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Origin And Development Of The State

( Originally Published 1915 )

Nature of the State. The state is the political organization of the individuals of a community for the common good. It is the expression of political life. Its purpose is the protection and preservation of the group, and, incidentally, of the individual. Primarily, the state represents a group of individuals, each having an organic relation to the whole, and the whole group to other groups and individuals, and having for its purpose the regulation of relationships affecting vitally the welfare of the group. Concern for the preservation of the group is the most general motive inspiring that regulation of individual and group life which is the beginning of government. That characteristic explains why both in primitive and in developed societies the group's regulations are limited to those designed to promote this aim. These regulations differ both as to stringency and as to scope in societies at different stages of development. Sometimes it may seem best to the governing authorities to exercise closer regulation of individual and group action than at others, for example, in times of war, or of such a crisis as famine or plague. In certain stages of social evolution regulation by the governing authorities will extend to affairs which at other times are left to the regulation of the mores or to the individual interest.

Writers differ as to the essential characteristics of the state. Thus, Bluntschli names seven characteristics: (r) A number of men ; (2) a fixed territory ; (3) unity ; (4) distinction between rulers and subjects; (5) an organic nature; (6) the state is a moral and spiritual organism, it is a personality; (7) the state is masculine as contrasted with the church, which is feminine.

Willoughby, on the other hand, says that the essential elements of a state are : (r) a community of people socially united; (2) a political machinery, termed a government, and administered by a corps of officials termed a magistracy ; and (3) a body of rules or maxims, written or unwritten, determining the scope of this public authority, and the manner of its exercise.'

The state must be separated in mind from government, which is the organ through which the state expresses itself, the instrument by means of which the public will or judgment is executed,. Whether the government is communistic, patriarchal, monarchical, or democratic, it is always a mere form of demonstrating the power of the state. As Giddings, following Burgess, has pointed out, there is a state behind the constitution and a state revealed in the constitution. The two are quite distinct. The former is composed of the people in a given geographic area speaking a common language and having common ideas as to the fundamental principles of rights and wrongs. The latter is the people expressing themselves in certain ways and defining and delegating certain powers which they wish to have exercised.. The latter may be called the government. It is the subject of political science. The former is society in the general sense and is the subject-matter of sociology.2 On the other hand, it is necessary to distinguish the state from any mere social aggregation whether it be called people, tribe, or nation.

Doubtlessly for the origin of the state behind the constitution we must go back to primitive social institutions. This state organizing itself for the purposes of social control in order to secure benefits which could not be obtained by individuals alone finds its basis in primitive man's consciousness of group needs and in his appreciation of the necessity of limiting individual desires for the sake of the group. Its development cannot always be traced to a definite succession of forms, but it is rather a psychological tendency working through all forms. This expression of group cooperation and control began with the primitive family, then when families came together in hordes relations became more complex both within and between families.. For wherever there is concerted action for the common good, however faint, there are the beginnings of that condition of the social mind which is one of the conditions for the development of this form of the state. As will be explained later, the state in the sense of that term which involves sovereignty did not develop as a matter of history until war, migration, and con-quest had given a conqueror the right to impose his will upon the people of a certain geographical area.'

The Origin of the State. When men discuss the origin of the state, some mean the psychological motives which gave birth to the state, while others refer to the institutions out of which the state developed. Representative of the first class is Morley, when he says that society, by which he must be under-stood to mean the state, is grounded in " the acceptance of conditions which came into existence by the sociability inherent in man, and were developed by man's spontaneous search after convenience." 2

Not ignoring the motives which gave rise to the state, but connecting those motives with the institutions in which they found their expression, are other writers, from among whom two representatives may be named. Wilson says, " Government must have had substantially the same early history among all progressive races. It must have begun in clearly defined family discipline." And " What is known of the central nations of history reveals clearly the fact that social organization and, consequently, government (which is the visible form of social organization), originated in kinship. The original bond of union and the original sanction for magisterial authority were one and the same thing, namely, real or feigned blood-relationship." 3 Professor Commons looks to a different series of motives to explain the origin of the state. He says, " The state is the coercive institution of society. It is not an ideal entity, superimposed upon society, but is an accumulated series of compromises between social classes, each seeking to secure for themselves control over the institution of private property." " The state is rather the creature and offspring of private property." 4 Yet the patriarchal family is one of the institutions in which sovereignty and so the state originated, because in that family only do you have the possession of women and children as private property.' Thus, according to the writers represented by Wilson the state originated in the relations and institutions of kinship, while according to those represented by Commons it grew out of the institution of private property.

