Theory of Society's Genesis

Theory of Society's Genesis Theory of Society's Genesis
Author: Dobrolyubov, Sergey V.
Journal: Social Evolution & History. Volume 8, Number 1 / March 2009


In this paper I examine quite sensitive for sociology area of know-ledge – the society's own behavioral patterns which enable society to evolve through deterministic stages. No doubt society ‘behavior’ has been originated by individuals. Nevertheless, society obtains its own nature; thus social phenomena cannot be reduced to the individual phenomena completely. Proposed theory describes the life cycle of society's self-consciousness and mechanism of its transferring to a wider society. That leads to a stepwise emergence of sustainable society within town, polis, national and civilization communities. Every such community goes through its own cycle of development in four phases: preliminary, administrative, universal and final. On universal phase community develops a unitary society, own self-consciousness and hierarchy of values. Each transfer of self-consciousness to a wider community is accompanied by a crisis of values and social identity. This mechanism is illustrated by the Roman and European civilizations.


Society cyclical genesis is an obvious phenomenon. Every civilization had similar phase of birth, development and destruction. The philosophical approach has a trend to spiritual explanation of such cycles based on realization of human ideas. We can find this spiritualism in responses to challenges (Toynbee 1939) or in acquisition of passionarian energy (Gumilev 1978) and in other social concepts (e.g., Spengler 1919; Sorokin 1941; Barta 1978). Even consideration of real social processes like class struggle (Marx 1846) or clash of civilizations (Huntington 1996) yet links those processes with society cycles quite spiritually.

Scientific approach, starting from Malthusian theory, has a tendency to explain societies growth and collapse by quantitative parameters of social complexity, cyclical economical, environmental or demographical development, social rhythms, climate cycles or periodical natural disasters etc. (e.g., Tainter 1990; Diamond 2005; Demarest 2004; Nefedov 2003; Turchin 2003). Indeed, scientific methods provided good description of cycles; however, the social nature of such repeatability (or social input to it) could still be left unclear. Not rejecting contribution of any of these causes I, nevertheless, offer a theory of societies' life cycles (cyclical genesis) based on human consciousness properties. This is a qualitative model of society's growth mechanism rather than mathematical formula of social appearance.


Human mind is creative and unique but at the same time is dependent and socially unified. Both properties have affected society.

Society is a necessity for a human being (Adler 1938). Thus, individual consciousness obtains a combination of collectivistic and individualistic needs. They may be innate or acquired in practice, but in any case, they keep individual within society and motivate him to compete and cooperate. Human being is even unable to obtain his consciousness without communication. However, mutual communication leads to stereotypic content of consciousness. That happens due to certainty of knowledge and due to human ability to acquire any knowledge and skills. From the very childhood an individual uncritically accepts shared in his society ideas, values, knowledge and practices.

This process is supported by mind's dependence on opinion of others and existing social practices. That dependence appears as an influence on individual mind of leaders, celebrities, fashion, advertising, and as variety of more specific social effects, such as bandwagon effect (Goidel and Shields 1994) or path dependence effect (Pierson 2004).

Being locked within his circle of communication, an individual develops group-unified consciousness. In spite of the fact that every individual observes his consciousness as unique, the content of his mind is similar to others. That is why variations of consciousness could be recognized as national or religious, medieval or modern.

Similar part of many individual minds forms social consciousness. This phenomenon is neither an individual perception of society, nor a collective (simultaneous) consciousness (Le Bon 1895). By social consciousness I mean the area of similarity of individual consciousnesses no matter whether it refers to society or not. In this case social is opposite to unique but not to individual. For instance, language or chess rules are social features because they are the same for everybody although they are used individually. Therefore, social consciousness consists of stereotypes, which are not only social prejudices but all common cultural, religious, social ideas, values, and simply knowledge; no matter they are true or false, negative or positive.

Degree of mind's similarity might be quite different. The ideas and values shared by majority of individuals form mass consciousness. Consequently, they are basic and simple, especially knowledge. However, elite (or group) consciousness can be social consciousness as well when society has elite (or group) structure and these elites have influence on the society1.

Human mind is developed not just in a society in general but in certain communities. Person passively inherits values of his parental community and egoistically values that community itself. Since individual is involved in many communities the social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner 1986) recognizes not only personal self but also different levels of self related with circles of group membership. In fact social identification is not only rational assignment to we but also is mental attitude to we and they. Person opposes that we to other communities the same way as he opposes his self to other people. The level of selfishness of such attitude is a value indicator of that specific social identity.

This attitude to own community can be common and be shared inside the community. That is why some part of social consciousness could be recognized as society's self-consciousness. It includes not only similar awareness of society but the whole complex of common mental, conscious, unconscious or subconscious perceptions and retrospections referred to own society: similar ideas, values, feelings, motives, needs, habits, addictions etc.

This community's ‘self’ is not a real minded self; it is just a cumulative result of similar attitudes which could be observed as single community's self-attitude. Indeed, if an individual distinguishes his community from others and has a desire to compete and cooperate with them, he transmits these motives on to society's self-consciousness via common stereotypes. Having own self-consciousness, society acquires semblance of individual (or social organism) and starts acting the same way as an individual2. That is why society has its own (in fact just common for individual and applied to society) selfishness, values, desires etc. Later on depending on the context, I will use not only general term social self-consciousness but also more particular – social self-identity and social self-awareness, which means common part of individual social identity and common awareness of society.


Therefore, we can consider an event that occurred in a society caused by collective action as society's act originated by social self-consciousness. This action is based on common values or more accurately on their priorities. Since society has self-consciousness, obviously, there should be a society's value hierarchy different from individual. An individual usually has the value of personal life as the top priority. Physiological and main selfish needs follow below and then follow the variety of other needs including altruistic, social or need of self-actualization (Maslow 1943). Social va-lue hierarchy contains common values and thus cuts off unique for each person his personal egoism. However, individual egoistic perception of society has become common and shared by other society members. That is why society value hierarchy has the value of society at the peak as well as an individual has the value of his own life at the peak of his hierarchy. Having value of itself on the top, society becomes self-sufficient and self-supported.

