil is a factor in international affairs, owing to states’ efforts to secure a reserve supply of this mineral fuel for the future.

2. Vegetable resources :

The earliest states arose where nature furnished food in abundance. Their population became comparatively dense and stable, and man’s contact with man developed civilization and made political authority necessary. Rice, grains, and the date palm in the Old World, maize and the banana in the New World, formed the basis of existence at a time when a man was dependent upon nature for sustenance.

The great empires of Egypt, China, Babylon, India, Mexico, and Peru grew up in natural granaries. The less fertile soil of Greece compelled her to depend more and more upon commerce for her food supply, and her chief products, wine, and olive oil, commodities of large value in small bulk, thus serving as a means of exchange, facilitated such intercourse. England’s inability to furnish sufficient food for her present population is a fundamental factor in British political life and policy.

The pressure of population on the means of subsistence is based on the migrations of early peoples, the colonization of new lands as they were discovered, and the immigration of the present day. The thin soil of New England, and the abundance of timber naturally turned her to shipbuilding and trade as cotton became “king” in the South, the institution of Negro slavery was firmly fixed. Thus the American Revolution and the Civil War can be partially explained based on vegetation.

The struggle for the Spice Islands was the key to much European history in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, while more recently, the sugar situation in Cuba paved the way for our war with Spain and led indirectly to colonial expansion and imperialism; coffee is an important factor in the politics of Brazil and control of the world’s supply of rubber is an element in present world politics.

3. Animal resources :

The game’s presence was an important factor in early development and upon whether this game was large and dangerous or small and timid depended on the amount of cooperation required, and thus, indirectly, the form of social. Organization. Where the horse, the cow, and the sheep existed, the transition from the hunting to the pastoral stage of economic development was possible, with resultant changes in social organization and this fact serves as at least a partial explanation of the advanced civilizations found at a comparatively early period in Asia and Europe. Domestication of animals marked a long stride toward permanent food supply and stable organization and, as it created a form of wealth, it necessitated some property regulation.

The absence of animals suitable for domestication and beasts of burden helps explain civilization’s comparative backwardness among the American Indians and Australia’s aborigines. The abundance of fish played an important part in the formation of the Hanseatic League, the rise of the Netherlands, and New England’s development. At the same time, North America’s fur bearing animals determined the French type of colonization in that region.

The part that the horse played in medieval feudalism has seldom been adequately appreciated. The development of sheep raising in England during the sixteenth century hastened the fundamental changes in economic and social life that marked the rise of modern democracy.

General Aspects of Nature :

Several writers have pointed out that the general aspects of nature influence man and society. In some parts of the earth, man is surrounded by nature in violent and terrible aspects. Earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, avalanches, great mountains, vast deserts, mighty rivers from the background of human life. Under these conditions, which appeal to man’s imagination rather than to his reason, man fears nature he hesitates to investigate and experiment he lacks self-reliance: his I religion becomes superstitious his art, monstrous his organization, despotic.

The course of civilization in India and Peru may serve as examples. On the other hand, certain parts of the Earth are on a smaller and more quiet scale. No awful phenomena hold a man in terror, and the mastery of man over natural forces progresses rapidly. In such circumstances, moderation, individualism, and reason develop art becomes beautiful, religion rational, and the state democratic. Such conditions ancient Greece and modern Europe exhibit. These results came in part mm the isolation of the former region and the accessibility of the latter.

Mountain areas discourage progress because they are isolated and confined, remote from the currents of men and ideas that move along the valleys.

They are regions of hard labor and little leisure, of poverty, and cramped minds. The fertile alluvial plains and river valleys are wealth, leisure, contact with many minds, and urban centers where commodities and ideas are exchanged. Such areas afford the Conditions of culture and progress.

Changes in Environment :

While the physical environment thus influences individuals and states, the subordination is not complete. The distinguishing feature of man is his ability to modify his environment. With the growth of intelligence comes the mastery of man over natural forces and more favorable conditions. Bridges and tunnels decrease the importance of natural boundaries, forestry, and irrigation to modify the climate.

As in England or Holland, the draining of swamps and the irrigation of arid lands, as in Egypt or the western United States, cannot fail to influence the life of the state there existing. With proper care, the soil’s quality may be completely Changed. Animals and plants may be made to flourish in parts Of the world remote from their original homes, and by cultivation and breeding, the value of species of plants and animals may be wonderfully increased. Almost all the arts and inventions that mark civilization’s progress are steps towards the increasing use or control of the natural environment.