Ethnic Basis of the State. The primitive family, or the horde composed of several primitive family groups, was the primordial social group. Naturally out of these simple relationships grew the first attempt at group control. The individual's social relations were within the group ; he was connected with his fellows by blood bonds real or fictitious. In that homogeneous social group we must place the beginnings of control which eventually expressed itself in political government. When the society was metronymic, the mother and her kindred regulated the group. Among tribes in which the patriarchal system prevailed, there was a much stronger organization, the family was more closely integrated, the governed and governing were more clearly separated, and control was much stricter.

In the establishment and maintenance of social order the family frequently performed in a primitive way all the essential duties of the state. As the family multiplied in numbers through adoption and natural increase until it became a great tribe under the direction of the patriarch and chief, it became necessary to establish more elaborate methods of control. It became necessary for him to make certain rulings on new conditions that arose, as well as to carry out the practices and customs of the fathers, and then he became lawgiver. It was his custom also to pass judgment in order to settle the differences between members of the tribal family and thus he became the chief judge of the social group. Moreover, to the help of the patriarch as governor of the group, there was now added the force of the economic motive ; he was not only the representative of the gods, but was actually the owner of the women and children and held in trust for the group its common possessions? While later his authority became delegated to other officers, just as the power to legislate eventually passed from the head of the tribe or nation to a body of people selected for that purpose, in this early state of affairs the judicial, legislative, and executive powers of government were all vested in one man, the patriarch of the family. In him, therefore, rested whatever authority existed; and in him we find one historical origin of political control. Here, then, in these primitive kinship organizations we have basic groups, the raw material out of which the state could develop when the new elements of a settled abode and a conqueror enforcing obedience were added elements introduced by immigration and wars of conquest.'

Race Conflict and Amalgamation. But seldom if ever did a family expand into a tribe and the tribe into a civil unit with-out an intermixture of races. Once families or clans were well established and population increased, there began a struggle for existence. Tribal warfare brought about the extinction of some clans and the union of others. The union of the conquerors and the conquered occurred on the basis of the slavery of the latter. Sometimes, perhaps, assimilation of one group with another may have been attained by peaceful methods. Much more frequently, if not always, it was conquest that brought about the state. A conquered tribe was reduced to slavery, or at least to an inferior position in the conquering tribe. Then occurred the imposition of the will of the conqueror enforcing obedience by one method or another and later a compromise as to rights, duties, and privileges, and the regulation of the political status of the members of the united groups.' Athens and Rome, among the civilized nations, and the Iroquois, Hopi, Aztecs among the natural races, are examples of federated or united tribes. Many of these tribes passed through successive stages of union with others, each stage being followed by a period of integration. During these successive unions and amalgamations of racial stocks, the duty of the individual to the whole mass became more clearly defined. The growth of the state has been along the line of complete union of discordant racial elements, and full recognition of all classes.

Transition from Ethnic to Civil Society. The origin of the state as revealed in the constitution is more easily described.

We know how the civil state, the organization of civil society, came into existence among the ancient Greeks. Giddings has shown how various efforts to break down the gentile organization in order to meet the needs of society of that day were tried, but without success until in the time of Cleisthenes the simple expedient was adopted of enrolling all those who lived within the boundaries of a clan or tribe as members.' Giddings has clearly pointed out that while sovereignty usually is established first only by the conquest of one people by another, it gradually changes its forms in conformity with changes in the social mind of a people. At first the conquering race imposes its will upon the conquered by force. This method of securing obedience yields to others as the relation of sovereignty and obedience continues. Other forms of sovereignty are class sovereignty, which inspires obedience by the power of the mentally and morally superior aided by religion and tradition or exacts obedience through control of wealth ; mass sovereignty, or the ability of an emotionally and fanatically unified majority to compel obedience ; and general sovereignty, or the power of an enlightened and deliberative community by an appeal to reason and conscience to evoke obedience.2 With these forms of sovereignty, the civil state comes into existence.

