ORIGINS OF THE STATE AND CIVILIZATION: The Process of Cultural Evolution by Elman R. Service

ORIGINS OF THE STATE AND CIVILIZATION: The Process of Cultural Evolution

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An academic restatement of the idea that civilization and the state arose from ""the brightest and the best,"" natural leaders and administrators, who had to fight off bellicose neighbors. This view is counterposed polemically to the approach--here ascribed to Marx, Lewis Morgan and V. Gordon Childe--that tribes and other rudimentary social organizations engender formal governments as the need arises to take charge of more complex, stratified economic divisions within the population, leadership came first, says Service, seeming to imply that--like Crusoe and Friday--the strong man appeared and then found someone to dominate. The only convincing example of the book's assumption that the state took shape through conflict with outsiders is the extreme case of the Cherokee Indians, who, according to Service, developed a state to carry on the battle against aggressive settlers. One wonders why all the endemic primitive conflicts by still-tribal societies did not lead to the formation of a state; in America, it was generally government negotiators who insisted that the Indians create one. It is possible to say that the highly organized Mesopotamian state arose from an immediate need for defense against other cities and barbarian raiders. But its socio-economic stratification also provides abundant evidence for the Marx-Morgan-Childe thesis. At any rate, the book's summaries of the character of early civilizations in the Indus Valley, China, Mesoamerica and Africa are far too abbreviated to sustain Service's argument. The book is chiefly useful as a statement of the Social Darwinist bias in anthropology, an approach long on the defensive as more and more scholars have taken up serious weighing of economic determinants.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1975
Publisher: Norton