Social consciousness is formed by common basic parts of individual consciousnesses and vice versa, a basic part of individual consciousnesses is formed by the social consciousness. Since both consciousnesses constantly reproduce each other the combination of them becomes conservative and sustainable. The society's self-consciousness obtains continuality; it is always the same self-consciousness of the same society carrying the same value's hierarchy. In the result, society cannot switch the direction of development inside the period of certain identity; it cannot drop its goals without reaching them and start seeking for the new ones. This continuality of individual consciousness is called unique personality; as for society it is society's personality as well.

Such approach to society's actions does not contradict with freedom of individuals; it is just a different level of consideration of the same phenomenon. For instance, we can consider the Apollo program as a result of free individual actions of President Kennedy, congressmen, engineers, astronauts and all involved in the project. Indeed, all of these people have made voluntary and creative contribution to the project. But we can also consider this program as a response to the challenge of the whole American society. Looking from this perspective we will find the common desire of Americans to ensure the leadership of America in space. If the president or anybody else would ignore that desire Americans would find another president, other engineers or astronauts, but in any case they would try to satisfy that social desire.

Such selectivity of social consciousness is the reason for society's own properties. Society utilizes in social changes free activity of individuals which corresponds with the common desire. On the other hand, society remains insensitive to contradictory activity or leaves it marginal. However, that own property is only a mask on individual consciousnesses, since social consciousness is still a combination of individual.

We have seen the same in behavior of an individual. The behavioral act is committed on the basis of values priorities. If the hierarchy of values is stable, then person will most likely make the same choice in the same circumstances. For example a person may have the permanent desire to rob the bank but at the same time he has a fear of being caught. Therefore, his desire may not be satisfied. As a result, some of the desires have been actualized in the behavior but some never do; thus, due to values hierarchy the activity of individual obtains direction.

However, once the act is committed, no matter by an indivi-dual or by society, it has a huge effect legitimizing itself in consciousness. Most people want to do as others do, as common practice in society. The existing practice always takes precedence over a possible practice, although the last one could be even more effective. Existing cultural traditions and social structures obtain sustainability.


If we look at the social priorities through the personality then the value of the family and other close to a person groups could be higher than value of broad cultural commonality. However, being proud of his family, an individual nevertheless opposes to other societies, not his family directly, but the similarity of families, which is a cultural tradition within some social frames. Then an individual begins to say: we Americans (Russians, Mormons etc.) unlike others have true family values.

The question is why a person recognizes as his own society one but not the other social frame? For instance, ancient Athenians have diversity of identities (family, phyla, city, Hellenic) but they recognize polis as their society. European peoples in the nineteenth century had national identity, while now their identity is going to be more European rather than national. So, in every historical moment for every society there is a frame in which men mainly identify their society.

The indicators of community's self-identity are the community's desires and actions, thus such community is an active community. Men may have all diversity of identities: all-human, Asian, Christian, white, and even red-headed identity; but until men do not begin to wish and act as such, they do not exist as a distinct social group. Moreover, the action of the group of certain size can have reverse effect on the wide and vague social consciousness and reinforce the same frame of self-identity. That feature appears in a phenomenon known as communal reinforcement of activity (Carroll and Salazar 2005).

Since communities have ability to act as a whole, the Society is a widest community among such active communities. This community may also be called a Main Community. This community concentrates the selfishness of majority's perception of cultural, religious and other common peculiarities. The social consciousness of main community may carry the social value hierarchy with va-lue of itself on the top, and as such it obtains self-sufficiency and desire for action sovereignty. The destiny of that community becomes the highest social priority for that group of people. Other smaller and even wider communities only build their values into the main community's hierarchy and do not affect its top. Let us consider sequence of main communities of according sizes.

Town community is historically the first societal community formed in the process of primitive kin decomposing. It could be even village community, but I call it the town in order to distinguish its social nature from pure agricultural content of the term rural. Town/village community turns into the main community when it becomes a top social priority for its residents and obtains its own self-identity, self-sufficiency and need of action sovereignty. These features are valid for main community of any size.

Polis community appears as an expansion of town community to its surrounding. Its natural niche in most of the cases is a medium size valley. Community of that size gets more complex eco-nomy and society, establishes governmental institutions and becomes a city-state. The Nomes of ancient Egypt, cities-states of Mesopotamia, Greek poleis, and city republics of Medieval Europe or Novgorod republic in Ancient Russia were such poleis with their own self-identity.

National community is the main ethnic community. Its niche is the area of ethnic or language similarity; however, that area does not form a national community automatically. If the main community is still a polis, despite of the ethnic similarity it will compete with other poleis, pursuing by polis selfishness. Nations are born within the ethnic boundaries only when the unitary economic and social organism is formed within those boundaries with national self-consciousness and national values hierarchy.

Civilization community is a main community within the broadest cultural similarity. That community forms unitary self-consciousness and value hierarchy over the national level. That is possible only inside the appropriate size unitary economic and social organism where person overcomes narrow national identity.

Obviously there could be only one main community for the person. The state frameworks may or may not coincide with that main community. Thus, community may be formal or non-formal for a person. If state framework coincides with the main community, then state itself becomes cultural value for a person if not the state is perceived as alien and formal.


On the other hand, an individual consciousness is active and creative. Independent individuals strive to overcome all social stereotypes. Neither society consciousness nor social structure become eternal, they are dynamic. Society consciousness is replenished with new knowledge and new ideas. Social institutions are also reformed under the pressure of these new ideas.

Indeed, an individual consciousness has creativity and conservatism at all the time, but as it was shown earlier, the society requires and utilizes them selectively. The visible result of it is that changes in society are not smooth; they are stepwise. Society goes through periods of stability and instability. The social consciousness also has an accumulative state and state of active restructuring. At some point new ideas, which were previously distributed in marginal groups, are beginning to embrace all of a sudden consciousness of large social groups, classes, ethnicities. Then society is undergoing revolutionary changes and stabilizes in a new social structure. That new structure is in most cases broader, and thus society goes through stepwise growing.

Let's consider society activity via its self-consciousness. Obviously, we can find in social consciousness only what individual consciousnesses have – the desire to compete and to cooperate with other societies. Different main communities have different self-consciousness and own hierarchy of values, that is why the relation between the main communities is the fight for preservation of its own identity and its own values. That fight happens not because some values are better than others but because the values belong to different main communities (social organisms). Similarly, a competition happens among biological organisms not because one is stronger than others but because those organisms distinguish themselves from each other. The same happens with society; each main community strives to survive and its highest value is its own life (self-identity). Such competition among close polities has been the most visible in Ancient Greece.