The Gentes as Political Units. 3 In the expansion of the patriarchal family, certain closely related groups called gentes performed the most important services in the formation of political order and law. The gens was composed of families of the same blood organized on the clan basis. Members of the gens had a common religious belief, a common god, and, consequently, a common religious ceremony. They had a common burying ground and held public property in common. There were many customs and a few laws which controlled the gens. For instance, it was well established that the individual should not marry within the gens, but that he must go outside to obtain a wife, and that she should renounce the laws and customs of her own gens and adopt those of the one into which she came. Women who went out of the gens to marry took their property with them, hence, an exception to the rule was made in the case of an heiress, who was permitted to marry within the gens so as to retain her property.

In the development of government marriage was at first a custom, then became an institution. During the process of change from custom to law the heads of the gentes became the advisers of the leader of the tribe, who himself eventually became king. This council of the chief of the tribe finally became the senate, that is, the old men who were capable of advice. Hence, in law or government the heads of the gentes were the most conspicuous of all the individuals of the family group. The settlements of the gentes in some cases became the political units of the new civil state. Moreover, they represented the points of transition from the family life to the state government.

The Purposes of the Phratry. The Greek phratry, or brotherhood, was organized for social purposes, especially for religious and political affiliations. It was composed of a group of nearly related gentes who dwelt in proximity to one another ; hence, in part, it represented the territorial idea of government. From this phase of government, which was represented in the Roman curia, arose the modern local government, as represented in the wards of cities. While the members of the gens might dwell apart from one another, those of the phratry had to be localized. Members of the phratry had a common religious worship and a common political leadership. In one sense it represented local government, and though it was still an ethnic group, its territorial organization was the beginning of the departure from ethnic or family government, for it laid the foundation of territorial representation in all of the ancient nations. The phratry was strongly marked in the Greek social polity. It is observable also in the Iroquois and other Indian tribes. Thus, in the federation of the Iroquois tribes, usually known as the Six Nations, each tribe had two phratries in the perfected government. For instance, the Cayuga tribe had two phratries, the first having five gentes, namely, bear, wolf, turtle, snipe, and eel, while the second phratry had three gentes, namely, deer, beaver, and hawk. These various relationships were clearly marked by political and social duties and privileges. Beyond this the phratry was not important in the formation of the state, as it was entirely overshadowed by the gens and the tribe.

The Tribal Organization. Divided into phratries, the tribe existed as a federation based chiefly upon military service and a religious service common to all. Military leadership was its chief purpose of organization. A chief or leader was chosen from among the heads of the gentes. In war he led all the dans as commander in chief, in peace he presided over the heads of the gentes as a sort of patriarchal president. Subsequently, as the organization became more perfect, he was called king. But always and in every way he had large executive, judicial, and legislative power. Even the religious service of the tribe was under his direction and control. Political and religious integration was secured thus in the tribe and universal tribal practices were observed. There was a generalization of political and religious practice, for the tribe could engage only in the most general phases of government and make only the most general laws.

The Polis or City-State. A form of ancient government based upon tribal units was the polis or city-state. While its management grew out of the ancient family organization, it also developed the community idea of government. It represents the formal beginning of politics.

Perhaps the best illustration of this was the city of Athens, which originally was composed of a group of village communities located over an extended territory. It became first a center for the assembling of the various ethnic groups for the control and administration of local affairs. The ancient city originally contained the temples of the gods and represented a seat of family worship. There was the market place and center of trade of the rural district, and there were festivals, courts, councils, and sacrifices connected with these commercial and religious centers. It was at the city that people mustered in time of war; there, dwelt the tribal chief and with him a few councillors, immediate followers and slaves ; but the people dwelt elsewhere in clans, following the life of the ethnic group and living under its control. This ancient city represented only the beginning of the breaking up of the old family life. It eventually drew the elements of social and political life to itself, and around these elements came to cluster the majority of the people, until the city represented a democratic organization with family lines obliterated.