By conquering nature, man escapes the constant fear of unknown danger and the uncertainty of food supply and attains security and leisure, both necessary for progress. The use of tools and weapons increases man’s natural strength and dexterity. Clothing and artificial shelter enable him to withstand climatic changes. Fire gives him warmth and light, better-prepared food, the means of working minerals, and, finally, artificial power.

Building upon the crude guesses of the early alchemist, the modern chemist analyzes the materials of which the earth is composed and recombines them for humanity’s convenience. Even the complex machinery of the present day, which performs intricate processes, is the logical result of that development, begun ages ago by primitive men, using which natural forces are utilized, and natural laws applied for human benefit.

The development of transportation is one of the most important means by which man has conquered nature. The growth of commerce and travel, the methods which make possible the transfer of commodities arid persons, rapidly and cheaply, from place to place, are breaking down man’s dependence upon geographic location, and the rise and fall of cities and states are largely determined by the lines of railways, canals, and ocean traffic.

Transmission of power, a result of the development of transportation, has far-reaching results. Not only may coal, wood, and oil be used as fuel where conditions are most favorable for human labor, but labor itself may be transported to places Where natural conditions are most advantageous. Recent developments in the transmission of electric power tend to reduce the importance of location. Finally, the transmission of information further reduces the importance of natural influences.

Telegraph, telephone, radio, and mail service cooperate to bind the earth into unity and make knowledge international. While nature still places certain limitations upon man’s activities, the progress of civilization is weakening those limits and making it more possible for man consciously to direct his own development and the forms of his institutions.

Certain natural factors that were important in the lives of early states are now of little influence because man has been able to modify or overcome them. However, other natural factors, such as coal, oil, and electricity, formerly of no effect, have recently become important in political life.

Navigation of the air has been perhaps the most important development of recent years in its political consequences. It has made distance less important and has overcome most of the obstacles of former geographic barriers. Flying at high altitudes and on the shortest routes, which in many cases are across the north polar regions, airships ignore the barrier of climate and make important, for strategic reasons, the land areas bordering the north arctic.

Air navigation has revolutionized warfare and diminished the importance of sea power States, such as Great Britain and the United States, formerly saved from attack as long as they had naval protection and no longer enjoyed that advantage. The invention of rocket bombs with long-range and of the atomic bomb, which can be carried by air over Vast distances, makes war more destructive and makes the configuration of the earth of little importance. The future effects of these developments will be ml; humanity’s political history cannot yet be imagined.

Geopolitics :

The term geopolitics has come to prominence in recent years as part of the Nazi philosophy of the state in Germany. Geopolitics is political geography applied to national power politics in the held of foreign policy. It aims at improving the physical setting of the state.

Many earlier writers prepared the way for this concept. Bodin and Montesquieu gave attention to the influence of geography and climate on national states. In England, Henry T. Buckle, and in Germany, Karl Ritter established that the earth is an organic unity, that man’s destiny is conditioned by nature, and that history is geography in action. In the United States, Admiral A. T. Mahan emphasized the importance of sea power. In Germany, Friedrich Ratzel considered the role of national and boundaries, the necessity of national living space, and the desirability of territorial expansion.

In Sweden, Rudolf Kjellen, who coined the term geopolitics, viewed the state as a living organism that must grow by colonization and conquest, thus creating a few giant states. He listed Germany’s grievances and drew up a plan for her future conquests. Sir Halford Mackinder, a British geographer,  emphasized the strategic value and potential economic and military power of the great “heartland,” comprising eastern Europe and western Asia, and argued that the nation controlling this area could dominate the world. His ideas and those of Kjellen received much attention in Germany.

The doctrines of these writers were combined into a systematic plan for Germany’s future policies by General Karl Haushofer,” who became the “spatial philosopher” of Hitler’s Germany and set up an elaborate organization assemble data Which would be valuable for world conquest. He defined geopolitics as the scientific foundation of the art of political action in the life and death struggle of state organisms for living space.

Accordingly, he put stress upon Germany’s need for additional territory, upon the importance of natural frontiers and sea out~ lets, upon the value of a strong national leader, and the sudden Blitzkrieg and total warfare. He favored a German-Russian alliance and a lightning war on the western European states. He also urged a German-Japanese alliance and emphasized the future importance of the Pacific area.

According to his plan, Europe would be controlled by Germany and Japan, Russia would dominate the Pacific region. The United States, which was large enough to be self-sufficient, would be limited to their internal interests. The earth would thus be divided among four great states, with Germany as the dominant world power. The connection between these doctrines and Germany’s military policy and its attempt to expand and dominate Europe is quite apparent.