Social Sciences Education
|English Education||Mathematics Education|
|Social Studies Education||Science Education|
Propel Home Page
The Origin of Government
From an anthropological perspective, early humans' communities evolved out of families (Kinships) as a result of the advantages to survival of banding together. Living at the edge of extinction for early peoples was a reality few of us could imagine, where even choices about whether a newly discovered plant was eatable would become a high stakes decision of life or death. Out of such clans evolved tribes with shared languages, symbols, beliefs, values, rules, norms, traditions, and history, all of which comprise what we think of today as a culture.
The evolution of a shared culture laid the foundation for government, but government in it simplest form had to have existed from the earliest gatherings of people. Decisions about what resources from the hunt would be shared with what members and in what sequence, where to spend the night, what to eat, etc. had to be made to maintain some kind of order within the tribe to increase the likelihood of survival.
These hunter-gatherer bands were generally kinship-oriented and egalitarian, meaning the group would have a high level of equality among its members. The governance of such preliterate (this is the preferred term to "primitive") communities likely relied on a process not unlike direct democracy where small bands of people would have made decisions around campfires based on consensus and a shared wisdom passed on from elders who could draw on personal experiences. Within these communities, individuals would rise to leadership of the group by consent of the members based on the many of the same attributes we look for in leaders today. These Tribal societies introduced chieftains, the predecessor of the monarchies, in response to the growing complexity of governance. Ordaining children of monarchs as successors insured stability and some knowledge of governance. The originally kinship-oriented, egalitarian societies evolved into stratified societies that were less egalitarian and that valued wealth or status more than kinship. Civilizations, with complex social hierarchies organized institutional governments based on a geographic region. To insure that their common values were sustained and adopted, they defined desirable and undesirable behaviors by codifying laws to reflect their belief systems. Such codifications communicated the expected behavior and the desirable virtues to members of the group. Strategies (treaties, war, fortifications, standing armies, etc.) were used to buttress the benefits of the society from non-members who threatened its stability.
By about 5000 BC, we have evidence of well-formed governments, most notably Sumar (present day Iraq). Much more is known of Egyptian Civilization by the year 3000 BC.
The American (Western Civilization) conception of democracy has its origins in ancient Greece. The term Democracy first appears in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought. The philosopher Plato contrasted democracy, the system of "rule by the governed," with the alternative systems of monarchy (rule by one individual) and oligarchy (rule by a small élite). Athenian democracy had two distinguishing features: first the allotment (literally selection by lot) of ordinary citizens to government offices and courts, and second the assembly of all the citizens. Roman civilization continued some aspects of Athenian democracy and even during the middle ages, democratic institutions persisted in Europe through various monarchies. The U.S. version of democracy was the first to make a universal commitment to freedom as a natural right and equality, even given the contradiction of limited rights for women and the continuation of slavery.
Types of Government
Most ways that humans have come to organize themselves can be thought of as resting on a continuum from anarchy (mob rule) to absolute control by the state (the totalitarian). The following are key terms with links to Wikipedia.
Go to U.S. Government