While the city was growing by degrees, becoming more and more important each succeeding generation, the organization of the clan or gens and the tribe continued. The hereditary chief or eldest male member of the group still ruled as priest, judge, and king. He was legislator, executor, and administrator of affairs. Finally, the city became a confederation of several family groups. It was not an assembled group of the people arranged in wards with local self-government, but a meeting place for the representatives of the various federated family groups. However, as the ethnic society secured a geographical location, the ancient city changed into a municipality or a city-state. The rise of the city government had weakened the family government in ways already indicated and the city had obtained the full supremacy. It represented a united body of people still arranged in ethnic groups for certain purposes, ' but containing many who were originally strangers and had been adopted into the clan or were considered members of the group who now lived within the bounds of the old clan territory, although the family government was subordinate to the city. Gradually political control by family groups faded out and the people became responsible as individuals to a central government of which they were a part.

The polis or city state, as it originated among the Greeks, differs somewhat from the civitas as devised by the Romans. The former corresponds in some ways to our modern municipality, but it had absolute control ; the latter corresponds more particularly to the modern state. The civitas is an expansion of the idea of universal government related to a central head or power and covering forms of local or subordinate government. The state of the Romans represented the government proceeding from the king to the people. It represented an imperial-ism, while the city-state, springing as it did from the representatives of the ethnic group, finally became a government of the people and tended toward a real democracy.

Prominent Forces in State Building. Having indicated the early social groups out of which the state developed, let us now inquire what social forces account for the development of the state from these simpler groups.

One of these forces was religion. In ways detailed at length in another chapter religion helped in the consolidation of heterogeneous elements in an ethnic population by supporting the authority of the patriarch and in early civil society by supporting the iron law of the conqueror. To the fear of stern patriarch or conquering king religion added the fear of the more dreadful spirit of the dead ancestor or of transcendent Deity. In the transition from the tribal life to the state, a national religion was established. Thus, the family religion of certain tribes became the national religion of the Hebrew commonwealth, and so the expanded religion of the Aryan household became the national religion of the Greeks.

Another important influence in the origin and development of the state was the economic motive. After wealth ceased to consist solely of trinkets and arms and came to include flocks and slaves, conquest became desirable for the booty to be obtained thereby. Conquest gave rise to the state, and in all history has continued to have an important influence upon' its development.

Still another factor in the origin and development of the state was the expanding consciousness of kind which came about as the size of kindreds grew and contacts within the group were multiplied, and as the number of independent groups increased. and came into contact. Association thus induced kindled the intellectual and emotional nature of mankind, and made possible new pleasures. Then the desire for booty joined hands with the desire for strange wives ; these two motives led on to conquest and political development.

With the enlargement of the kinship group there arose a desire for order and for protection among all members of the group. It is beyond the power of one man to regulate, control, and deal justly with a large body of people, as a father deals with his children. The social life becomes too complex for paternalism and so services and functions must be delegated to others. This delegation makes a perpetual differentiation of governmental functions, which differentiation marks the process of state building.

