Historical or Evolutionary Theory of State – Essay

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The theory which explains, and is now accepted as a convincing origin of the State, is the Historical or Evolutionary Theory. It explains that the State is the product of growth, a slow and steady evolution extending over a long period of time and ultimately shaping itself into the complex structure of a modem State.

Burgess has aptly said that the State is a “continuous development of human society out of a grossly imperfect beginning through crude but improving forms of manifestation towards a perfect and universal organisation of mankind.”

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It is difficult to say how and when the State came into existence. Like all other social institutions, it must have emerged imperceptibly, supported by various influences and conditions.

Apart from the influences of physical environment and geographical conditions, there are five important factors which made men to aggregate at different places and separated one group from another, thereby paving the way for the rise and growth of the State. These important factors are:

1. Kinship;

2. Religion;

3. Property and defence;

4. Force;

5. Political consciousness.

It must, however, be remembered that not any one of these influences has worked in isolation from others in the process of State building. They operated in various combinations, each playing its part in creating that unity and organisation that the State requires.

1. Kinship:

The earliest form of social organisation was based upon blood relationship and kinship was the first and the strongest bond of unity. What bound people together and made them cohere into a group was the belief in common descent and the earliest and closest unit of kinship was the family.

It is, of course, a disputed point whether tribe, group or family came first, yet it cannot be denied that family constituted the first link in the process of the evolution of the State, and government must have begun in a clearly defined family discipline; command and obedience. Even the advocates of the Matriarchal Theory ultimately veer round to the family and recognise the authority of the patriarch.

With the expansion of the family arose new families and the multiplication of families led to the formation of clans and tribes. Throughout the process of this evolution sanction of kinship was the only factor which bound the people together.

Persons unconnected by ties of blood, unless admitted into the tribe by adoption, were deemed strangers and treated as enemies. The name of the common ancestor was the symbol of kinship. The “magic of names,” as Maclver sums up, “reinforced the sense of kinship, as the course of generations enlarged the group.

The blood bond of sonship changed imperceptibly into the social bond of the wider brotherhood. The authority of the father passed into the power of the chief. Once more under the aegis of kinship new forms arose which transcended it.

Kinship created society and society at length created the state.” The origin of the political activity of man is, therefore, embedded in Aristotle’s cogent remark that man is a social and political animal.

It is, then, clear that the germs of government must have begun in clearly defined family discipline and the patriarch evoked respect and obedience to authority. The authority of the father of the family over its members was complete, absolute and undisputed.

The patriarch, who afterwards became the tribal chieftain, combined unto himself religious, administrative, judicial and military powers. This is the evidence of history.

2. Religion:

Closely connected with kinship, as a factor in State-building, is religion. Kinship and religion in the primitive society were two aspects of the same thing and both acted simultaneously in welding together families and tribes. “Religion was the sign and seal of common blood, the expression of its oneness, its sanctity, its obligation.”

When the bonds of kinship steadily weakened with the expansion of the family into the gens, the clans and the tribes, a common form of worship reinforced the sense of unity and respect for authority.

The primitive religion evolved from animism to ancestor-worship. The early man was surrounded by natural phenomena which he could not understand. He looked towards natural forces, such as storms, thunder and lightning, clouds and wind, the sun, moon and stars with awe and reverence.

The changing seasons and the birth and death of vegetation made him stand aghast. To his innocent mind and uncultivated intellect the mystery of death and other psychological problems, like sleep, dreams and insanity, were insoluble. He interpreted all such phenomena as manifestation of some supernatural power.

What he could not understand, he began to worship. He “saw God in clouds and heard him in the wind.” Under such conditions emerged two forms of religion, worship of nature, and worship of ancestors. The hallowed ceremonies of ancestor worship were conducted at the family altar.

There the living came into the presence of their great dead, the spirits of the departed, who exercised power to evil as well as to good and who must be appeased by the meticulous performance of sacred rites. In this way, came to be established a family of deities around which abundant traditions and myths came to be formed.

Ancestor-worship, thus, strengthened the bonds of family union which eventually contributed to the solidarity of the tribe. But these bonds were only local in character. When tribes expanded by incorporation or conquest, kinship and ancestor-worship proved weak ties of union among the diverse people spread over extended territory.

Common belief in gods and deities, or worship of nature became the cementing bond of affinity and comradeship among such people, although remnants of the old family worship and legends of tribal heroes still formed a common national religion that served as a sanction of government and law.

The sanction of law in primitive society was religion and, as it was the terrible aspect of religion that appealed to primitive minds, the breaking of law was followed by terrible punishment. This is how the relation of command and obedience, which was natural in family relations, was definitely established by religion.

Side by side grew up superstitions and magical customs. In primitive communities magical rites and incantations were practised both privately and publicly. Anyone who could propitiate the spirits began to acquire commanding importance and unique influence. He was looked upon with awe and reverence and all bowed to his authority, since none could dare incur the wrath of the magic-man.

