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Dmitri M. Bondarenko
(National Research University
“Higher School of Economics”
On the Nature and Features of the (Early) State: An Anthropological Reanalysis*
The state is usually considered to be a centralized and specialized coercive institution for
governing a society. Contrariwise, our approach stems from the presumption that the state
should be studied as a type of society for which this institution is adequate. This leads to
the necessity of paying special attention to the coming to the fore of the non-kin relations in
state society. Political centralization cannot be regarded as a feature specific to the state, as
it is applicable to many non-state forms of societies. In the meantime, the feature typical
only for the state is specialization resulting in administrators’ professionalization, that is, in
the formation of bureaucracy which is related directly to the non-kin social ties coming into
prominence. As for the right to coerce, it is a dependent variable: the legitimate violence in
states is exercised through and by bureaucrats who operate within bureaucratic institutions.
state, society, kinship, territoriality, political centralization, administrative specialization,
bureaucracy, legitimized violence
The state as a societal type
Up until the present time, hundreds of definitions of the state have been proposed, and it
turns out to be actually impossible to combine all (or even almost all) of them into one
“generalized” definition. However, it still may be argued quite safely that within the
framework of the overwhelming majority of modern theories of the state this phenomenon
is considered to be a specialized and centralized institution for governing a society. The
state’s right to exercise coercive authority (legitimized violence) is often added as the
state’s critical characteristic feature” (see, e.g., “summarizing” definitions in anthropological encyclopedias and text-books of the 2000s: Abélès 2000; Kottak 2002:104, 242, 269,
509; Kradin 2004:268; Ferraro and Andreatta 2011:319–320, 429). This approach to the
state, rooted in the European political, philosophic, legal, and anthropological thought from
Antiquity on (Service 1975:21–46; 1978a; Gomerov 2002:14–68), became equally typical
for Marxists, (neo)evolutionists, and structuralists in the 20th century notwithstanding the
significant differences between them.
However, the approach the present author advocates stems from the presumption
that the state should be perceived not as a specific set of political institutions only, but first
and foremost as a type of society to which this set of institutions is adequate (Bondarenko
2008)1. However, at the same time we admit that on some occasions it may be reasonable to
separate the two aspects of the state for analytical purposes and thus to talk about the state
in two respects: political and social. The society is normally a broader notion. On the one
hand, it supplements political characteristics by, and combines them with, social (and
through them economic) characteristics. On the other hand, the social and political subsystems often develop asynchronously, with the political system most frequently2 evolving at a
more rapid pace and being able to approach the parameters of state-type administration earlier than the social system acquires the primarily territorial division of the citizens and
composition of the polity as its basis. As Johnson and Earle put it,
Whereas chiefdoms vest leadership in generalized regional institutions, in
states the increased scope of integration requires specialized regional institutions to perform the tasks of control and management. … Along with
this increasing elaboration of the ruling apparatus comes increasing stratification. Elites are now unrelated by kinship to the populations they govern… (2000:304).
However, it is clear that all its subsystems (economic, social, etc., including political) are
intertwined and in preindustrial cultures are even inseparably integrated. This fact gives us
even better grounds for labeling a society by its general, overall societal type, and not by
the features of its political institutions only. It ought to be noted that the understanding of
societal forms (including the state) as involving not only political but also socio-economic
characteristics serves as a basis for the still somewhat influential theories of evolutionists
(from Maine to Engels), of the French sociological (Durkheim, Mauss), American historical
(especially Lowie), and British structuralist (Evans-Pritchard, Fortes, Mair and others)
schools, and of substantivists in economic anthropology beginning with Polanyi (see Earle
1994:947). The famous American neoevolutionist conceptions (of Sahlins, Service, Fried,
Carneiro, and Haas) also derive more or less openly from this premise, though, indeed in
the final analysis “the whole progression (from band to state. – D. B.) … is defined in terms
of political organization” (Vansina 1999:166).