In its turn, community's cooperation in economic, political and cultural spheres forms common values and leads to interpenetration. It raises altruistic, cognitive interest in another community, creates a desire to share common values and to converge communities. At the same time, community's egoism feeds resistance to inclusion in bigger community and expands own imperial ambitions to subjugate other communities. The growing closeness of values as well as the growing competition, both pushes communities to formal uniting in a bigger community. Main communities at certain level of values closeness become not just competitive but unifying competitive centers.

In course of time, formally merged communities develop common values hierarchy and self-identity. Such community merging was most obviously visible in European nation's formations (France, Russia).

Social genesis is a steady expansion of main community and transfer of social self-identity to the expanded community, thus main community goes through strengthening and dissolving of its self-identity. There are four phases (shown on Fig. 1) of this community's transformation: preliminary, administrative, universal and final.

Fig. 1. Community's development phases

Preliminary phase. At that phase a competition is beginning between different communities. It starts the process of values rapprochement.

Administrative phase. Success of one competitive center leads to creation of a new formal community. Forced nature of that consolidation unavoidably limits individuals, brings social rigidity and gives an administrative nature to the society. This rigidity prevents free competition of people but forces them to uncompetitive communication and to common values development. In course of time, such strong common values develop inside administrative community that they are sufficient for self-based community retention.

Universal phase. At that phase initial communities overcome their egoistic self-consciousness and transfer social egoism and identity to the new unity. Community builds its own hierarchy of values with the value of itself at the top of it. Universality of social identity opens the possibility of administrative liberalization of society, which in its turn gives individuals more space for activity and leads to faster economic and cultural development. On the peak of its self-identity community becomes most active, powerful and competitive. However, the growth of self-identity turns community back to the same problem – desire to compete with other communities and to form wider administrative community in which the same cycle is repeated. Thus the universality of society is often coincided with administrative subordination in broader association.

Final phase. In that association community dissolves its own social self-identity, and becomes amorphous and less socially active. It is no longer the main community or distinct social organism.

Each step of community increase creates bigger economical and social system. The process of main community expansion continues till growing economy, trade, social institutions and communication's tools are able to form and maintain that size of socio-economic system. This ability varies at different levels of material development of humankind. When the size of formal community goes beyond this ability, it becomes impossible to create universal unity of such wideness, and genesis falls. In this paper I do not consider the particular conditions of certain level of social complicity; however, I presume their existence.

The leadership in communities' competition is obtained not only by the military or economic power but by the attractiveness of society as well. More advanced social systems (Greek policies, Rome, modern Europe) or more advanced religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam) become the centers, which attract peripheries and consolidate wider communities easier.

Although during the life phases of a community it seems that we observe the same very community, the nature of connectivity into community is different. Initially it is mainly based on political ambitions of communities' elites. Later, it is based on rigidity of administrative structure, and only after that it gets values nature and becomes non-formal for a person. That is how social connectedness increases throughout the process (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Connectivity (cohesion) in a community

Since connectivity is caused by different reasons at different phases of community life cycle, the transition from one phase to another inevitably will be connected with transformation of value hierarchy and self-identity. Such transformation is characterized by value's crises, social, ethnic, religious and other conflicts. During transition to administrative phase these conflicts were external for communities; during transition to universal phase, the conflicts obtained a civil nature since they are happening with the background of already acquired some common social identity and va-lues unity. The resolution of these conflicts leads to leveling of differences and common social identity formation. This crisis has weakened the formal community because it has declined administrative connectedness, but at the same time it created opportunity to establish even more connectivity in the future non-formal unity.

Such conflicts could lead to a civil war, which is the most radical way of society leveling. The variety of types of civil wars is in correspondence with diversity of heterogeneities: those can be social, class, ethnic, religious etc. Some of heterogeneities may not be directly related to communities merged in the past, but may appear in the economic and social development of the new unity, which may lead to wealth and social stratification. Civil conflicts may also lead not to the conflict resolution but to breaking formal community into parts.

Since universal phase of one community is at the same time an administrative phase of next community, the wider communities consecutively follow each other and their development cycles are synchronized with each others in time. I suggest considering at least four cycles in civilization genesis imposed on one another (Fig. 3). They represent the consecutive expansion of town community into polis, then to national and later to civilization community. The length of the whole genesis is determined by the necessity for each community to complete self-consciousness maturity and degradation.

Fig. 3. Scheme of civilization cycle of society development


There is no local civilization that has the inevitability of its death in itself. Nevertheless, while going through the entire genesis cycle to its maximum size, civilization starts to participate in a wider inter-civilization cycle which was never able to mature enough up to universal phase in the past. At that stage all local civilizations have collapsed, being unable to digest such diversity. Traditionally, such collapses are considered through overcomplexity of society and that makes sense (e.g., Tainter 1990).

I stress here that for a person this moment is also an attempt to overcome his civilization identity and transfer the main social identity to a wider community. When he does not complete this process he loses one social identity and does not obtain a wider new one. Person loses social connectivity, becomes socially indifferent and does not perceive any community selfishly enough to consider it as his society. That is the reason for genesis completion of the whole civilization cycle.

The weakness of social identity opened society for absorption by conqueror's societies, which were mostly on lowest (often chiefdom) level of development. Society is easily fragmented and starts genesis from small communities. This fragmentation automatically leads to destruction of a seamless and complex economic organism, transition to natural farming, technical and cultural simplification, loss of education, disappearance of art except for a folk form etc. Therefore, new civilizations were able to create the new culture, cults, myths, traditions from the entry-level.

In ancient times, when effective economy was possible only in irrigated valleys of large rivers, the new civilization communities were largely developing in the same areas, forming a sequence of civilizations like few Egyptian, Mesopotamian or Chinese civilizations. The geographical continuity provided their cultural similarity. Toynbee recognized them as secondary and even tertiary civilizations (Toynbee 1939).