All these influences operated to prepare a group for that ethnic solidarity which is a necessary preliminary to the development of the civil state, and the sovereignty characteristic of civil societies. Much as we may regret to say so, without a doubt the most influential of the forces which resulted in the making of a state was that motive compounded of the desire for wealth and the desire for power over men which may be termed the passion for domination which we see coming to expression in the tribal feudalism of the ancient Irish and the Modern Kaffirs. This motive, much tempered in the tribe by the bands of kinship and restricted by custom and the tradition of the elders, found outlet and stimulation in the little groups of kinwrecked men gathered about a virile and ambitious leader.' After chieftainship had developed, then followed war and con-quest by a migrating people. The stern necessities of war further developed the chieftain, that forerunner of so many important functions in government, ruler, judge, priest, and capitalist. Out of war and conquest as a first step, grew the assimilation of peoples, which, if not too different in their customs and manners, amalgamated sooner or later, and produced a more plastic-minded people. The larger and more complex developments of statehood grow out of the necessary arrangement made necessary by the inevitable relationship between a conquering and conquered people in close relationships which are new to both. War and conquest are self-limiting and necessarily lead to other things. The conquerors marry, or at least cohabit with, the women of the conquered. A mixed race appears usually with the religion of the mothers, yet not hostile to the ideas and service of the conquerors. Yet the laws which had risen in response to the necessity of regulating the inter-course of the two peoples are not repealed at once. Constantly new laws have to be enacted. Hence, lawmaking becomes a science. Wherever there are new laws and men's lives are regulated by law instead of by custom, there is need for interpretation of those laws and for settling disputes which arise over them. Courts, therefore, come into being under such conditions. Native customs and the customs of the conquerors conflict with each other, and each modifies the other. Language is modified, art develops, ideals clash and coalesce. In every realm of life there goes on modification. The chieftain of the invaders becomes a king, his adherents the body of chief advisers, and the holders of place and power. In these and a thousand other ways a great impetus is given to the constructive imagination of those who have the task of keeping order and holding securely what they have won by the sword.

The Differentiation of Political Organs and Functions. In the development of these various forms of government there was a constant change in the titles and functions of officers and administrators. These changes varied according to the evolution of government itself. Kings were made by a social process, no less definite than the processes of nature which developed the plants of the field or the trees of the forest. As it was but natural that the father of the family in a patriarchal society should be the one to lead and control, so it was again the natural outcome of this leadership, when the family expanded into a tribe of many groups of people, that the father or oldest male should be the leader. It was evident that when religion became involved in government the family which could show the longest lineage and therefore fix its relationship most nearly to the gods had the most power. Hence, it came about that the hereditary principle prevailed in the choosing of the ruler of the tribe. As government became more complex and as tribes became federated, one of these hereditary chiefs or leaders who also had ability in war and government, became king, but the king could not bear his responsibilities without counselors, so it became customary for him to summon old men who were heads of the gentes, the eldest male members, to counsel with him in the proceedings of the primitive state. These counselors became the Senate, an institution which remains to this day as one of the important powers of government in our modern system. Now, as the king could not do everything, gradually his advisers were called on to do more and more of the administrative work of the government. Beyond this the king had special officers to assist him in the leadership of war and administration of religion, and, indeed, in the administration of all the minor affairs of the state. And thus the king became, finally, the head of a group of administrative, executive, judicial, and legislative bodies, and the chief executive and head of a group of officers, as well as ruler of the people.

It was impossible for the king to act as judge to all his people in person and so he appointed people to represent him, and this custom developed into a law, and the officers that represented the king became more and more important until finally a judicial system was established in which grievous cases only were appealed to the king. But in the final development of government the king gave way to the supreme court as the final court of appeals.

Thus as the process of government became more complex and specialized, the people commanded greater and greater consideration. At first the power was given them to approve or disapprove what the Senate or the king had decreed. Later they had the privilege of voting on measures introduced by others, and, finally, they gained the right of originating laws and passing them. Primarily this was carried on by the whole group of people, but later by representatives of the people chosen for this specific purpose of legislation. Thus was developed the popular assembly so powerful in Greece and Rome, and the main power in the modern government of England and America. Thus, the family with its traditions and customs and its ethnic government expanded until a state was formed with no reference to family relationship, but in which the individual sustained a direct relationship to the whole body. Thus from a king or patriarchal president, who held within his grasp all the powers of government, was gradually differentiated the various departments of government as they exist today.

Beginnings of the Federation of States. The various changes that took place in the development of the state left some tendencies which were influential in the development of certain forms of government. The federation of tribes and families and local groups in the building of a state would seem to suggest a continuation of the federal idea in the union of states. The Greeks attempted this in the ancient leagues, like the AEtolian, the Achaean, and the Lycian. These were attempts to unite many of the Greek states into one federal group, but Greek federation failed because of the strong influences of local self-government and the jealousies of states. In some respects it was unfortunate, for doubtless a united Greece would have been able to withstand the attacks of enemies. That federation was quite a natural step in the development of the state seems to be evident from the attempts already mentioned, of the Iroquois Indians to federate, and of the Aztecs of Mexico, and others that might be cited as examples. Federation is only a process of closer integration of various elements. Wherever it has continued long, as in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States, the tendency has been to amalgamate the entire group of states into one national body. Integration in social and political development goes on constantly so far as the groups of individuals are concerned, while on the other hand, there is a constant differentiation of powers and functions and a constant change of conception of the relation of the individual to the state.