We are convinced that scholars can use whatever definitions of the state they choose
if they are appropriate for the purposes of their concrete research and if the definitions remain consistent throughout their single pieces, but within the general theoretical framework
the notion of the state must not be reduced to its political component. Otherwise, “two independent notions – the state and the state institution, are mixed up” (Belkov 1993:32). In
the meantime, for instance, the Archaic State conception elaborated by a group of archaeologists headed by Feinman and Marcus (1998) does limit the notion of the state to a specific
kind of political organization, as the state is seen by them merely “… as a political or governmental unit…” (Marcus and Feinman 1998:4). In his recent works Alain Testart also
declares openly that “the State is something political” and “… the emergence of the State is
a political fact” (2012:105, 107). Contrary to the approaches of this sort, Henri Claessen, a
founder and the main proponent of the Early State concept, declares openly that the state
“… is a specific kind of social organization, expressing a specific type of social order in a
society” (2002:102; 2003:161). Precisely this vision (which also naturally presupposes the
embracing of the political aspect of a social system) coincides completely with that of the
present author.
The holistic approach to the state, that is the approach that treats it as a type of society for which a definite set of political institutions is adequate, leads to the necessity of paying special attention to the coming to the fore of the non-kin, territorial relations in state
society – a point which, as it must become clear from the aforesaid, is often left out of
many contemporary definitions of the state, consciously or not, due to the widespread vision of it as merely a specific form of political organization3.
As it is well known, Maine and Morgan contrasted the kin-based prestate society
(societas) with the territory-based state society (civitas) as the one underpinned by presum-
ably primordial “natural” ties versus the one formed by, in this sense, artificial ties. However, already Shurtz at the dawn of the 20th century and ultimately the British structuralists
and American Boasians in the mid 20th century demonstrated that Maine and Morgan (as
well as later Engels4 following Morgan) had postulated the opposition between kinship and
territoriality too rigidly, even if the social dimension of the former phenomenon had been
acknowledged. These and a number of other mid-20th century anthropologists provided
conclusive arguments for the importance of territorial ties in non-state cultures. As a result,
already in 1965 Lewis had good reasons to argue that “the fundamentally territorial character of social and political association in general is indeed usually taken for granted, and has
been assumed to apply as much to the segmentary lineage societies as to other types of society” (1965:96). A year later Winter wrote categorically that although the dichotomy between kinship and territoriality had been “useful” in the days when it had been introduced
by Maine, “that day has passed” (1966:173). From approximately the same time on, archaeologists and anthropologists do not hesitate to write about territoriality among even the
most “primitive” human associations – those of non-specialized foragers (e.g., Campbell
1968). Finally, since the 1960s sociobiologists also, based mainly on the ethnographic evidence from the most archaic cultures, postulate that the sense of territoriality (that is, the
feeling of a territory as his or hers and willingness to protect it from outsiders’ intrusions) is
an inborn human feature inherited from the pre-human ancestors (e.g., Ardrey 1966).
On the other hand, historians (especially medievalists) have also shown that typologically non- and originally prestate institutions of kinship could and did remain important
in state societies. Reynolds even complained in 1990 of that though “all that we know of
medieval [Western European] society leaves no doubt of the importance of kinship … we
(medievalists. – D. B.) have in the past tended to stress kinship at the expense of other
bonds” (1990:4). As for anthropologists, by the mid-1950s, “experience in the field has
shown again and again that for thousands of years and in many latitudes, kin ties have coexisted with the pre-capitalist state” (Murra 1980:XXI). In fact, it has eventually turned out
that the kinship vs. territory problem is a matter of degree and not of almost complete presence or absence, although the general socio-historical tendency is really for the gradual
substitution of kin-based institutions by territory-based ones at the supralocal levels of socio-cultural and political complexity. At the same moment, Testart insists on omitting control over a well-defined territory from the definition of the state. He is right in emphasizing
that it is only a modern legal tradition to relate a state as an association of its citizens to a
territory, a tradition that put a clear imprint on anthropological thought (Testart 2005:81–
82). Indeed, in archaic societies the sovereign’s power is typically regarded as that over
people, not over a certain part of the Earth’s surface (see, e.g., Kopytoff 1987).
In reality, Morton Fried was correct in postulating that the state is organized not on
a non-kin but on a “suprakin” basis (1970/1960:692–693).
