This article is about a community lacking a government. For a nation lacking a state, see stateless nation
. For the legal and social concept of not belonging to a recognised state, see Statelessness
A stateless society
is a society
that is not governed
by a state
In stateless societies, there is little concentration
; most positions of authority that do exist are very limited in power
and are generally not permanently held positions; and social bodies that resolve disputes through predefined rules tend to be small.
Stateless societies are highly variable in economic organization and cultural practices.
Area of bronze working, c. 1000 BCE.
Some political philosophies, particularly anarchism
, consider the state an unwelcome institution and stateless societies the ideal.
Evidence of the earliest known city-states has been found in ancient Mesopotamia
around 3700 BC, suggesting that the history of the state is less than 6,000 years old; thus, for most of human prehistory
the state did not exist.
For 99.8 percent of human history people lived exclusively in autonomous bands and villages. At the beginning of the Paleolithic [i.e. the Stone Age], the number of these autonomous political units must have been small, but by 1000 BC it had increased to some 600,000. Then supra-village aggregation began in earnest, and in barely three millennia the autonomous political units of the world dropped from 600,000 to 157.
Generally speaking, the archaeological evidence suggests that the state emerged from stateless communities only when a fairly large population (at least tens of thousands of people) was more or less settled together in a particular territory, and practiced agriculture
. Indeed, one of the typical functions of the state is the defense of territory. Nevertheless, there are exceptions: Lawrence Krader
for example describes the case of the Tatar state, a political authority arising among confederations of clans of nomadic or semi-nomadic herdsmen.
Characteristically the state functionaries (royal dynasties, soldiers, scribes, servants, administrators, lawyers, tax collectors, religious authorities etc.) are mainly not self-supporting, but rather materially supported and financed by taxes and tributes contributed by the rest of the working population. This assumes a sufficient level of labor-productivity per capita
which at least makes possible a permanent surplus product
(principally foodstuffs) appropriated by the state authority to sustain the activities of state functionaries. Such permanent surpluses were generally not produced on a significant scale in smaller tribal or clan societies.
The archaeologist Gregory Possehl
has argued that there is no evidence that the relatively sophisticated, urbanized Harappan civilization
, which flourished from about 2,500 to 1,900 BC in the Indus
region, featured anything like a centralized state apparatus. No evidence has yet been excavated locally of palaces, temples, a ruling sovereign or royal graves, a centralized administrative bureaucracy keeping records, or a state religion—all of which are elsewhere usually associated with the existence of a state apparatus.
However, there is no recent scholarly consensus agreeing with that perspective, as more recent literature has suggested that there may have been less conspicuous forms of centralisation, as Harappan cities were centred around public ceremonial places and large spaces interpreted as ritual complexes.
Additionally, recent interpretations of the Indus Script
and Harappan stamps indicate that there was a somewhat centralised system of economic record keeping.
It remains impossible to judge for now as the Harappan civilization's writing system remains undeciphered. One study summarised it best, “Many sites have been excavated that belong to the Indus Valley civilization, but it remains unresolved whether it was a state, a number of kingdoms, or a stateless commonwealth. So few written documents on this early civilization have been preserved that it seems unlikely that this and other questions will ever be answered.” 
In the earliest large-scale human settlements of the Stone Age
which have been discovered, such as Çatal Höyük
, no evidence was found of the existence of a state authority. The Çatal Höyük settlement of a farming community (7,300 BC to circa 6,200 BC) spanned circa 13 hectares (32 acres) and probably had about 5,000 to 10,000 inhabitants.
Modern state-based societies regularly pushed out stateless indigenous populations as their settlements expanded,
or attempted to make those populations come under the control of a state structure. This was particularly the case on the African continent during European colonisation, where there was much confusion about the best way to govern societies who, prior to European arrival, had been stateless. Tribal societies, on first glance appearing to be chaotic, often had well-organised societal structures that were based on multiple undefined cultural factors - including the ownership of cattle and arable land, patrilineal descent structures, honour gained from success in conflict etc.
may be considered remnants of prehistoric stateless societies. To varying extents they may be unaware of and unaffected by the states that have nominal authority over their territory.
As a political ideal
Some political philosophies consider the state undesirable, and thus consider the formation of a stateless society a goal to be achieved.
Social and economic organization
have found that social stratification
is not the standard among all societies. John Gowdy writes, "Assumptions about human behaviour that members of market societies believe to be universal, that humans are naturally competitive and acquisitive, and that social stratification is natural, do not apply to many hunter-gatherer peoples."