Note that this is an ‘ideal’ scheme of genesis. In reality this process not only requires evolutional preconditions for each step of growth but could be interrupted at any stage. Also often initial phases are masked by broad political structures. It is common case for the second generation of civilizations which may retain statehood and political traditions from previous civilizations. Nevertheless, informal structure of society is growing in the same sequence. Stepwise genesis is found in this case in cycling strengthening/weakening of society, in centralization/decentralization of administrative system etc.


The phase duration depends on the process of values convergence and society's identity ripening/decomposition. That process is slow and is limited by flexibility of individual's mind; thus it requires a number of generations. A person is unable to quickly change his social values. Even in the next generation, complete value transmutation is possible only if a person was removed from the cultural context of community from the very childhood.

However, on the border of old and new social identity both identities are weak. At that time it is much easier for new ideas, religious, cultural traditions and social goals to penetrate into the social consciousness. Moreover, society's exemption from the old social identity and acquiring wider one makes it easier to switch to the new social structure.

There is no direct measurement for the duration of society's identity in the past history. We can measure it indirectly through the life cycle of social institutions, for instance states, empires, and some traditions or practices. Most of them stay inside one phase like many European monarch dynasties; they are mostly replaced in a change of phases accompanied by social instability. For example Merovingians stayed 270 years, Carolingians – 236 years, Capetians – 342 years, Valois – 261 years, Bourbons – 203 years, Russian Romanovs – 304 years. The monarchy period in ancient Rome lasted for 244 years (753–509 B.C.), Early Republic – 256 years (509–264 B.C.), Late Republic – 237 years (264–27 B.C.) etc.

The duration of phase appears more obviously in the life cycle of invader's states because their tribal identity is only a source for retaining of big chimerical entities. Vandal kingdom existed 127 years (407–534), Visigoths state – 293 years (418–711), Mongolian Empire – 232 years (1206–1438). Many other entities had the same life cycle: Livonian Order – 324 years (1237–1561), Teutonic Order – 293 years (1232–1525), Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – 226 years (1569–1795).

Most of the social institutions also did not exceed the limits of one phase: French Estates-General were active in 1302–1484, Spanish inquisition in 1484–1808; French absolutism existed in 1643–1793. Even some traditions related to social identity had the same length of life cycle. For instance, Catholic Church changed service language from Greek to Latin only in 230 A.D. In its turn Byzantium switched official language from Latin to Greek in about 250 years after separation from West Rome Empire.

Of course it is possible to play with figures and examples. Nevertheless, when I looked through the whole life of few societies the average length of phases happened to be surprisingly stable – around 250 years. It refers to the ancient and modern societies as well (see Table 1).

Table 1. Phases duration in different societies

Type of community


Years of phases completion












Town/ village






27 B.C.


















~ 650












Ethnic (nation)



235 AD







476 AD




Phases average duration







In fact I do not know why we have such duration and why it is stable. I only may argue that each phase either should be completed because it is in the sequence of phases or otherwise genesis falls.


Suggested theory is compatible with cyclical models of society development especially if they presume some real processes which form cycles. These models may be combined the same way as the processes themselves superimposed on each other. For instance, there is a number of well founded cyclical models which consider combination of production, environmental, and demographical variables (e.g., Kondratiev 1926; Nefedov 2003; Turchin 2003; Korotayev, Malkov and Khaltourina 2006). Their economic and demographical cycles may exist within the phase of ripening of consciousness and not lead to a substantial influence on social organization as it happens in complex and more resistant (industrial) societies, but may impose their crises on social identity crises, and provoke social conflicts or even disrupt the whole genesis, as it happens in simple (pre-industrial) societies. Nevertheless, neither economic nor demographic crises by itself could lead to collapse of society and its fragmentation as well as its complication. The overcomplexity, depletion of land, depopulation and natural disasters only critically weaken society. However, they lead civilization to collapse only along with absence of social identity. The largest civilizations mainly fall as they were unable to resist barbaric invaders or competition of neighbors. Neither Rome nor Constantinople being at the top of their cultural development and at the apex of civilization were able to mobilize people to protect their societies at that moment.

Climatic cycles (e.g., Bond et al. 1997) cause another type of effect – synchronization of different geneses. The climatic deteriorations start big migrations of pastoral peoples since they are the most sensitive to climate change. Migrations initiate new genesis and interrupt existing ones on a large territory. If we suppose that the following cyclical society growth is a time function only it should not be surprising that there is significant synchrony happens not only among the polities of one region (e.g., Greece poleis), but among the polities of whole Middle East (Frank and Thompson 2005; Harper 2007), and even between distant Empires (e.g., Rome and China).


The theory can look untraditional for evolutionary approach; however it describes the same dynamical features of society as other theories do. The competitive nature of society, its gradual growth and evolutional complication are well known phenomena and widely discussed among evolutionists, including this journal. To some extent diversity of approaches is based just on difference of notions. For example, the ideological part of ‘factors’ and ‘conditions’ (e.g., Claessen 2002; Carneiro 1981) of early state formation, the role of political leaders (Kurtz 2001) and even variety of idealistic approaches (e.g., Parsons 1966) could be described by notions of ripening of social self-consciousness. Snooks (1997) represents social development as unsystematic waves about 300 year long of different economic strategies, e.g., conquest, commerce etc. These waves of strategy could also fit the notions of administrative or universal phases accordingly. There is an interpretation of the state maturation as a ‘homeokinetic’ process of horizontal pulsation of ‘we/they’ competitive pressure which led to fluctuations of cohesion and vertical integration/disintegration of society (Baum 2004). The same features of society's competition and expansion on preliminary and administrative phases could be described by world-system notions as an interaction of core and periphery (Wallerstein 1974; Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997). Parsons (1966) described the administrative and universal phases as ‘inclusion of elements’ and ‘adaptation’ of social system, and as ‘generalization of values’.

There is also obvious link between widening and complication of societies ‘as they encompass more and more settlement and grow correspondingly in size. … <that> requires societies to elaborate their structure and thus to become more complex’ (Carneiro 2005).

However, if we ask why societies start expansion at that very moment the answer will be because they became advanced enough. So the difficulty of any evolutional theory is the cause-sequences endless circle: preconditions are necessary for social development, but those conditions themselves appeared due to development. There is a need for the evolutional ‘law’ which mandatory directs society this way.

