Theories of the Origin of the State

Origin of the State: 5 Major Theories of the State

There is no single historical view of the origin of the state, as the topic of the evolution of the state is a complex one with many different theories and diverse perspectives. Some argue that the state emerged from the need for order and security in early human societies, while others suggest that the state developed as a result of the growth of agriculture and trade. Another perspective is that the state emerged as a way to control and regulate resources, such as land and water.

Regardless of the specific theories, it is generally agreed that the state developed over time rather than being a single, sudden event. How does this compare to your understanding of the origin of the state?

5 Theories on the Origin of the State

Theories on the origins of the state can be divided into four main categories: force theory, evolutionary theory, divine right theory, social contract theory, matriarchal and patriarchal theory.

1. The Theory of Divine Origin

This is the oldest theory about the origin of the state and offers a very simple explanation. The exponents of this theory assert that the state has been created by the Divine Will and is ruled by the chosen representatives of the Almighty. Thus, the kings are not like ordinary men. They are the agents of God and possess unlimited power. To protest against their authority is to incur the wrath of God, and there is the provision of punishment by divine will.

This idea was very common in the earliest states. The political authority at that time was believed to be connected with some unseen powers. The ruler was the combination of the King and Priest of the King magician in him. The people gave obedience to him and feared him.

We find support for this theory in almost all the religious summaries. In the Old Testament, God is looked upon as the immediate source of royal power. "He is regarded," as Gilchrist writes, "as selecting, anointing, dismissing, and even slaying kings." He is pleased and dissatisfied with them; their policy is judged according to the greater policy of God. In the Mahabharata, there is also a reference to the divine origin theory of the state.

In the Santi Parvam, it is said that the people approached God to save them from the intolerable conditions of anarchy and chaos of the state of nature, and God sent Manu as His representative to rule over them. This theory also received support in the Islamic religion. The ancient Persians, Egyptians, Chinese, and Japanese also believed in the divine origin theory. The advent of Christianity strengthened the claims of this theory.

The Church Fathers found favor in the statement made by St. Paul. "Let every soul be subject unto the highest powers, for there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whoever resists the power resists the ordinance of God, and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

There was a long struggle between the Catholic Pope and the King, and both of them claimed to be the real representatives of God on earth. At the end of the Middle Ages, the King won the struggle. He was regarded as the embodiment of God on earth, with unlimited powers.

The theory of divine origin of state came to mean gradual the divine right of kings. That is, the king receives authority directly from God and is accountable to God alone. The king may be good or bad, but the people cannot ask any questions about the right or wrong of his acts. The king has power over the lives and deaths of the people.

To rebel against a King, even if he is bad, is to rebel against God. If the king is wicked, it is to be regarded that God has purposely sent him as a punishment to the people for their sin. Hence, rebellion, in any form, is an unpardonable crime. The belief in the divinity of kings is still prevalent among the tribals of different parts of India and Nepal.

The important points of the theory of divine right of the king are as follows:

  • Monarchy exists by the will of God.
  • It is through the divine rights of the kings that authority passes from father to son.
  • Kings derive power from God and are answerable to Him alone, and
  • To resist the legal authority of the king is a sim.

Weaknesses of Divine Origin Theory

The theory of the divine origin of the state has no place in the political discussion of today. Nobody relies on it. The state has not been created by God. It is a human creation for the sake of a good life. The divine origin theory of the state justifies the absolute power of an arbitrary ruler. It surrounds the state with an atmosphere of mysticism, which is above criticism.

That the theory also justifies the reckless rule of the king, and it does not hold good in any other form of government. This theory is antagonistic, especially to democracy.

Strenghts of Divine Origin Theory

The study of the divine origin theory is not altogether fruitless. We cannot ignore the importance of the role of religion in the development of the state. At a time in history when the bond of social unity was loose and there was mutual jealousy and rivalry among people, the fear of God's wrath brought a sense of unity. To render obedience to the ruler was a religious duty. Thus, the first basis of political society was formed.