Taking all the aforesaid into account, we nevertheless still agree with the argument
that “the most fundamental… distinction (between the state and non-state societies. – D. B.)
is that states are organized on political and territorial lines, not on the kinship lines…” (Diamond 1997:280). Hence we also believe that the “kinship – territoriality” criterion of differentiation between the state and non-state societies is valid and deserves attention
(Bondarenko 2008:19–22). Note that even highly developed prestate cultures, like complex
chiefdoms, are normally characterized as essentially kin-based societies (vide stricto Earle
1997:5; Milner 1998:2; Grinin 2011:247–248, 254; Sneath 2011:146–149). What should be
realized clearly and not forgotten while dealing with this criterion is that it is really evolutionary: “Kinship-based divisions [in the society] gradually lose their importance in favour
of institutional, political and economic divisions” (Tymowski 2008:172; emphasis added. –
D. B.). In this respect, history is a continuum of socio-political forms in the typological sequence. In this sequence one can observe a general dynamic from greater to less importance
of kin vs. territorial relations that eventually resulted in the fact that “kinship and other
types of ascriptive relationship have ceased to be central organizing principles of society”
(Hallpike 1986:1). So, by no means should one expect a gap from complete (or even almost
complete) domination of kinship to absolute prominence of territorial ties.
We shall not argue that the state in its full sense, that is in both social and political
respects, begins when division by territory supplants that by kin virtually completely (following Maine, Morgan, and Engels). However, we will also disagree with Claessen that the
“inchoate” but nevertheless state may be “… associated with dominant kinship, family and
community ties in the field of politics…” (1978:589). We will rather take an intermediate
position between the postulates of 19th century evolutionism and the Early State conception5. Bearing in mind the older idea that in the state, “territory” dominates over “kinship”
on the one hand, and taking into account the aforementioned achievements of 20th century
anthropologists and historians, we shall say that the state in its full sense may be fixed in
the situation when territorial ties clearly (though not overwhelmingly) dominate over those
of kinship on the supralocal levels of a society’s complexity. This threshold is lower than
that established particularly by Maine and Morgan but higher than the one sufficient for
Claessen and other the Early State school adherents. Indeed, the categories like “clear but
not overwhelming dominance” do not sound defineable enough and probably even leave
too much room for a researcher’s voluntarism, not like, for example, in the case when the
state is defined through the category of “the kinship ties’ absence”. But such a “milder”
categorization does reflect and capture the essentially evolutionary, gradual nature of the
state formation process.
One more point significant for the present discussion has been elucidated by David
As I and a number of other authors have argued, there are a great many social and environmental factors promoting organizational instability in chiefdoms, of which the fact that succession to power was based on kinship – and
any number of a chief’s close kin were thus qualified to take his or her
place – was perhaps the single most important factor, all but ensuring incessant factional competition and warfare between rival elites in these societies
This argument is consistent with the one of Ronald Cohen who insists on the state’s ability
to resist fission as its most significant characteristic feature (1981). We believe that Cohen’s emphasis on it is too heavy (see, e.g., Adams, R. McC. 2001:353–356) but nevertheless there seem to be factual and theoretical grounds for considering the state as an all in all
firmer socio-political construction compared to pre-state complex societies (Tainter
1988:27). The substitution of kinship as the basic organizational principle by territoriality
and the appearance of specialized professional administration, intrinsically connected to
this transition (e.g., Diamond 1997:281; Bondarenko 2006:64), is the pledge of the state’s
relatively greater firmness.
In the meantime, what we see as a true and reliably verifiable criterion of the territo-
rial organization’s coming into prominence (i.e., of the state in its broader – full – sense
appearance) is the ability of the government to recarve arbitrarily the traditional division of
the country’s territory, as determined by kin groupings, into parts. Given it is possible6, one
has good reasons to argue that even if those social entities preserved their initial structure
and the right to manage their purely internal affairs, they were nothing more than administrative (and taxpaying as well as labor providing) units in the wider context of the state
polity. Naturally under such circumstances, such social entities are administered by functionaries either appointed or confirmed outside the community – in the political center of
the regional or / and the whole-polity level.