Proposed approach does not explain why and how conditions of complicity led to social complication; meaning it does not look for evolutional ‘law’. Instead it connects social dynamic with life cycle of self-identity of social organism and consider only mechanism of its phased extension, thus it is allowed to distinguish ‘conditions’ of certain social complicity and actual step of complication. First (conditions) is a potential possibility and an ‘outcome’ of accumulative previous technological and social evolution. Se-cond is a step of exact society growth. Conditions allow to move in this direction but not to execute that step. That means that there is no internal ‘drive’ or ‘necessity’ of social evolution; society has to be developed simply because it becomes wider. While any current level of complicity has no own reason for the next step of complication even with the presence of ‘conditions’; that is why we can see the decline and even collapse of societies in the same conditions. Only the competitive and cooperative nature of human being ‘drives’ him to extend his society (if it is possible) and then on the next step to ‘necessity’ of its elaboration or harmonization (if there are conditions for that).

Respectively, there are two types of social complexity. The first – is more structural administrative complexity arising from society extension, the second – is more public complexity arising from filling of this bigger structure by social fabric.

Since I agree with Carneiro's materialistic thesis ‘condition –idea – outcomes’ (2002) it is possible to consider the state of society self-consciousness as a ‘condition’ for each development step.


We also have to distinguish two aspects of social evolution: the growth of social complicity (complication) and extension of human role within society (individualization or humanization). They are somewhat correlated with two types of complexity and have own conditions for each level of development.

First aspect appeared in sequence: band – tribe – chiefdom – polis – nation – civilization – global society. That evolution is unilinear3. Conditions of that development generally are material (technological) and thus minimal since ancient societies start achieving already the size of civilization.

Second aspect appeared in sequence of advanced societies based on levels of human freedom within society. That sequence goes from totally ‘collective consciousnesses’ in early Neolithic group up to the maximally liberated and individualized consciousness in coming global society; from total mystification of nature and servant role of human to its mystic forces up to full liberation from religious and human becoming the main value and goal by itself.

In fact that second aspect of social evolution is also the evolution of consciousness. It is linked with general level of knowledge, with practical, scientific and religion understanding of human being and nature, with cultural, religious, political traditions of public activity. The conditions of consciousness' emancipation stages correlate with material development, but historically they have been accumulated in certain cultural tradition (line) and they are actually placed in social consciousness itself. Social consciousness has individuality and historical sustainability. Thus social evolution in this aspect is multidirectional (e.g., European, Eastern). That aspect otherwise is described as cultural ‘context’ of social evolution (Claessen 2006), ‘underlying conditions’ (Earl 1997), or as specific evolution in contrast with general one (Sahlins 1960).

Note that social connectivity in small communities is more patrimonial and psychological (stronger), while social connectivity in wider community is more meaningful and ideological (weaker). So the simple growth of society should potentially allow more social freedom to human being. But human may overcome more complex and advanced administrative rigidity only alone with more advanced consciousness. Thus democracy in smaller societies evolutionally happened earlier4. For example, in European cultural line democracy first appears in polis (Greece), then in nation (Rome), in complex nation (Europe), and now is establishing in European civilization. Such tendency of consciousness humanization we can find even in eastern (despotic) evolutional line as well.

Since many civilizations went through the same sequence of transformations of social rigidity and universality we can find immature patterns of ‘feudalism’, ‘capitalism’, ‘renaissance’, ‘humanism’ in ancient Greece, Rome, China etc.


Proposed theory describes competitive dynamic of societal communities thus it is not applicable to kin as a predecessor of society and to global society as its successor, because their dynamics have different nature.

Initial stages of society's genesis often coincide with ancestral community transformation into society and state. That is important problem by itself. Many researchers (e.g., Sahlins 1963; Car- neiro 1981; Claessen and van de Velde 1987; Tainter 1990; Sanderson 1995; Bondarenko, Grinin and Korotayev 2002) gave a detailed picture of early state emergence as gradual process of qualitative transformation of kin band into tribe, chiefdom and finally to state. They considered conditions, reasons and diversity of paths of that complex transformation.

I have to simplify this picture by separation kinship and societal genesis. Kinship genesis is a process of dividing tribe into parts; societal genesis is a process of combining different societies in one. Both processes are mixed in early stages of social development. Thus the complex chiefdom could be the last step before final divergence of tribes and at the same time a first step of their convergence into society. In fact, complex chiefdom has the same size community as polis or city-state, just at a different level of material development. That is why the destiny of that community is a point of evolutionist's interest (latest discussion see in collection Grinin et al. 2004). I avoid that controversial field and consider only societal genesis. At the early Neolithic age such social genesis did not start at all or ended at the complex chiefdom. Along with material development and appearance of ‘conditions’ the cycles of social genesis began extension to bigger and more civil societies: city-states, national states and local civilizations.

Slightly different problem is on the other border of the theory. The expansion up to the global society also changes the nature of social dynamic, because global society has to escape from the conditions of competitive development of various civilizations. The mechanical continuation of the current social processes could not lead to the sustainable global community. Final step required not only new social organization but a radical change of consciousness (new ‘conditions’ of complicity), comparable with the leap of consciousness that accompanied the emergence of the society itself. At the same time common understanding of that process presumes simple administrative extension (even military) of human rights ‘bureaucratic organization’ to the global size. Then ‘some civilians and noncombatants always get killed – since warfare is a very crude and dangerous instrument. But there seems to be no escape from this on the pathway to world law’ (Collins 2002). Incompatibility of these modern social processes with the future global society raises criticism of globalization (e.g., Wallerstein 1974) and interest to Marx's ideas of future society.

Now let us consider two samples of social genesis.


After applying the proposed scheme to the Rome history we can recognize Rome communities and consider their consistent transformation, shown in Fig. 3. Two main characteristics are used to date that scheme: changing of political institutions and citizenship provided to a wider group of residents, since citizenship is the most obvious sign of social identity in legal societies, such as Rome.

Rome town community – Preliminary phase (about 1000– 753 B.C.) consisted of Roman tribes' interaction and degradation of tribal relations. The society at that phase could also be described as chiefdom.

