The Story of Civilization: Political Elements – Origins of Government and the State

“Societies are ruled by two powers: in peace by the word, in crises by the sword; force is used only when indoctrination fails.”
Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage“, page 22.
(Student waves a flag in Tiananmen Square, in Pequim, China, 1989. Such a “violent” protest generated retaliation from Deng Xiaoping’s government: it is estimated that more than 10,000 people were killed.)

SUMMARY: Man only associates with others for self-interest; it was war that stimulated a level of organization sufficient for the centralization of power into a government. The state is the result of conquest by force, of the substitution of kinship ties for domination, but is only maintained by the indoctrination of man, who allows himself to be indoctrinated — through family, church and school — to satisfy his interests.


Man is not a political animal because he wants. He associates with others because isolation puts him in danger, and because there are many things that can be done better together than alone. Privately, he is a “non-philosophical anarchist” and considers the laws superfluous in his case.

In simpler societies there is rarely any government. Primitive hunters used to accept regulation only when they joined the pack and prepared for action; association and cooperation did not amount to any permanent political order.

The oldest form of continuous social organization was the clan, only later did the tribe appear. Democracy appeared at its best in several primitive groups where such a government consisted merely of the leading heads of clan families, and no arbitrary authority was permitted. When the government finally developed, he came from the positions of warrior, father, and priest. It is the war that makes the chief, the king and the state, just as they are the ones who make war.

In general, war was the favorite instrument of natural selection among primitive nations and groups. The consequences were endless. It acted as a cruel eliminator of weak people, and increased the level of the race in courage, violence, cruelty, intelligence and skill. It stimulated invention, created weapons that became useful tools, and the arts of war that became arts of peace. Above all, the war dissolved primitive communism and anarchism, introduced organization and discipline, and led to enslavement of prisoners, class subordination, and growth of government. “Property was the mother, war was the father, of the state.”

“The state begins with the conquest of one race by another.” — Lester Ward

“Violence is the agent who created the state.” — Ratzenhofer

“The state is the result of conquest.” — Gumplowicz

“The state is the product of force, and it exists by force.” — Sumner

Violent subjugation is usually of a sedentary and agrarian group by a tribe of hunters and shepherds. The state is a late development because it presupposes a change in the very principle of social organization — from kinship to domination. In permanent conquest, the principle of domination tends to be hidden and almost unconscious — time sanctifies everything. “Even the most arrant theft, in the hands of the robber’s grandchildren, becomes sacred and inviolable property.” Every state begins compulsory, but the habits of obedience lead to the contentment of conscience, and every citizen soon becomes enthusiastic about the flag.

The state, even precarious at its origin, supplied this need. It eventually became not only an organized force but an instrument to adjust the interests of the thousands of conflicting groups that make up a complex society. The state can be defined as “internal peace for external war”. Man decided that it was better to pay taxes than to fight each other. “Better to pay tribute to one magnificent robber than to bribe them all.”

A state that attempted to rely on force alone would fall early, for although man is naturally gullible, he too is naturally obstinate, and power, as taxes, is most successful when it is invisible and indirect. Thus the state, in order to maintain itself, used and forged various instruments of indoctrination — the family, the church, the school — to form in the soul of the citizen the habit of patriotic loyalty and pride. This has prepared the minds of the public for “that docile coherence which is indispensable in war”.


  1. Why does man associate with others?
  2. What are the consequences of war for the primitive man?
  3. What are the two major causes of the state?
  4. Why does man accept the state?
  5. In what way (other than the use of force) can the state maintain itself?

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