Secondly, this theory added a moral tone to the activities of the ruler. Some of the rulers also feared that their activities would ultimately be judged by the supreme God.

In the twenty-first century, the influence of religion on politics has not entirely died down. Some states, such as Israel, Pakistan, and much of the Arab world, have been formed on the basis of religion. In fact, in much of the Arab world, Islamic principles guide the policy of administration of the country and the relationship between the citizens and the state.

2. Social Contract Theory

Essentially, the theory of popular sovereignty, which eventually triumphed over that of the divine right of kings, was based largely on the notion that men had originally created the state by means of a social contract to which every individual consented. In fact, the social contract theory hinges on the belief that men, at a particular point in history, freely agreed to establish a social compact under a government. This required that everyone adhere faithfully to the terms of the contract.

Over the years, many different versions of the social contract theory have advanced. Three of the best-known and most widely read social contract theorists were Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679). John Locke (1632–1704) and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778).

Starting with Thomas Hobbes, he published The Leviathan in 1651 in a bid to justify royal absolutism and to ensure some semblance of peace and harmony in crisis-ridden English society. It is fairly understandable why Hobbes should opt for absolute monarchy at that time. In fact, he lived in the days of the great civil war in England (1642–51) and thought that permanent peace could be restored only by absolute government.

The central argument of Thomas Hobbes, as encapsulated in the Leviathan, is that man is naturally selfish, cruel, and cunning. He is not social and cannot tolerate the happiness of others. In his urge for self-preservation at any cost, life was reduced to a state of savagery characterized by continual fear and the danger of violent death. In Hobbes state of nature, all are the enemies of all, and only brute force has the right to self-preservation and survival.

Consequently, driven by the sheer necessity and urgency of self-preservation, men made a covenant or, at any rate, a contract among themselves and formed a state. That covenant is made not by the government and the people but by every man with every man. In this way, the state of nature is abandoned and civil society is established. Hobbes extreme desire to support absolutism clearly failed to recognize what we now call political sovereignty. He describes merely legal sovereignty and insists on making it absolute and all-encompassing.

Again, Hobbes made no difference between the state and the government. He only identifies the will of the state with the will of the government, thereby making it extremely difficult to remove a despotic ruler. To him, rebellion or disobedience against a particular ruler would inevitably lead to the destruction of the whole state.

In the case of John Locke, who lived through the period of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, he tried to justify the ultimate authority of the people over the ruler. While supporting the revolution of 1688, the deposition of King James II, and the ascension of William III, Prince of Orange to the throne of England, he succeeded in propounding a more enlightened version of the social contract different from Hobbes.

In his "Two Treatises of Civil Government," which was published in 1690, John Locke begins with a state of nature, just like Hobbes, but his state of nature does not portray such a gloomy and horrible picture in the sense that there was a certain natural right to liberty, equality, and mutual respect for the rights of all. Hence, natural rights do not merely imply the right to self-preservation by sheer brute force, and the state of nature was not a state of constant fear and war.

Essentially, Locke's state of nature was a state in which men were sympathetic towards others, cooperative in their attitude, and enjoyed some degree of natural rights. In spite of being sociable, people felt very insecure and threatened. To address this problem, two contracts are necessary. The first is a contract of each with all where all men agree to form a community in order to fully secure and protect themselves.

There is a second contract between society and the government. Through this contract, the community empowers the government to rule the country and to act as the trustee of the security of the people.

As earlier said, the main purpose of Locke's contract was primarily to support the resentment of the people against royal absolutism, which was quite successful. According to Locke, the power of the ruler cannot be unlimited; he made the government subordinate to the consent of the people.

In this case, he recognized the obvious distinction between the government and the state. The dissolution of a government does not mean the absolution of the state and its agencies. A bad and oppressive government may be removed by the people while the state remains.

Finally, in the work of Jean Jacques Rousseau, "The Social Contract," published in 1762, he markedly departed from Hobbes and Locke in his conception of the state of nature. Rousseau's state is one of idyllic peace and happiness. Man is social and sympathetic and enjoys complete freedom, simplicity, and equity. But this condition does not persist for long due to the emergence of three things: an increase in population, the origin of private property, and the growth of reason. As a result, a difference is made between the rich and the poor, and the oppression of men by men becomes common.