Administrative phase (753–509 B.C.) starts from the three tribes uniting into town community and establishing social institutes in it. From the very beginning the town community starts filling with plebes from the outside of Roman tribes. At the end of the phase the growth of estate closeness has allowed transformation of tribal structure into social by arranging territorial tribes with plebes included.

Universal phase (509–287 B.C.) begins with transformation of the town society from tribal monarchy into republic. In the struggle between patricians and plebes both estates in course of time get closer, obtain unified self-identify and oppose their community to hostile surroundings. Universality of society (tribal leveling) accelerated development of town economy. Since mostly plebes were involved in crafts and trade, the plebs estate in course of time got social and wealth disparity, the plebs top equalized with patricians and at the next polis stage they formed common high class – nobility. After 287 B.C. when the plebes got equal rights with patricians their conflict was transformed from the tribal one into pure social.

Rome polis community (Latium) – Preliminary phase (753– 509 B.C.) consisted of competition and cooperation among Latin town communities.

Administrative phase (509–287 B.C.). Cohesion of town community allowed Rome to begin expansion into the nearest surroundings. Rome subordinated the Latin and Etrurian communities and included them into existing Rome tribes or formed new tribes. Administrative nature of that community appeared in the fact that the new tribes got limited legislative and elective rights; that minimized their influence on internal Roman politics and decision-making.

Universal phase (287–27 B.C.) begins when all residents of Latium got citizen rights. Rome polis obtains non-formal unity bonded by own self-identity, by polis egoism and patriotism. As a strong polis community, Rome has a dizzying leap, which enables small regional centre to become the world's largest power.

Equality of rights and elimination of debt slavery lead to significant social harmonization and universalization of Latin society. Democratic institutions reach the highest point in the Rome history. The personality has been released for various social activities. The growth of economy and market up to Latium size allows Rome to consume the growing number of slaves. There is a rapid growth in agriculture, crafts and trade, minting silver coins, beginning of paving streets with stone and development of a network of Roman roads. The culture has developed too. The first gladiatorial combat was conducted in 264 B.C. The first drama was presented in 240 B.C. The first writers, historians, philosophers appeared at the same time. The art and knowledge have arisen in the Greek forms, since Greece was a source of civilization at that time.

By the end of the phase the polis self-identity starts transformation into national. This process is accompanied by the largest crisis.

Rome national community (Italy) – Preliminary phase (509–287 B.C.) started from interaction of Italic poleis, since they emerged as the administrative polities. Their competition did not lead to establishment of national size community, because the poleis had not yet obtained their own identity.

Administrative phase (287–27 B.C.) includes an administrative subjugation of Italian poleis, joining Corsica and Sardinia, Gallia Cisalpine, Sicily. At this stage, Rome ceases to establish Latin law in defeated Italian poleis but concludes union contracts that reinforce their subordinate position. That has created wider but still formal Italian community. The growing rapprochement with Rome ultimately led to a proliferation of civil rights to Italian allies of Rome at the end of the phase in 89 B.C.

Universal phase (27 B.C. – 235 A.D.) begins as the transformation crises of poleis identity into national – common for all Italics. That biggest crisis finds expression in three areas: as social conflict inside Rome polis society, as ethnic conflict of different Italic ethnic groups, as spiritual crisis of the Roman way of life.

Since Rome citizens started to lose their polis identity, it affected the army. Military reform opened a way to the army for other italics, and through it to the Roman citizenship. Ethnic and social updating involved the army into the political struggle and then into the civil war, that was stopped by military dictatorships, and then Republic transformation into Empire in 27 B.C. It was accompanied by numerous social conflicts and ethnic rebellion. Spiritual crisis expressed itself in growth of religious skepticism, in the deification of emperors, in the interest to Eastern religions, in emergence and spreading of Christianity, in Hellenize of culture, in wide dissemination of ideas about the fall of Rome mores and negligence of fathers' heritage. Nevertheless, these processes just reflected the actual state of social identity.

After transition crisis Italy, as national community, enters the universal phase. Acuity of social and ethnic conflicts is left behind and Italian society moves towards universalization. Rome becomes a giant metropolis that attracts people without differentiation of faith, culture and ethnicity. A person is liberated to creativity, business, even to idleness. Rome supports this universality by free ‘bread and circuses’. Economy gets market or bourgeois nature: big corporations act in agriculture, trade, crafts, construction; banking institutions have appeared.

Democratic forms are not developed at the national universal phase because that universal stage is at the same time an administrative to a wider civilization community. This community in a contrast with the national one has much wider cultural and ethnic heterogeneity. The need for strict obedience of conquered pro-vinces inevitably requires administrative imperial form. Nevertheless, Italy keeps self-governance in its cities, civil liberties and legal protection of citizens.

Roman national society obtained the greatest social stability at the top of national self-identity growth. This period of stability is known as a period of ‘five good emperors’ (96–180 A.D.).

Rome civilization community (Rome Empire) – Preliminary phase (287–27 B.C.) began when the administrative structure has been formed at the national level and Italy began fighting against remote centers (Carthage, Greece, Macedonia).

Administrative phase (27 B.C. – 235 A.D.) consisted of not only distraction and robbing but administrative detention of conquered peoples outside of Italy. That process actually began even earlier, but the system of provinces was accomplished during that phase. Italy, as a metropolis, retained civil and republican forms of society while provinces came under dictatorship. Italy was exempted from taxes and the tax burden was shifted to the province.

The formal merge of different components in one economical and social system started a process of mutual communication. At the end of the phase the growing convergence of values led to spread of Roman citizenship to all free people throughout the Empire (Edict Caracalla – 212 A.D.). Even Carthaginians a former Rome worst enemy obtained Roman civil rights.

Universal phase (235–476 A.D.). The expansion of ethnic base for the sake of legions forming once again makes Rome a scene for internal army conflicts. It drives Rome through a period of Soldiers emperors, known as the third century crisis (235–284 A.D.). Only when civilization community has acquired its own self-identity, the Empire gets some ethnic and social cohesion along with the last period of relative stability (284–378 A.D.).

Rome reached the limits of possible social complexity, it experienced difficulties in the universalization of its cultural and ethnic diversities; there appeared signs of vagueness of social identity and decline of society. However, the leveling of society continues; that leads to strengthening role of regions and weakening of the capital influence. Roman way of life has spread to regions, culture and education have infiltrated into all levels of society. Understanding of human being became the most universal and humanistic. A person acquired maximum possible self-realization in ancient society. Even slaves obtained some social status when they were allowed to be land bound as colonus (332 A.D.).