The Modern Social State. The state is usually defined as a politically organized group occupying a specific territory. By politically organized we mean, of course, having a code of laws and a well-regulated government. It occupies a territory which belongs to it and which it assumes to defend against all others.

But in the modern state there is a growing tendency towards more complete democracy ; hence, in this complex phase of its development we must consider it as a closely integrated collection of individuals and groups having widely different functions. The state to-day is a socially organized organic group with certain people chosen to control, while others agree to obey. But each individual has a distinctive place and performs a distinctive service. In the modern democracy the state cannot exist apart from the people, and the whole people are organized by mutual agreement, tacit or expressed, in industry, service, and self-control. In the evolution of the state from the family there have been represented all ideas of government, from the first bare life protection to the establishment of social order, and, in the final instance, to the conscious purpose of securing the social well-being of the whole people. So the state of to-day represents the conscious, living emanation of the multiple thoughts, sentiments, and will of the people concerning social order and social control, social well-being, and the rights, privileges, and duties of individuals in their relations to one another and to the social group as a whole.


BLUNTSCHLI, J. K. The Modern State.

COMMONS, J. R. "A Sociological View of Sovereignty," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. V, pp. 115, 155171, 347366, 544-552, 683695, 814825 ; Vol. VI, pp. 6789..

FUSTEL DE COULANGES. The Ancient City, pp. 154-238. FREEMAN, E. A. Comparative Politics, pp. 76-136.

FOWLER, W. W. The City-State of the Greeks and Romans, pp. 1-183. GIDDINGS, F. H. Principles of Sociology, pp. 299-36o. HEARN, W. E. The Aryan Household, pp. 143-166, 317-341. MORGAN, LEWIS H. Ancient Society, pp. 215-276.

OPPENHEIMER, FRANZ. The State (English Translation by Gitterman, 1914). SCHOEMANN, G. F. Antiquities of Greece; The State, pp. 81-114, 311-347. WILSON, WOODROW. The State, pp. 1-10.


1. Distinguish between the state and society. Give an example.

2. Would you call the condition of society which existed in one of the pioneer Western communities in the early days of this country a state? Give reasons.

3. Were the Indian tribes which the white man found in this country at the time of its discovery a state, or states? Give reasons.

4. Differentiate the state behind the constitution and the state as revealed in the constitution at the time of the establishment of the government of the United States.

5. Read Giddings, Descriptive and Historical Sociology, pp. 469-48o, and then decide what you think is the most important step in the development from an ethnic society to a civil state.

6. What part did the conflict of tribal groups play in the origin and development of the state?

7. Describe the part which the clans played in the development of the state. What is the modern survival in England of the ancient clan ?

8. Name the most important influences which originated the state, as set forth in the text. Compare this statement with the steps given by Oppenheimer in his The State, Chap. II (Bobbs, Merrill & Co.).

9. What political purposes did the phratry serve? Has the phratry any survival in modern political subdivisions?

10. Why did the city-state develop in Greece and Rome? Were there any city-states in medieval Europe? Why were there none in the development of the state in what is now the United States?

11. Describe the growth of political organs and functions in one of our new Western states. Why is the development of these functions in the United States not typical of the way in which they developed in, let us say, medieval Europe?

12. What evidence can you offer that the federation of the states of the United States is not yet complete?

13. In what general ways does the modern social state differ from England, let us say, of the time of William the Norman?

Outlines Of Sociology:
Social Life In General

Definition And Scope Of Sociology

Purpose And Method Of Sociology

Social Origins

Land And Its People

Social Activities

Social Organization

Organization And Life Of The Family

Disorganization Of The Modern Family

Origin And Development Of The State

Read More Articles About: Outlines Of Sociology

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