Therefore, the problem before them is how to form an association that, with all its force, will maintain the security of life and property without infringing on individual freedom and liberty. This problem, according to Rousseau, can only be solved through social contracts. The contract is made by all with each and each with all. It must be emphasized that Rousseau's social contract is total and unavoidable in the sense that the surrender of rights is without reservation, and hence, the sovereign is absolute.

Strenghts of the Social Contract Theory

One interesting feature of Rousseau's social contract is that it represents collective good as opposed to selfish interests of all. In this regard, all the individuals form the 'General Will' for the total welfare of themselves, and thus there can be no other interest contrary to the interest of the community. It further implies a tacit agreement that the general will may force its obedience on any man who, prompted by his private interest, refuses to obey it.

Weakness of the Social Contract Theory

However, the main defect of Rousseau's social contract theory lies in his explanation of general will. He places no limit on the authority of the community over its members. His general will is not only absolute and sovereign but also justifiably right in all circumstances. Besides, his general will appears to conflict with the will of all, thereby creating inconsistency. Overall, Rousseau's theory is capable of being misinterpreted by totalitarian and autocratic leaders for selfish purposes.

3. The Theory of Force

The force theory also intends to explain the origin and nature of the state. So far as the factor responsible for the origin of the state is concerned, the advocates of this theory have one point to make, and that is force. The state has come into existence through the application of force. Man is social, no doubt, but at the same time he is selfish and never contended with his fortune.

In primitive society, fighting and rapacity were very common among the people of the same group. A strong man became the leader of the group and brought other members under his control. With the help of his followers, the leader continued to struggle with other groups.

The strong group subjugated the weak and increased the number of members of his group. In this way, the struggle continued between clan and clan and a tribe against another until the victorious tribe occupied a definite territory where the authority of the leader was undisputed and absolute. There was thus the beginning of a state.

Aggression has brought the state, and it has also maintained its existence. Once the state is formed, it must have force to maintain internal peace and protect the country from external threats. Thus, force is the main factor in the historical origin and development of the state. Some of the thinkers have used the term 'force' in a broad sense to mean physical power, intellectual capacity, and religious factors.

The force theory, like the divine origin theory, was used by many writers to serve different purposes. In the medieval period, the Church Fathers used this theory to prove the supremacy of the church over the state. They advocated that the state was the result of brute force, while the church was a divine institution.

Later on, the individualists used force theory for the maximization of individual liberty in the state. It is in the nature of the state, they held, that the stronger should prevail over the weaker. There should be as little state control as possible, and individuals should have complete freedom for the realization of their own interests.

The exponents of the theory of force believe that

  • The state originated with the application of sheer brute force, and
  • The state continues on the basis of force.

Critics have pointed out that this theory. is true, but only partially. Force, indeed, played an important part in the emergence and maintenance of the state. There are instances of so many wars and the rise and fall of so many empires in history.

The application of force may change the very nature of a particular state. Even today, the state requires forces to maintain internal peace and external security. But force is not the only factor—not the very important one—that is responsible for the evolution of the state. If force were the only basis and principle of the state, then might would be the maker of right.

4. Patriarchal Theory

This theory tries to explain that the state has its origins in the family. A state is the enlargement of a family. The primary family was composed of a father, mother, and children. The father was the head of the family, and his authority over the members was supreme.

As time went on, members of the family increased, children were married, and different families were set up. But all the members were united by the bond of blood of the relationship, and the father was still regarded as the head. This is called a patriarchal family. When the father died, authority passed to the next eldest male member, and thus the unity of the family remained unaffected.

In the course of time, families developed into clans, and then different clans combined together to form a tribe. There was a need for unity under one authority to maintain discipline and security. In this process, the biological family expanded into a tribe, and different tribes combined to form a state.