Inter-civilization community and its collapse – We can consider Inter-civilization community as its expansion beyond the Hellenic and Romanized world. Roman Empire has not undergone territorial expansion any more, but it has faced more distant and alien cultures and new barbaric peoples invaded its territory. Therefore, Empire participated in the competition of different civilizations on its own territory.

At the preliminary phase (27 B.C. – 235 A.D.) Rome met Goths, Franks, Vandals and other barbarian peoples. At the administrative phase (235–476 A.D.) Rome was trying to defeat them. However, their resistance exceeded the ability of weak metropolis to subordinate and keep them in the inter-civilization administrative community. Without achieving this goal Rome was not able to enter the next universal phase (after 476 A.D.). Meanwhile the civilization community itself had come to the final phase accompanied by identity dissolving.

Knowing the subsequent collapse, researchers are trying to find in the society signs of cultural decay and degradation which led to that, while the actual culture of this period is the most advanced. In fact social value hierarchy is exempted from priority of civilization community and at the same time cannot acquire any new and broader priorities. This is seen as a degradation of values. Rome overcame similar crises in the past by acquiring new self-identity in wider community. But now, the loss of social identity led to collapse of Rome civilization. Collapse was accompanied by economical, ecological and demographical crises since Rome was not able to obtain and exploit new periphery.


European genesis has features that distinguish it from the Rome's. Firstly, nations in Europe have two forms – simple mono-ethnic nation, which appeared at feudal stage, like Dutch or English; and integrated or poly-ethnic nation, which emerged at bourgeois stage – modern French or British.

Secondly, the waves of barbarian invasions and the gradual destruction of the Roman world have initiated the new geneses with a shift in time. Different degree of ancient impact, of tribal society disintegration, and even the diversity of natural niches of polis and national dimensions led the European process to become multi-polar. European genesis did not go the Roman way where the strengthening of one center led to consistent subordination of other centers. It went the Greek way, where the strengthening of one center led to its temporary military, political, or economic domination, but united competitors against that center.

If we take the eventual Roman Empire liquidation and stabilization migration of Germanic tribes to the territory of Western Europe for a starting point, we can also approximately schematize European development, see Fig. 3.

Stage I – Transition (500–750). After fragmentation of Roman social structure the economy fell down to the subsistence farming. Gallo-Roman consciousness has been already completely liberated from any social identity and easily blended with German. Village and town communities on that preliminary stage moved through simultaneous degradation of Rome social and German tribal structures. We should not be deluded by the large sizes of emerging political entities. Firstly, they based on tribal alliances, and therefore covered large territory of their resettlement. Secondly, presence of Roman social institutions provokes quick early state formation in Western Europe in contrast with Central and Eastern Europe.

Stage II – Early Middle Age (750–1000). At this stage village community obtains administrative rigidity. New social system is characterized by at least two components: administrative subordination of a person within community (serfdom dependence) and hierarchical subordination of community itself (feudal hierarchy). This combination happens when communities have not yet acquired its own identity, and overextended statehood requires administrative rigidity on both of these dimensions. At the end of the stage village and town feudal communities obtain values cohesion, thus the shifting of power center to the bottom of feudal hierarchy begins. That leads to royal power weakness and starts decentralization of big entities.

Stage III – High Middle Age (1000–1250). The value cohesion of communities appears in religious consolidation of society. Christianity by that time infiltrates down to the people's level and completely occupies European mass consciousness. Monastery's brotherhoods and orders become ideological and political leaders of society. The commonality of religious values turns communities' competition to external expansion, and feudal fragmentation has been combined with Crusade era. Universality of communities potentially opens society for liberalization, but only urban communities partially staying outside of feudal system gave a person space for individualism. All over Europe cities obtained privileges, self-government, professional guilds; they developed crafts, trade, art and science.

This stage is also an administrative for wider polis communities. Town communities try to expand and subordinate their environment. This process starts moving the center of power to the entities of polis size – City Republics, Duchy, Principality etc.

Stage IV – Late Middle Age (1250–1500). This stage covers the period from about the beginning of state centralization process up to the Reformation. Poleis at this stage come to the universal phase manifested most clearly in flourishing of Italian city Republics. Their societies were liberalized, individuals obtained some social freedoms; science, manufactories and trade were developed, first banks appeared, and arts reached the blossom.

However, that phase at the same time is an administrative for national communities. Poleis and feudal principality begin to seek an administrative frame in a wider community and form centralized national states. Yet, the egoistic polis idea always loses against the national idea for this size of society. However, even inside administrative national communities the universality of polis entities leads to some political liberalization (States-General in France, ‘great charter of liberty’ in England). The duality of these processes is observed in the fact that some poleis which escaped broader administrative associations have most evidently manifested their liberal nature, while the nationally centralized societies have clearly manifested their administrative nature.

Stage V – Reformation (1500–1750). This stage covers the period from the Reformation till bourgeois revolutions. It is the universal phase for mono-ethnic nations and the administrative phase for super-ethnic nations. Therefore, mono-ethnic nations raise li-beral and bourgeois society, and the super-ethnic nations raise absolute monarchy above that. Since center of power comes to the national level, it leads to lord deprivation of their sovereign power and complete serfdom elimination (in Western Europe).

Poleis communities dissolve their identity into national. The growing national self-identity demands its own ideological values, so in the Reformation (1517) single Christian church has been broken to the parts based on nationality. Crisis of national identity growth in some cases was combined with social (Peasant War in Germany) or ethnic conflicts (the Netherlands). By overcoming Christian suppression of individual selfishness European nations have opened a man for bourgeois values and style of life. Nationwide economy led to rapid development of technology and manufactory.

The strength of national self-identity pushes nations to outward expansion. Nations are eager to build multi-ethnic administrative entities (absolute monarchies) and even spread out their effort and egoism outside of Europe for geographical discovery and conquest.

Stage VI – Capitalism (1750–2000). This is a universal phase for super-ethnic nations and final for mono-ethnic nations. Last ones lose egoism of their self-identity and do not oppose against other European nations any more. Therefore, they are more prepared for future civilization unification than complex nations.

