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35 review for The Evolution of Political Society: An Essay in Political Anthropology

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bob Nichols

    Fried outlines perhaps what seems to be a standard model regarding political development: We have moved from primitive egalitarian bands to rank and stratified societies, and then the state, where there’s “hierarchy, differential degrees of access to basic resources, obedience to officials, and defense of the area.” This is “the Evolution of Political Society.” Fried offers this development schema without explicit evaluation, though the book cover does exactly that (apes at the bottom, wise/stro Fried outlines perhaps what seems to be a standard model regarding political development: We have moved from primitive egalitarian bands to rank and stratified societies, and then the state, where there’s “hierarchy, differential degrees of access to basic resources, obedience to officials, and defense of the area.” This is “the Evolution of Political Society.” Fried offers this development schema without explicit evaluation, though the book cover does exactly that (apes at the bottom, wise/strong man sitting alone, at the top of historical humanity). He describes what he sees as the truth about the way humans have organized themselves for the purposes of controlling access to resources (“power,” per Laswell’s definition) and the maintenance of internal order and external defense. This is all pretty neat and tidy but I think his main thesis can be seriously questioned. Fried casts aside (as “inconclusive”) those aspects of primate society (dominance and associated traits such as competitiveness, alliance building, double-dealing, aggression, etc.) that may have relevance to political organization that we see all around us today (and something that Gingrich appreciated when he assigned de Waal’s Chimpanzee Politics as required reading back in the 1990s for his Republican Party colleagues). To be sure, Fried wrote just before the biological basis for human behavior came back into favor, but he likely reflects a point of view that has humans as having long left their primate heritage behind. After our primate years, Fried believes that early band-level life was egalitarian. If one sees humans as retaining a good part of our chimpanzee heritage, Fried’s egalitarian argument becomes more problematic as powerful self-interest tendencies would invariably create problems in early organizational arrangements. It could be that at the band level there were more tangible counter checks to bad behavior because it would be harder to deceive than it would be in larger organizations. But even so, the tendencies are there and had to be dealt with. Some groups were probably successful at controlling self-interest; others may be less so. But how do we really know what life was like among our hunter-gatherer ancestors and isn’t it a problem to generalize about how all hunter-gatherer societies must have been back then? * While making categorical distinctions like this fit the requirements of science, a sweeping generalization that all band level societies were “egalitarian” is too much. Darwinian variation probably applies to social organization as well as to individuals. The driver for political evolution for Fried also seems overly narrow. His political organizational levels are defined by status. In egalitarian societies, there were enough status vehicles for everyone. In rank societies, this egalitarian spreading of status was no longer sufficient, and differentiation in terms of rank occurred. This differentiation in value position becomes even more prominent in stratified society, necessitating either a reversion to an earlier, more tolerable, and thus, stable, state, or the evolution to a higher form that can impose, enforce, and maintain order, which is the primary function of political organization. Self-interest has many objects, value-prestige is certainly one of them, but there are many others as well (e.g., food; strength; defense; sex). Early on, Fried says that equality is an unnatural state because of individual differences, so it is understandable that he would see this differentiation of hierarchical levels as a natural process that creates the need for an ever-expansive need for political organization (control). That is one way to look at it. Another way is to interpret his argument about natural inequality is this: It has always been there, even in egalitarian societies, which creates conflict and disorder and the need for some kind of political organization to keep it all from spinning out of control. In other words, while the forms of political organization have changed to deal with ever-changing conditions (more people, technology, war, territory), the underlying function that political organization — sources of conflict and the need for control —have always been there and are there today. Overall, the book is dated. It's also very dry writing. *See Henry Gee’s argument (In Search of Deep Time) about science using limited evidence to create narratives that tell stories we want to tell, an argument also made by Lawrence Keeley (War Before Civilization), who talks about the pacification myth of our prehistoric past.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michele

    egalitarian-->ranked-->stratified-->state unilinear, conflict theory,

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ann

  4. 4 out of 5

    John

  5. 4 out of 5

    Emil

  6. 5 out of 5

    James Wilde

  7. 4 out of 5

    Karen Gardner

  8. 5 out of 5

    Eming

  9. 5 out of 5

    Trent

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marie

  11. 4 out of 5

    Georgi Kyorlenski

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

  13. 4 out of 5

    Addi

  14. 4 out of 5

    aldo zirsov

  15. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  16. 4 out of 5

    Robert Singers

  17. 4 out of 5

    Prachi

  18. 5 out of 5

    Hamed Tahmasebi far

  19. 5 out of 5

    Charles Tairo

  20. 5 out of 5

    Renny_eu

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  22. 5 out of 5

    Hyuna Ham

  23. 4 out of 5

    Joe Clarke

  24. 5 out of 5

    Maja Minnaert

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nishanthy

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lk

  27. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  28. 4 out of 5

    Uju Odiari

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anton Trichkov

  30. 5 out of 5

    Liam Townsend

  31. 5 out of 5

    Almira Alma

  32. 5 out of 5

    Alma

  33. 5 out of 5

    Ken Udeh

  34. 5 out of 5

    Arto Bendiken

  35. 5 out of 5

    Ernesto Aloso

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