The sorcerer became the leader and it is here that we witness the emergence of magician-kings. From magician the step to chief or king was simple. Magicians gave way to priests, when people had lost faith in the spirits and the power of magic.

The priests, too, came into eminence in the same way as the magicians. The evidence available sufficiently shows that early kings were priest- kings, combining the duties of ceremonial observances and secular rule. The rise of the magician and of his kingly successor has been the special thesis of Sir James G. Frazer.

According to Frazer’s theory, the first form of tribal government was the gerontocracy or council of old men, representing the various families constituting the tribe. Their control over the tribe was perfect and complete as they alone were deemed to be familiar with the secret mysteries of the tribal religion, and they alone were considered eminently competent to know all that could be known about the spiritual world.

Out of the council of elders emerged the magician, “a resolute and ambitious man, a clever and unscrupulous man, who pretended to extraordinary powers of divination and sorcery.

The fertility of the soil, rain or drought, the success or failure of crops seemed to depend more upon his incantations and rituals than upon human effort. His influence, especially among an agricultural people, assumed enormous proportions. The magician eventually made himself priest-king.”

Briefly, the value of religion in the evolution of the State can hardly be denied. In primitive society religion and politics were inextricably mixed up. Religion not only helped the unification of political communities, but it was religion alone which was responsible for subordinating barbaric anarchy and for teaching reverence and obedience.

The importance of religion, as a force in the evolution of the State, was not limited to the earliest States alone. In Afghanistan religion has, even now much to do with politics. Islamic law is a force behind Pakistan, the Islamic Republic.

Twenty-three Muslim theologists of Pakistan jointly pronounced a verdict (fatwa) against the election of a woman as the President or Khalifa of an Islamic State, when Miss Fatima Jinnah declared her intention to oppose President Ayub Khan in the Presidential election in 1964.

Although a secular State, yet in India, too, religion still plays an important part in the political life of the country. India’s political life is demarcated more on religion than on political issues.

The legacy of religion in the political life of the country is found even in Britain as in the religious coronation of Kings or Queens and “the still-half-consciously lingering view of law and of State commands as something sacred.” The tradition of the divine origin of political power dies hard.

3. Property and Defence:

In order to understand the origin of the State and government we must observe how the kinship group earned its living. “The basic factor in any given society,” says Laski, “is the way it earns its living all social relations are built upon provision for those primary material appetites without satisfying which life cannot endure.

And an analysis of society will always reveal the close connection between its institutions and culture and the methods of satisfying material appetites. As these methods change, so also will the institutions and culture of the society change?

Changes in the methods of economic production appear to be the most vital factor in the making of changes in all other social patterns we know. For changes in those methods detuning the changes of social relationships; and these, in their turn, are subtly interwoven with all the cultural habits of men.” The key to social behaviour must, therefore, be sought in the economic system.

Among primitive peoples there were successive economic stages that marked the growing importance of property and that brought about corresponding changes in social organisation.

The three economic stages are the huntsman stage, the herdsman or pastoral stage and the husbandman or agricultural stage. They are universal stages in the sense that groups generally passed from the one to the other, from lower to higher.

The huntsman led a miserable existence, moving about in quest of game and of wild berries or roots. He had no property except the crude weapons and tools. It was a condition of primeval savagely and escape came through the domestication of wild animals.

The domestic animals, originally kept as pets, proved a good way to provide against future periods of scarcity. Still later, it became apparent that the animals were useful for other purposes besides supplying meat in times of privation.

The horse provided rapid means of movement, the cow provided milk and the sheep wool. He had also come to know that his flocks and herds could be vastly increased by systematic breeding. A huntsman became a herdsman and flocks and herds became his wealth. Simultaneously, other forms of property, for example, improved clothing, weapons, and domestic utensils, appeared.

Whatever may have been the earlier form of the family, pastoral life, which is marked with substantial property interests, increased the social dominance of the male. It strengthened, if it did not create, the patriarchate. The patriarch exercised absolute control over the family, and over all its property.

When the family expanded into the gens and the tribe, the patriarchal discipline prepared the way for tribal government. Property introduced all sorts of complications. There must reside sufficient power with the tribal authorities to settle property disputes between different families, and to regulate and safeguard the rights of ownership.

Thus, the gradual increase of property entailed a corresponding intensification of social control. Tribesmen, who were accustomed to giving unquestioning obedience to their respective family heads, accepted the authority of the Council of Elders and of the chieftain who rose out of the Council.

At the same time, organised force was needed to repel the plundering raids of adjacent tribes. Concerted action for common defence against the hostile designs of others strengthened the solidarity of the tribe and increased the authority of the tribal organisation.

The saying “war begat the king” is, according to Gettell, “at least a half truth, since military activity was a powerful force, both in creating the need for authority and law, and in replacing family organisations by system purely political.”