Super-ethnic nations have to break their administrative structure in bourgeois revolutions. They are accompanied by social and ethnic civil wars, and lead to complex nation's self-identity forming. At the beginning the political Liberty gave a man not as much social Equality and Fraternity, but freedom of economical competition. That resulted in the brutal exploitation, in wealth inequality and class stratification. In its turn growth of nation's values cohesion required social harmonization of society and respect not only to human rights but human itself. European nations in a series of social crises overcome extremes of free competition and build socially-oriented societies.

This period was also the administrative for the all-European community. However none of the European nation has had sufficient opportunity to implement a pan-European community. Nevertheless, the period of nation's straightness (1789–1945) is linked with the ongoing struggle for nation's leadership, with empires formation and with administrative merger attempts of Europe. It is not a coincidence that the French revolution led not only to political liberalization of national society, but resulted in attempt of this liberal society to achieve the whole-European control.

Stage VII (after 2000). The content of today's stage is European community formation with unified self-identity (Euro-identity) and own universal hierarchy of values. At the previous stage, even in the face of incomplete administrative consolidation, Europe went along the way of national's values convergence. That gave the Second World War 1939–45 in Europe the nature of civil war. That war has separated the old Europe of national values from the new Europe of universal human rights values. The war overturned the mind of Europeans, who realized the value of their all-European unity.

Since the civilization administrative phase in Europe is not realized in a single state, the current process of European integration into a single society only follows the ripening of common self-identity, rather than goes ahead of it and pushes it, as it happened in the past. Today, Europe demonstrates the gradual transformation of national sovereignties in the sovereignty of European Union.

However, the European self-consciousness is still uneven: Western Europeans have more civilization identity, while Eastern Europeans keep predominantly national identity. Western Euro-egoism appears in desire to localize deep integration in the area of common Western consciousness and in attempt of only formal extension of Euro-administration to Eastern periphery, while Western Euro-altruism appears in desire to fully open Western society for the East and share wealth with it. That is why the formal expansion of European integration beyond the framework of already ripened Euro-consciousness raises an inherent contradiction between deepening and broadening of integration. Advanced broadening requires either a hierarchy in Europe for compensation of this he-terogeneity or slows down the deepening integration in Western core.

Present stage is also administrative for inter-civilization (or global) society5. The globalization could be defined as an emergence of global community as a single economic and social organism with single all-humanity self-identity and single all-humanity hierarchy of values with value of all-human community on top.

Until recently, the global community has been at the preliminary phase. It was transferred to the administrative phase simultaneously with the Europe's transition to the universal phase. Along with obtaining distinct self-identity and value cohesion by Western civilization, it will start not only to more actively spread its values to the global community, but also to seek the administrative or political subjugation of the global community. The modern conflict of civilizations is fueled by this administrative attempt. Despite that, the administrative stage in some form is a necessary step toward ripening of non-formal global values unity and all-human's self-identity.

The universal phase of the global community may come after completion the administrative phase. Transition to a global society will be linked to the European's values crisis and the inter-civilization conflict deterioration (which will be seen already as internal civil conflict). Only after going through that crisis, humanity will be able to form a value unity.


If agree with the proposed theory, then there is a need to at least briefly discuss the notions of social evolution and historical periodization. My definitions would be ordinary since it is natural to understand history not as general process but more as a process occurred in particular societies. Based on that, we have to distinguish the development of exact societies and evolution of their advanced forms.

In its turn technology is able to diffuse in any type of social organization and thus technological evolution is smoother. Thus technological and social evolutions are not matched; they only correlate with one another. Their discrepancy is taking in account by social and historical chronologies (e.g., Jaspers 1953; Green 1992; Goudsblom 1996; Shanks and Tilley 1987, and recently Grinin 2007).

Indeed, at early stage of evolution social cycles were repeated many times with small evolutional impact before some society was able to make step to the next technological level and to the next wideness of social organization. Thus the historical staging based on technology (gathering/hunting, domestication of animals and plants, bronze) is adequate.

In the early Bronze Age the cycles of social genesis began extension and achieved up to 1.5 thousands years in local civilizations (e.g., Egyptian, Chinese, Roman). In the most cases, they started development on chiefdom level, then recapitulated the sequence of social forms and fell again to the simpler forms of social organization. On the stage of maturity of their existence some civilizations were able to do significant evolutional impact in knowledge, technology and social organization and then development coincides with evolution. Nevertheless, the reached level had to decline. European society also started with chiefdom and passed few social stages of growth and development. Now the acceleration of technological evolution led to ongoing technological transformations of the same very society (such as industrial, informational). Now the life cycle of society self-identity exceeds the life periods of new technological platforms. This can be said otherwise: ‘if the system persists, the overall speed of its development cannot exceed the speed of the least dynamic (most conservative) element (for example, ethnic, or religious-ideological consciousness, or morals) whose change needs the change of generations’ (Grinin 2007). Thus now social and historical chronology based on technology starts looking inadequate. My point is that whatever base is used for staging (technology, main classes, consciousness, religious etc.) it is impossible to ignore the life-cycle of society, since all social processes take place only in it.


It would be interesting to look at life cycle of other societies through that sequence of transformations. I do not feel myself competent enough to do that especially in regards to early and exotic cultures. Nevertheless, the initial stages of city-state organization and following national centralization are easily recognizable in history of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Korea, Japan, pre-Columbian America etc. I would appreciate critics and opinions on that matter which you may send to the editors of Social Evolution & History or to me at


[1] Group (class) consciousness traditionally is a subject for Marxist's analysis of society (Lukacs 1920).

2 There is significantly wide notion of social super-organism in living systems theory (Miller 1978; Heylighen 2007) which I am not ready to follow. My notion is limited to the organism-like property of society based only on similarity of individuals.

3 Problem of unilinearity and multilinearity (Steward 1955) of social evolution recently discussed by Claessen (2006), Grinin et al. (2004).

4 Both autocracy and democracy are natural features of human society since even primitive bands already combined authority of leaders and self-governance of a group.

5 There is a probability that this way will require one more step – forming poly-civilization communities (e.g., Western, Eurasian or Asian). It may delay emergence of global community by one more phase.


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