The Near East of the 3rd – 2nd millennia BCE gives especially vivid examples of the
aforesaid7. It is vitally important for an early state in that if an early state fails to adapt the
community to its needs, stagnation and decline of the political system follow (as it happened, for example, in the cases of the 19th century West African Samori’s state and
Kenedugu [Tymowski 1985; 1987:65–66]). In modern and contemporary polities, structural
discrepancies between the community and the state, the dependent position of the former
with regard to the latter, are completely apparent (see, e.g., McGlynn and Tuden 1991:181–
272). Generally speaking, in a successful state, supreme power does not develop the community matrix further on but rather “on the contrary begins to restructure society” in its
own image (Beliaev 2000:194). Indeed, as Kurtz rightly points out, “… the reduction of the
influence of local level organization upon the citizens” is “a major goal” of states’ legitimation strategies (1991/1984:162; see also 2008). If it is a success, “the encompassment of the
local sphere by the state” (Tanabe 1996:154) becomes the case. Indeed, even in very complex
non-state societies, not less complex than many early states, one can observe the situation
of the whole socio-political construction’s encompassment not from above (as it must be in
states) but from below, that is from the local community level. The state tends to encompass all the spheres of social life including such an important one as family relations (Trigger 2003:194, 271, 274), and with its rise, the situation when the local institutions (the family, lineage, and community) influenced directly the form and nature of supralocal institutions was reversed. In fact, this, as well as bureaucracy’s very appearance and existence,
becomes possibleonly due to the territorial ties’ coming into prominence, asonly under such
circumstances can a stranger unrelated to any member of a community by kin ties be effectively appointed the community ruler or supervisor from above this local unit. The possibility of it can serve as another means of verification of a society’s state nature.
The state’s distinctive features: A discussion
In any case, the state of the art in state studies by now is such that we may ascertain safely
that the two characteristics – political centralization (in the sense of either “the ‘concentration’ of power in the hands of a few” [Roscoe 1993:113; see also, e.g., Morris 1998:293],
or “the degree of linkage between the various subsystems and the highest-order controls in
society” [Flannery 1972:409; see also, e.g., Cohen 1978b:45–46], or both) and specialization of administration, still form the backbone of the theory of the state in general. It is also
recognized, hardly not as commonly, that “… the expansion of the administration, and
more especially the trend towards bureaucratization in the early state were closely connected with centralization” (Skalník 1978:600).
Yet, notwithstanding the historiographic tradition8, political centralization cannot be
regarded as a feature specific to the state, as it is applicable to many non-state forms of so-
cieties. For example, consider the following definitions of chiefdoms (emphases added):
“Chiefdoms are redistributional societies with a permanent central agency of coordination”
(Service 1971:134); chiefdom is “a polity that organizes centrally a regional population in
the thousands” (Earle 1991:1); “… a chiefdom is an aggregate of villages under the centralized rule of a paramount political leader. This is the basic structural nature of a chiefdom”
(Carneiro 1998:19); chiefdoms are “societies with centralized but not internally specialized
authority” (Spencer 1998:5; following [Wright 1977:381]). This is even more so in the case
of complex chiefdoms (e.g., Earle 1978:173–185; Pauketat 1994; Johnson and Earle
2000:301–303). As Timothy Earle concludes in his prominent review article (1987:289),
“… centrality is the clearest indicator of chiefdoms”. Furthermore, even in simple societies
power may be centralized by a “big man”, “great man” (Sahlins 1963; Godelier 1982;
Godelier and Strathern 1991), or “chieftain” who thus establishes “… centralized political
leadership that operates from time to time among autonomous village societies but that is
generally short-lived”, so the term “chieftain” “… designates explicitly the form of centralized leadership…” (Redmond 1998:3). The variety of non-state centralized forms of societies and leadership types is by no means at all limited to those mentioned above. Significantly, in current research of the state-level polities “… there is a clear movement away
from a view of states as highly centralized, omnipotent entities toward a heterogeneous
model that recognizes variability in state/urban organization and explores the limits of state
power within the broader society” (Stein 1998:10; see also McIntosh 1999:17).
In the meantime, specialization resulting in administrators’ professionalization is
precisely the feature which is typical for the state only. In the specialization of the administrative apparatus scholars usually see the line between the state and all the non-state forms
of socio-political organization, including such centralized ones as the chiefdom and complex chiefdom (vide stricto Fried 1967; Wright 1977:381–385; Earle 1978:1–7; Claessen
1987; Marcus and Feinman 1998:4; Spencer 1998; Blanton et al. 1999:112; Johnson and
Earle 2000:245–329), especially as far as the impossibility of drawing a clear line between
the chiefdom and the early state in the spheres of economy and ideology is often recognized
(Muller, J.-C. 1981; Claessen and Oosten 1996b:365; 1996c:20; Oosten 1996; Muller, J.
