Was the War Caused by the Circumscription the Only Way to the State?

Was the War Caused by the Circumscription the Only Way to the State?
Authors: Ganzha, Alexander; Shinakov, Evgeniy A.
Journal: Social Evolution & History. Volume 11, Number 2 / September 2012

One often says that everything new is actually well-forgotten old. And that is not always bad, especially when the author names his ‘genetic’ predecessor, very often – himself. The passed years, amassed scientific material and usage of new methods in its processing allow fixing, updating and modifying the good theory, to extend it on larger territories and other types of societies. Robert L. Carneiro basing on his article A Theory of the Origin of the State (Carneiro 1970) considers its main provisions to be proved.

It is interesting, that almost at the same time the resource circumscription as the leading force of societal development was formulated in the works of different authors, belonging to the ‘geographical determinism’ scientific school in 1969 (Igor M. Zabelin) and 1973 (Valery P. Alekseev). From the early 1970s an interdisciplinary student group (including the authors of this review) under the Young Scientists Council of MSU, headed by G. A. Kuznetsov, studied this problem. At the same time, the mathematical model of the evolution of society and nature interaction began to be created. In the process of developing the conceptual model we mostly made use of Alekseev's works. The most important point of this model is that the population density, the land carrying capacity and the average norm of the necessary product consumption per capita in calories could be expressed in the form of numbers, graphics and mathematical formulae, that enable to interpret historical facts, events and processes and to foresee the latter etc.

The 1970 and 2012 year's articles are separated by two rather conceptual works of 2000 and 2004 years (the last one was published in The Early State, its Alternatives and Analogues in 2004 (Grinin et al. 2004). Both articles state the economical, not ‘ideological’ nature of the trigger, unlike the number of ‘idealistic’ works that had appeared by that time. In his second article, the famous scientist just ‘knocks at an open door’ when tries to prove the absence of an impassable gap between processualism and stage approach to the process of state formation. From the context of several articles, especially the one under review, it becomes clear that Carneiro acts like a universalist. And he makes a step back not only from the multilinear, and even non-linear, conception accepted in recent years in political (social-cultural) anthropology but even from the 19th century's Marxism. At the outset of his dispute with Eugene During and later in a separate scientific research, Engels marked three patterns of development of the class society and state – ‘Athenian’, ‘Roman’ and ‘German’. Note that classes appear before the state only within the first pattern.

But for us it is more important, that in the second half of the 19th century Engels, criticizing ‘During's violence theory in general’, did not deny (in his work The Origin of Family, Private Property and State) that the conquest and war (the ‘military’ way of political genesis) could lead to the state formation: ‘War was the first common work’ (Engels 1989).

Thus, Carneiro has many predecessors holding different political views, beginning with Gesiod. The only difference (not with everyone) consists in the economic, not psychological and ideological causes for war and, eventually, for the state formation. Among Carneiro's coevals Jonathan Haas abandoned the idea that war was the only cause for state formation, though he supported this idea strongly at first (Haas 1982). But Carneiro, according to the reviewed article, returned to the military universalism, which very often is caused not only by ‘sharply environmentally circumscribed’ [Harris 1979: 102]. However, wars were not the only way to cope with the crisis: there could be other different ways to decrease population (killing ‘the extra mouths’, external migration). The new systems of nature-using could also get a society out of the crisis. They were created by the non-traditional thinkers, which had been prosecuted by the society as ‘heretics’ (‘cultural heroes’). They were the bearers of different cultural, social and technical innovations (‘social mutations’), which allow increasing the ‘demographical capacity’ of the old territory (intensive development) up to the new crisis.

The new idea in the article (in comparison with statements made by Carneiro himself, by his predecessors and followers) is that the main trigger for the primary union of several villages by military means (coercive way) was not poverty, hunger or the risk of extinction and, as an alternative, the capture of the fertile lands, but the possession of the neighbors' resources (with mostly total annihilation of the latter). Both these factors were generally found together and worked in tandem, but each in its own way, generating and increasing the population pressure and as a result contributing to the eventual outcome. If Carneiro is formally an adept of non-linear stepping process, the same collection of resources leads both to the primitive little chiefdom, to complex (compound) chiefdom, as well as to the state itself. Such an extreme diachronic as well as lateral-typological universalism can hardly correspond to numerous realia (e.g., the Old Russian ones) and to the forty-year progressive and perspective development of political anthropology. Over the last twenty years many Russian scientists have contributed to the development of this science (though there are not very many specialists in Old Russian history among them) that is why we can say, that the centre of development has shifted to Russia.


Alekseev, V. P.

1969, 1973. Genetics and Anthropology. Naukaizhizn 9: 69–75.
InRussian (Алексеев В. П. Генетика и антропология. Наукаижизнь9: 69–75).

Carneiro, R. L.

1970. A Theory of the Origin of the State. Science 169: 733–738.

2004. Was the Chiefdom a Congelation of Ideas? In Grinin, L. E., Carneiro, R. L., Bondarenko, D. M., Kradin, N. N., and Korotayev, A. V. (eds.), The Early State, its Alternatives and Analogues (pp. 28–45). Volgograd: Uchitel.

Engels, F.

1989. The Origin of Family, Private Property and State. Moscow: Progress. InRussian(Энгельс, Ф. Происхождение семьи, частной собственности и государства. М.: Прогресс).

Haas, J.

1982. The Evolution of the Prehistoric State. New York: Columbia University Press.

Harris, M.

1979. Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for Science of Culture. New York: Random House.