These conditions called for individual leadership. Some member of the Council of Elders or patriarchs, whose personal qualities, such as, military prowess, knowledge of human nature, oratorical capacity, with or without the assistance of religious superstitions, pushed his way to the front and raised himself far above his peers in prestige and influence. Tribesmen rallied round him and he was recognised as the chieftain.

Since the qualities of leadership were likely to be inherited, the office of the chieftain became attached to a particular family and was transmitted like other forms of property. Generally, it passed on to the eldest member of the family, though, in times of unusual stress, when war or domestic violence threatened, the office went not to the eldest, but to the most competent of the chiefly lineage.

The institution of private property and its systematic development, thus, brought the nomadic herdsman to the threshold of the State. The State must possess the element of territoriality. Although the pastoral tribes confined their wanderings within roughly determined geographical limits, they were still nomads. The State came into existence when the people became permanently territorially settled.

The territorial State did not appear until population began to press upon subsistence. The herdsman needed much more land than the husbandman. As the pastoral tribe grew in numbers and flocks and herds multiplied, one of the two courses became imminent to follow: either new land might be acquired by migration or the old land put to more productive use.

Fertile pastures, when brought under cultivation, could support a bigger population, and the tribesmen had long been experimenting with agriculture, with as crude methods as their tools. Rather than leave the region to which they had become attached, they supplemented their prevailing pastoral economy with the rudiments of agriculture. Gradually the herdsman became husbandman.

The transition took place slowly, as, “by trial and error of by the imitation of some neighbouring agriculturists the methods of tillage are improved and their potentialities realised.” When a pastoral kinship group settled on the land, the State began.

The group had already set up a government; it acquired territoriality as well. The three elements of the State are: people; government and territory. When three had been attained, search for the fourth, sovereignty, followed.

Along with the new system of production, that is, agriculture, came great social changes. The first was, sharpening of class distinctions with the unequal distribution of wealth. The rise of social classes occurred in pastoral society and they were perpetuated in agricultural society. Besides nobles and commoners, there were slaves.

When one tribe attacked the other, the captives were no longer killed and perhaps eaten. The pastoralist had plenty to eat, but felt the need of supplementing the labour resources of the family to care for the expanding herd and to protect it from beasts of prey and human marauders. He invented slavery as a substitute for cannibalism. It was a beneficent invention and in the agricultural society systematic resort was made to slavery.

4. Force:

The new system also placed a great emphasis upon military life, first for defence, then for conquest. It is often contended that the State began in conquest when the herdsmen conquered the husbandmen or peasants.

The conquest theory is favourably received by the Sociologists. Oppenheimer, the most prominent advocate of this theory, maintains that “the cause of the genesis of all States is the contact between peasants and herdsmen, between labourers and robbers, between bottom lands and prairies.”

The conquest theory does not explain the origin of the State. But the part played by warfare in moulding political institutions at any stage of human development cannot be discounted, more so in a primitive society. Private property, in the form of flocks and herds, afforded a strong incentive to looting, which in turn had to be checked by systematic defence and punitive expeditions against hostile tribes.

Concerted action for common defence and chastisement of the warring tribes created the dire need for military leadership which was an important factor in creating the chieftainship and strengthening its powers.

The office of the chieftain became hereditary and consequently it led to the establishment of the monarchy. Yet, the emergence of the State, as Maclver says, and he is supported by the weight of evidence, “is not due to force, although in the process of expansion force undoubtedly played a part.”

5. Political Consciousness:

The last is political consciousness arising from the fundamental needs of life for protection and order. When the people settle down on a definite territory in pursuit of their subsistence and a desire to secure it from encroachment by others, the need for regulating things and persons is felt imminently and this is the essence of political consciousness.

It is doubtful whether there was ever a conscious expression for such a need. But there is no denying the fact that the institution of private property and the requirements of self-defence, both from within and without the tribe, and consequently the emergence of military leadership was probably the first distinctive political authority to which the people ungrudgingly submitted.

This military leader commanded the confidence of his people and he established some sort of political organisation, i.e., government, to meet the needs of protection and order. In some such way the State arose. People, territory, government and independence from others or sovereignty, as we describe it now, had come in.

Much of this, which we present as a regular process, was, of course, very slow and confused. The course of events must have also varied with the character and circumstances of each people. All the same, the spirit of organisation, as Woodrow Wilson says, “Is natural twin born with man and the family.” In its simple and rudimentary form germs of governmental organisation were found in the family discipline.

Religion reinforced family discipline and gradually created the wider discipline necessary for the existence of the State. Custom was the first law and there was a religious sanction behind every custom and the magicians who controlled religious sanctions were more powerful than any agent of political authority.

When human wants, economic, social and political, increased through the combination of diverse circumstances and conditions, the State, territorially established and forming a distinct group of people independent of others, became more complex in form, more universal in its range of activities, more indispensable to the needs of mankind.

The distinction we now make so carefully between the State and society is of comparatively recent origin. In fact, a double process had been at work through all these centuries: one by which the State takes over powers hitherto enjoyed by society, and the other by which it abandons to society powers it no longer needs.


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