Three Theories For The Rise Of State-Level Society Essay

All people on the Earth used to live forming some societies, in which their relations needed to be regulated in a certain way, in order to guarantee stability and development of the society. The result of building of these rules, various states started to appear, actually the formation of state is the development of a central government, having the function of taking the general decisions and controlling the realization of these plans. There is no wonder, that the processes of formations of the biggest states were of great interest to various scientists, like for example sociologists, archeologists, historians and so on. In order to organize the process of research of the state formation process, the scientists agreed to split it into the early states’ formation, related to the societies, where the state didn’t exist and studies of modern states, meaning the form of the state which started to appear around 1600s in Europe and later was spread all over the world. The studies of both early states and modern states are rather controversial and sophisticated; there are a lot of various theories, devoted to studying of the development of the states. Based on the examples of the studies of Trigger, Wittfogel and Carneiro we are going to research the various approaches to state formation studies in relation to the basic assumptions as well as actual surrounding of the scholars and their outcomes.

Bruce Trigger was born in Preston, Ontario and studied archeology in Yale University. From the very beginning he was very much interested in studies related to the early cultures. As soon as he finished his studies, he devoted most of his time to studies of the life of early civilizations. He presented his studies of seven civilizations in his book – Understanding Early Civilizations: A Comparative Study. According to his biography, Trigger developed his interest from his being a child already, when his mother brought a book about Egyptian artifacts. Decades later “he became an expert on the archeology of Egypt, the Sudan and the Huron of prehistoric Ontario. Trigger joined McGill’s Department of Anthropology in 1964 and was made a James McGill Professor in 2000” (Claessen 18). Being an archeologist, whose task was to analyze the pieces of the objects found and their relation to the people from the past, Trigger tried to work out two directions of thought of how societies started to develop. One of the views was called ecological, as it suggested that people had to get used to the environment in order to be able to survive and build their societies.  This assumption presumed that all people took the same decisions to similar situations in the environment. The second opinion was called cultural relativist opinion and it suggested, that due to the fact that human mind is functioning in a rather sophisticated way, the societies were developed in accordance to historical and cultural traditions of their ancestors. There was another option, which also seemed interesting to Trigger, as he stated “back in the 19th century, anthropologists talked about psychic unity; somehow the human mind was biologically geared to think along similar lines under similar situations” (Claessen 22).

Trigger could not come to concrete conclusion which of these approaches was the closest to the truth. Thus he decided to conduct a comparative study, concentrating not purely on the factors, which were alike for various cultures, but also on those, which were different. He noted then that the comparative study could be a tricky thing, because “Answers are always interpreted in the light of expectation. People are always willing to believe the evidence is faulty; the analysis is wrong if they get an answer they don’t want to believe” (Claessen 28).Trigger chose seven early civilizations, they all developed separately and had different cultural basis, including language for most of them. The objects of his studies were the remains of the art pieces, some architecture remains. During his studies, Trigger came to surprising conclusions, that life of people was closely related to their beliefs. They believed that there were gods and their task was to manage the universe, talking about people – there were two classes: the upper class was organizing the life of the society in general and the lower class was to provide food for them. Thus farmers were producing food and gave their surplus to the upper class, which was to settle all the matters with the gods, in order to keep the life running properly. This was the way how the major responsibilities were distributed. Trigger was not able to make strict conclusions about the early civilizations, however he stated, that “Culture is important, but the traditions of what crops you plant are as much a part of culture as are the myths of the gods you create” (Claessen 33). Social institutions played their important role for the formation of social behavior norms of early people, of the way they considered the surrounding world and people, the way they were used to solve problems. So, according to Trigger there is a need to involve evolutionary psychology and neuroscience into these studies apart of social sciences, because only large-scale investigations and theories would be able to provide answers to most questions about formation of the states.

