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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.  

Preliterate 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.

  • Ochlocracy (aka: Mob Rule) — trusting of the instincts and power of large groups—no consistent civics at all.[1]
  • Anarchism — no government or other hierarchy, a common ethical code enforced only by personal governance and voluntary association.[2]
  • Minarchy — a minimal hierarchy—e.g. sometimes said to include eco-anarchism
  • Libertarianism — a philosophy based on the premise that in order to maximize personal freedom, society should value the acquisition of private property over the public good.
  • Direct democracy — decisions made directly by citizens without guidance or moral suasion, e.g. as advocated by H. Ross Perot, usually relying on multiple choice laid out by experts
  • Deliberative democracy — decisions made by locally-grouped citizens obligated to participate in consensus decision making process, e.g. as advocated by Ralph Nader
  • Bioregional democracy — a deliberative democracy regulated by a caste of highly-qualified scientific advisors (both ecologists and ethicists) who can use scientific method to challenge or veto major ecological decisions, means of measuring well-being or selecting criteria for moral purchasing by the entire bioregional state
  • Technocracy — reliance on castes of scientists, e.g. doctors to rule society, and define risk for the whole society - sometimes generalized into anticipatory democracy. Can be interpreted as leading to or including kleptocracy
  • Theocracy - government lead by religion, beliefs or culture. May be led by powerful religious figures such as the Pope and follows rules based on religious documents.
  • Aristocracy — general trust in one class in society to rule and protect, e.g. members of particular noble families that have worked for and/or defended the community across many generations (i.e. "old" money), upholding traditions, standards of living, art, culture, commerce, and defense. Not to be confused with plutocracy, where rule is based solely on financial wealth.
  • Constitutional monarchy — a monarch, possibly purely symbolic and devoted to moral example, avoiding vesting such popularity in any less trustworthy political figure—typically tied to at least some deliberative institutions, and making the monarch a tiebreaker or mediator or coach, e.g. Queen Elizabeth II and Tony Blair
  • Representative democracy — a political class of elected representatives is trusted to carry out duties for the electors - these may be responsible to any group in society, or none, once elected.
  • Absolute monarchy — a monarch who rules for life and can pass on this rule to his or her heirs, but is responsible to some social ideal or culture that has trained him or her to carry out these duties, e.g. Louis XIV, Hirohito, most dynastic Emperors, Augustus Caesar.
  • Dictatorship — a political or military ruler who has the powers of the monarch, but whose basis for rule is not hereditary, but based upon military or political power, or by popular election, e.g. Benito Mussolini, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Julius Caesar, Josef Stalin, Mao ZeDong.
  • Socialism - a broad array of ideologies and political movements with the goal of a socio-economic system in which property and the distribution of wealth are subject to control by the community for the purposes of increasing social and economic equality and cooperation.[3]

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