1997; Claessen 2000:182–186; Earle 2002; Smith 2004:80). In the final analysis, Godiner
(1991:51) is generally right in pointing out (though a bit too toughly) that any, even the
most sophisticated, theory of the state reduces it to the “specialized institution of managing
the society”; at least, the theories tend to center round such an institution. So, we shall
agree with Charles Spencer’s (1998:5) elegantly simple dictum (the first part of which has
already just been quoted above and which is based on Henry Wright’s seminal publication
of 1977): specifically chiefdoms are “societies with centralized but not internally specialized authority”, and states are “societies with centralized and also internally specialized authority” (see also Earle 1987:289). As Eisenstatdt (1971:74, 76) emphasizes, states and
non-states differ not in presence or absence of political centralization but in “… the degree
of structural differentiation with which they present themselves. … Primitive societies can
therefore be said to have a decentralized centrality – if this expression is not too paradoxical.” “A state administration, from this perspective, is inherently bureaucratic”, Spencer
(2003:11185) concludes (see also Flannery 1972:403; Cohen 1978a; 1978b:36; Britan and
Cohen 1983; Marcus and Feinman 1998:4, 6; Spencer and Redmond 2004:173; Bondarenko 2006:25–30; Llobera 2007:110–111; Claessen 2008:12–13; Kradin 2008:115–118;
Indeed, the administrative apparatus becomes specialized when it is “filled” with
professional (i.e., permanent and full-time) administrators thus forming bureaucracy. It is
true that bureaucracy can be developed poorly in early states. Besides, it does differ in a
number of respects from its modern incarnation (Weber 1947/1922:333–334, 343; see also
Vitkin 1981; Goody 1986:87–126; Morony 1987:9–10; Shifferd 1987:48–49; Claessen
2008:12–13). Yet, notwithstanding all this, in our opinion (as well as in that of many other
authors), the presence or absence of the stratum of professional administrators, that is of
bureaucracy, is a proper indicator of the state or non-state nature of a society (see, e.g., in
publications of the 2000s: Johnson and Earle 2000:35; Bondarenko 2002; 2006:25–30;
2008:22–26; Spencer 2003:11185; Spencer and Redmond 2004:173; Llobera 2007:110–
111; Claessen 2008:12–13; Kradin 2008:115–118; 2009:33).
Some time ago Alain Testart (2004) made an attempt to create a theory of the
“prebureaucratic” state which, within the theory’s framework, historically preceded the
“bureaucratic state” (while sometimes the former actually never transformed into the latter
due to these or those particular circumstances which varied from case to case). The political
system in non-bureaucratic states is based, according to Testart, on personal fidelity to a
monarch of his retinue, royal slaves and “brothers by blood” being the closest to him, followed by clients, mercenaries, refugees, and debtors. With respect to this theory we shall
note that it definitely captures an important mechanism of the process of state formation,
previously represented most clearly in literature on state formation in medieval Europe with
respect to political leaders’ military retinue. We must pay attention to the fact that all those
about whom Testart writes were people who in some way fell out of the kin net (the same
as “true” bureaucrats) and thus had to (or could) pay allegiance to the monarch only, de-
pend exclusively on him, serve him, and thus strengthen the central, suprakin and supracommunity, authority. However, some of the societies Testart discusses to this point_
(the Scythians, medieval Mongols, a number of medieval and modern African kingdoms,
etc.) were organized along kin lines not only politically but also socially, which, even leaving out the natural fact under such circumstances that these societies lacked bureaucracy,
does not allow us (following, e.g., Gutnov [2002], Kradin and Skrynnikova [2006], Vansina [1992], Skalník [2002], and some other specialists) to designate them as states. As for
such a specific example as the Greek polis, we believe its principally non- and even antibureaucratic nature does not give us the right to consider it within the Testart theory’s
framework at all. The polis was not a case in which a prebureaucratic state was not independently succeeded by a bureaucratic state owing to some purely historical circumstances.