Aristotle also believes that the state has come about naturally through the expansion of biological families, and the authority of the original king is derived from the authority of the eldest male member.

Sir Henry Maine is the chief exponent of this theory. He developed this theory in his two books, "Ancient Law" and "The Early History of Institutions," published in 1918 and 1914, respectively. He develops his theory on scientific observation from the history of ancient civilization, the study of contemporary uncivilized races, and ancient law.

Thus, Henry Maine tries to lay a scientific foundation for the theory. He defines it as "the theory of the origin of society in separate families, held together by the authority and protection of the eldest male descendant." The eldest male member is all-powerful over the members of the family. In the words of Maine, "His dominion extends to life and death and is as unqualified over his children and their houses as over his slaves.".

To quote Maine again: "The elementary group is the family connected by subjection to the highest male ascendant. The aggregation of families forms the gens, or house. The aggregation of houses makes a tribe. The aggregation of tribes constitutes the 'commonwealth.'"

The theory rests on three assumptions:

  • Permanent marriage
  • Kin-relationships
  • Authority of the eldest male descendant

In support of his theory, Maine cites innumerable examples from ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, and the joint family system in India. In spite of this effort, his theory has been subjected to severe criticism.

  • Modern research in the history of primitive life shows that the patriarchal family was not universal. McLennan (1930) points out that the earlier and original social unit was the matriarchal family, where descent was traced from mother to daughter. It has been found that, in the early family, there was polyandry—one woman having many husbands—and the authority of the woman was recognized. The patriarchal type of family developed in the later phases of human civilization.
  • Jenks (1900) is another supporter of matriarchal theory. He asserts that Maine's statement of the state as the gradual development from family and then from tribe is incorrect. In reality, the development came in just the opposite direction. The tribe is the primary group. It splits first into different clans, and then from each clan, the family emerges.
  • Matriarchal families and polyandry are still found among some tribal races in different countries.
  • An important charge against this theory is that it is merely a speculative account of the beginning of society, particularly family. It does not explain the origin of the state.

5. Matriarchal Theory

This theory emerges as a protest against the patriarchal type of family. Morgan, McLennan (1930), and Jenks (1900) are its chief advocates. According to them, the patriarchal family cannot be the primary social unit. The authority of the father is possible in the case of monogamy or polygamy, i.e., where a man marries one woman or more women.

In such cases, the family forms and grows with the husband or father at its head. But intensive study of the primitive tribes has revealed that the earliest type of marriage was polyandry—one woman having several husbands. It is natural that members of this family would be loosely connected with one another. "Maternity is a fact, and paternity is an opinion."

The mother was the head of the family, with supreme authority over its members, and descent was traced from mother to daughter. The outstanding features of the matriarchal society are:

  • Transient marriage relationships,
  • Kinship is traced to the mother.
  • Authority over the mother is established.
  • Females only succeed in property and authority.

The early form of social institution was thus a family, where the woman was placed at the highest position of power and property and everything was counted on her line. But with the invention of the cultivation and domestication of animals, families marked by patriarchal descent gradually evolved. Man gradually settled into pastoral occupations. He realized the value of women in domestic functions and thus arose the institution of permanent marriage, either monogamous or polygamous.

Thus, according to the advocates of the matriarchal family, patriarchal families emerged in a later phase of primitive institutions when men developed agricultural and pastoral habits.

Matriarchal theory faces almost the same criticism as patriarchal theory. In this book, "The Early History of Institutions," Sir Henry Maine admits most of the evidence put forward by McLennan. But he points out that polyandry may be found among many tribal races. There is no definite proof that this system of social institutions was universal and essential at the beginning of human society. Again, he points out that women being physically weaker is meant to be dominated by men. Thus, matriarchal theory cannot replace patriarchal theory.

The critics question the validity of the fundamental ideas of these theories. There is no definite proof that the state is the enlargement of the family.

In fact, it is very difficult to generalize a single form of primitive family that is universal. In some places, there was a matriarchal relationship, and in other places, it was patriarchal.

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