Another well-known hypothesis was developed by Karl Wittfogel. He was born in 1896 in Germany and worked as a school teacher and later as “research associate at the Institute for social research of University of Frankfurt. Wittfogel started his writings from communist essays and novels (Wittfogel 6). Afterwards he published his first book related to the Chinese political structure, and then a book about historical evolution in China followed. Wittfogel was interested in anti-hitlerian activism, which led to his arrest, as soon as national-socialists came to power. After nine months spent in concentration camps, he had to flee to England. His interest in China was not decreasing, he continued visiting this country for the sake of further investigations. Wittfogel developed his theory about hydraulic empire, also it got the name of hydraulic despotism. This is a type of such social organization or government, which is able to seize complete control on the basis of control of water resources. The notion of water dynasty is also often used in this relation. It is said to have a political structure, a kind of hierarchy, which has power over energy and water resources, as well as military forces. From the assumptions of Wittfogel, it is evident, that some countries got better possibilities for development of their societies purely due to their climate conditions. The type of climate is also responsible for the type of the society built, like for example, if we are talking about Orient countries, climate was the reason for the development of the despotic style of governing. “This environmental determinism comes to bear when considering that in those societies where the most control was exhibited, this was commonly the case due to the central role of the resource in economic processes and its environmentally limited, or constrained nature.” (Wittfogel 10). In such hydraulic empires, according to Wittfogel there is no place for independent aristocracy, which is absolutely not the case for example in medieval Europe and feudalism’s development there. Wittfogel underlined that most tribal social groups chose a concrete person to be their head, whereas in the case with hydraulic hierarchies, there were political institutions established, which were impersonal. There was very little chance for any revolt or revolution, certainly it was possible to overthrow the whole dynasty, however the new one would suggest little to no difference in the ruling strategy. The only way to completely destroy a hydraulic empire was a foreign intervention and conquest.

The assumption of Wittfogel were not accepted by some other scholars, like for example Joseph Needham criticized his approach to studies of the China culture, stating that it was presented without proper consideration of the history of China. As there were historical evidences about peasants’ revolts and lack of despotism from the side of the Chinese governments.

Another outstanding author of the theory of the state origin was Robert Carneiro, he was born in 1927 in New York and studied at the University of Michigan. Being the chief of the American Museum of Natural History, he is known for his theory of state formation, which got the name “Carneiro’s Circumscription Theory”. Most of his researches are acknowledged as serious contributions to development of the general theory of cultural evolution (Carneiro 4). One of the main principles, which he used, was environmental interaction with population pressures in formation of a state. He studied such counties as Ancient Egypt, China, Iraq. Generally his circumscription theory was based on the studies of warfare as a driving force for state formation. The key idea of the theory could be expressed in one sentence “In areas of circumscribed agricultural land, population pressure led to warfare that resulted in the evolution of the state” (Carneiro 11).

Normally warfare is an instrument for not uniting people, rather for causing them run away. Environmental circumscription is possible in the situation, if some good agricultural land is surrounded by less productive regions. Extensive agriculture would hardly bring positive results. If environmental circumscription doesn’t exist then those groups of people, who lost the war, are to look for different locations. Otherwise, they are to subdue to their conquerors and the groups of people, who were in a conflict, are actually united creating the same population on the given territory. “The new state organization strives to alleviate the population pressure by increasing the productive capacity of agricultural land through, for instance, more intensive cultivation using irrigation” (Carneiro 35).

It is necessary to admit, that there were a lot of other researchers and scientists, who supported the views of Carneiro about the closest connection between the rise of civilizations and the type of their geographical location. For example one of anthropologists Jared Diamond agrees that the development of agriculture was the basis for the rise of the civilization and states. Still there are other anthropologists who do not agree with this position, mainly they belong to the “humanist’ group. The major drawback, which they are able to find in the theory of Carneiro is the assumption, that people were just situated in their areas and waited, when the civilization came to them, thus there is absolutely to reflection of the individual contribution to the development of the social orders and states in this theory.

Some archeologists support the idea, that the civilizations were not formed in the process of uniting of various tribes and groups, rather in the process of historical dispersal. This meant that civilization, having appeared in one place, was brought to the other place with natural migrations of people. Certainly such diffusion processes could not serve as proper explanations of the origins of civilization, but they seem more than logical in relation to its transmitting.

Overall, in this paper we have discussed the three examples of the theories, related to the rise of state-level society: Trigger’s research and the comparative study of early cultures, Wittfogel’s assumptions about hydraulic despotism and Carneiro’s Circumscription Theory. This is evident, that most assumptions and conclusions they could make, were first of all directed to the political and social environments they lived in and the basic objects, they chose for their researches. All these theories received portions of criticism from other scientists and none of them could be probably considered in its initial and complete form as the best one describing the reasons, the ways and the outcomes of formation of the early states. At the same time, the scientific data, gathered and managed by each of these theorists provides sufficient volume of information, which could be vitally important for revealing answers to numerous questions, related to the early states on our planet.

 

Works cited:

Carneiro, R.L. The Circumscription Theory – Challenge and Response. American Behavioral Scientist 31, 1986

Claessen, H.J.M, Structural change; evolution and evolutionism in cultural anthropology. Leyden: CNWS, 2000

Elwell, F. W. Macrosociology: The Study of Sociocultural Systems. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009

Schacht, R. M., “Circumscription Theory: A Critical Review,” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 31, 1988.

Wittfogel, K. Oriental despotism; a comparative study of total power. New York: Random House, 1957

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