This can be admitted speculatively, with more or less of a degree of probability, for some
other societies which Testart analyses; however, the polis clearly had no internal intention
and potential for such transformation.
We think the weak point of Testart’s generally high quality work is his following
the Weberian idea (Weber 1946/1918) (also picked up by Wittfogel [1957:239]; Service
[1975:15; 1978b:8], Claessen and Skalník [1978a:18; 1978b:630; 1981:487, 492] among
many others) that the state begins with the appearance of “the monopoly of the legitimate
use of physical force” (see also Testart 2005; 2012). However, the monopoly of violence
defined as loosely as it was done by Weber9 can be found in a great number of definitely
stateless societies. For instance, was the physical force used by African and Melanesian secret societies or Polynesian chiefs illegal and hence subjected to rightful resistance within
the respective cultures’ context, at least before the imposition of colonial and postcolonial
political systems? Clearly, facts just of this sort were taken into consideration by RadcliffeBrown who in Foreword to African Political Systems (1987/1940:XXIII) extrapolated the
Weberian definition to societies of all kinds, not states only: “The political organization of
a society is that aspect of the total organization which is concerned with the control and
regulation of the use of physical force”. Many other structuralists of the mid-20th century,
being influenced by Radcliffe-Brown, tended to discredit the right to exercise coercive authority as a feature typical for the state organization, arguing that it characterizes any political system (Fortes and Evans-Pritchard 1987/1940:6; Mair 1965:101–102; 1970:16–20).
Contrary to them, Marxists do not hesitate to assign coercion as an exclusive characteristic
of the state, but their approach is more specific compared to Weber’s, which is in fact the
broadest possible definition. According to Marxists, not any but only “ripe”, that is classbased, coercion distinguishes the state from prestate forms of socio-political organization.
Actually, this is the core of the Marxist “class approach” to the phenomenon of the state
(though in anthropology in general this idea is rooted owing to other concepts of Max Weber [1947/1922; 1978], those of “political community” and “legitimation of power”, to not
less of a degree than the classics of Marxism). Meanwhile, neoevolutionists disagree with
each other as to whether the origin of the state is already rooted in coercion, or whether the
“protostate” was entering the historical stage as an all-benefiting institution which became
coercive just at the very moment of transformation into a “true” state (the famous “Fried –
Service controversy”).
Yet another problem with the Weberian postulate arises from the fact that even in
the states of the ancient East, famous for firmly established monarchical regimes and codified written laws that explicitly proclaimed the authority’s monopoly of violence to be
completely legal, this monopoly could be, and not so rarely was, considered dubious and
arguable by various social and political forces including parts of the elite (Glassner
2004:38–39). Indeed, many early state rulers could not boast of being monopolists in the
use of physical force (Carneiro 1981:68; 1987:768; Grinin 2004:439–440). The real legitimate right to coerce should not be made the central point of the state concept because it is a
dependent variable itself. If it is reached by the powers that be, it happens as an outcome of
the two-way legitimation process in which the common people’s aspirations must be understood and met by a state ideology in order to achieve their consent for the present power’s
existence; no political regime can survive for a long time based on coercion exclusively or
even primarily (see, e.g., Trigger 1985; Beetham 1991; Claessen 1994; Claessen and
Oosten 1996a).
As for contemporaneity, Clifford Geertz (2004:579) has elaborated on the evident
fact that the concept of state as the expression of “the monopoly of the legitimate use of
physical force” in a territory is too problematic when the focus is on the majority of the
Third World states burdened by tribalism, regionalism, warlordism and other phenomena of
the sort due to which the central authorities’ monopoly of violence is, openly or not but in
any case constantly and largely successfully, discredited as citizens’ loyalties tend to remain with the non-state institutions. The view that the Weberian formulation of the state’s
most essential feature is inappropriate for the study of state-making in the contemporary
world is also shared by many political anthropologists on other grounds – that the presentday states have very different histories reflected in peoples’ mentalities in different ways
which influence immediately the particular states’ nature (Kapferer 2012). Given this, those
anthropologists argue, the coercive concept of the contemporary state cannot claim univer-
sal applicability; at best it may be relevant for cases from a limited part of the world (see
Nustad 2002). Thus the crucial point is with whom the monopoly of the legitimate use of
force rests and how it is legitimized. In my opinion, the specificity of the monopoly of legitimate violence in a state society is precisely that it is exercised through and by bureaucrats who operate within bureaucratic institutions. So, as Jonathan Haas (1995:18) writes,
the presence of “institutional bureaucracies” is among “basic characteristics… standing at
the heart of the state form of organization” which is shared by all societies eligible for being labeled as states, including the earliest, “pristine” ones (see also Johnson and Earle
Thus, stemming from the presumption that the state should be perceived not as a
specific set of political institutions only but, first and foremost, as a type of society to
which this set of institutions is adequate leads to the necessity of paying special attention to
coming to the fore of the non-kin, territorial relations in state society. It also makes us argue
that political centralization cannot be regarded as a feature specific to the state, as it is applicable to many non-state forms of societies. Contrariwise, the feature typical for the state
only, and related directly to the non-kin social ties coming into prominence, is administrators’ professionalization, that is formation of bureaucracy which arrogates to itself the right
to coerce.