The economies of stateless agricultural societies tend to focus and organize subsistence agriculture
at the community level, and tend to diversify their production rather than specializing in a particular crop.
In many stateless societies, conflicts between families or individuals are resolved by appealing to the community. Each of the sides of the dispute will voice their concerns, and the community, often voicing its will through village elders, will reach a judgment on the situation. Even when there is no legal or coercive authority to enforce these community decisions, people tend to adhere to them, due to a desire to be held in esteem by the community.
- ^ a b "Anarchism". The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2005. p. 14. Anarchism is the view that a society without the state, or government, is both possible and desirable.
- ^ Ellis, Stephen (2001). The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War. NYU Press. p. 198. ISBN 978-0-8147-2219-0 – via Google Books.
- ^ Béteille, André (2002). "Inequality and Equality". In Ingold, Tim (ed.). Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Taylor & Francis. pp. 1042–1043. ISBN 978-0-415-28604-6 – via Google Books.
- ^ Faulks, Keith (2000). Political Sociology: A Critical Introduction. NYU Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-8147-2709-6 – via Google Books.
- ^ Carneiro, Robert L. (1978). "Political Expansion as an Expression of the Principle of Competitive Exclusion". In Cohen, Ronald & Service, Elman R. (eds.). Origins of the State: The Anthropology of Political Evolution. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues. p. 219.
- ^ Krader (1968). Formation of the State. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hallm. ch. 6.
- ^ Claessen, Henri J.M. & Skalnik, Peter, eds. (1978). The Early State. The Hague: Mouton. ISBN 9789027979049 – via Google Books.
- ^ Possehl, Gregory L. (1998). "Sociocultural Complexity Without the State: The Indus civilization". In Feinman, Gary M. & Marcus, Joyce (eds.). Archaic States. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press. pp. 261–291.
- ^ Sinopoli, Carla (2015). "Ancient South Asian Cities in their Regions.". In Yoffee, Norman (ed.). Early cities in comparative perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 319–342.
- ^ Pao, Rajesh P.N. (2017). "The Indus Script and Economics. A Role for Indus Seals and Tablets in Rationing and Administration of Labor". In Frenez, Dennys & Jamison, Gregg M. (eds.). Walking with the Unicorn. Social Organization and Material Culture in Ancient South Asia. Oxford: Archaeopress Publishing Ltd. pp. 518–525.
- ^ Trigger, Bruce G. (2003). Understanding Early Civilizations: A Comparative Study (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 31–33.
- ^ Scarre, Chris, ed. (2009). The Human Past (2nd ed.). Thames & Hudson. p. 222.
- ^ Richards, John F. (2004). The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World. University of California Press. pp. 4–5. ISBN 978-0-520-24678-2 – via Google Books.
- ^ Tosh, John (1973). "Colonial Chiefs in a Stateless Society: A Case-Study from Northern Uganda". The Journal of African History. Cambridge University Press. 14 (3): 473–490. doi:10.1017/S0021853700012834.
- ^ Sheehan, Sean (2004). Anarchism. London: Reaktion Books. p. 85.
- ^ Slevin, Carl (2003). "Anarchism". In McLean, Iain & McMillan, Alistair (eds.). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics. Oxford University Press.
- ^ Engels, Frederick (1880). "Part III: Historical Materialism". Socialism: Utopian and Scientific – via Marx/Engels Internet Archive (marxists.org). State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The State is not "abolished". It dies out...Socialized production upon a predetermined plan becomes henceforth possible. The development of production makes the existence of different classes of society thenceforth an anachronism. In proportion as anarchy in social production vanishes, the political authority of the State dies out. Man, at last the master of his own form of social organization, becomes at the same time the lord over Nature, his own master—free.
- ^ Gowdy, John (2006). "Hunter-Gatherers and the Mythology of the Market". In Lee, Richard B. & Daly, Richard H. (eds.). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 391. ISBN 978-0-521-60919-7.
- ^ Chase, Diane Z. & Chase, Arlen F. (2003). Mesoamerican Elites: An Archaeological Assessment. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-8061-3542-7 – via Google Books.
- ^ Fleming, Thomas (1993). The Politics of Human Nature. Transaction Publishers. pp. 165–166. ISBN 978-1-56000-693-0.
Last edited on 6 April 2021, at 21:53
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