* The paper is an output of a research project implemented as part of the Basic Research
Program at the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) in 2014.
The author is also grateful to Mr. Kirk Sorbo for bringing the text of the article in accord-
ance with the rules of the English language.
In most of our previous publications on the (early) state we concentrated mainly on the
variability and alternativeness of pathways leading or not leading to the state, on representing and studying state formation as just an opportunity and by no means a necessity in the
process of social evolution (Bondarenko 2000; 2005; 2006; 2008; Bondarenko et al. 2000;
Grinin et al. 2004; etc.). In the present article, we are dealing directly with the state as such,
making an attempt to reveal the essence of this phenomenon and to formulate its distinctions from other supercomplex societal forms.
Although not always. The area representing probably the most important (in the historical
long-run) exceptions to the rule is Europe, in some parts of which (Greece, Italy, Scandinavia) the unilineal descent groups disappeared at early stages of history – at the turn of the
Bronze and Iron Ages – having been substituted by the nuclear family and neighbor (territorial) community (see, e.g., Roussel 1976; Dozhdev 2000; Earle 1997:25–26, 163; Kristiansen 1998:45, 46).
As well as to cultures in comparison with which the state is defined; e.g., Earle postulates
unequivocally that “… chiefdoms must be understood as political systems” (1991:14). Note
that we do not feel it necessary to intervene in the present article in the current debates on
whether or not chiefdom is a “reality” or a “delusion” (vide stricto Pauketat 2007; heated
discussions of, and polemics around this book see, particularly, in the following journals:
Native South 2009. 2:69–132, and Social Evolution and History 2010. 9 (1):135–176).
What is important for us here is that the non-state societies which are traditionally labeled
as such in any case possess the characteristics discussed throughout this text.
In the Marxist theory the transition from kin to territorial ties has begun to serve as an es-
sential precondition for social class formation, prior to which the rise of the state was declared impossible, as the state was seen as political organization predestined for guaranteeing the exploitative class’ dominance in society. Most rigidly this postulate was formulated
by Lenin: “The state appears where and when the division of society into classes appears”
A vivid example of the difference in the early (and not exceptionally early) evolutionists
and the Early State theorists’ approaches to the problem of the relation between the kin and
territorial ties in states is the way they treat the eventual substitution of the Merovingian
title “King of the Franks” by Capetian “King of France”. It signifies the formation of state
society out of pre-state for Maine (1861:61–63; see also Sahlins 1968:6) on the one hand,
and the development from the inchoate to transitional through typical early state for
Claessen (1985) on the other.
For instance, if the central authority can solute original societal units (especially commu-
nities) with others or cut them into parts.
Besides many publications on particular societies, see general and comparative works,
e.g., Maisels 1987:345–346; 1993:154–161, 252–264; Diakonoff and Yakobson 1998;
Baines and Yoffee 1998:225–227.
Particularly, contrary to the postulate of political anthropology’s Founding Fathers, Meyer
Fortes and Edward Evans-Pritchard (1987/1940:5).
Claessen accentuates one more aspect of the problem by writing (2005:156–157) that
though “[i]n all polities… there are found efforts by the central government… to maintain
norms, values, rules and regulations, and in order to do so striving to monopolize force –
… in practice none ever succeeded in doing so completely.”
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