The transition from primitive society to a modern state is a long and cheered history. Difference of conditions under which they arose at different times and places gave rise to a variety of governmental organizations. The state did not have a continuous process of evolution and development.
It appeared in various forms and shapes—the Tribal State, Oriental Empire. Roman Empire, the Greek City States, the Feudal States and the Modem National States. These States differed vitally in their size, and characteristics and have given rise to dissimilar political institutions and ideas.
The evolution of the state extends over a long period in the history of human race. It has developed from a rudimentary form to the modern complex structure.
The process of this evolution has not been uniform due to difference in the conditions under which the state developed at different places and times. It, therefore assumed different forms with a variety of governments. Its principal forms may be discussed as follows:
The Tribal State:
The state could not be distinguished from the tribe at the earliest stage of its evolution. In the primitive age the rights of citizenship depended upon kinship.
Allegiance was neither territorial nor personal. It was dependent upon blood relationship.
The Oriental Empire:
The earlier states known to history first developed in the fertile valleys of the Ganges, the Nile, the Euphrates and
EVOLUTION OF THE NATION-STATE
the Tigris where Nature was bountiful and primitive people could get food for themselves and fodder for their animals.
Peru and Mexico were the seats of empires in the western hemisphere. The warm and fertile plains of those regions watered by great rivers were the seats of ancient civilizations and earlier states. Production in these regions was plentiful and required very little exertion.
Although these empires were separated by long distances yet they had certain common traits. All these regions had despotic monarchies. The people enjoyed no rights or liberty.
They had two main duties, viz., submission to the authority of the king and the payment of taxes. In the words of Gettle, such “state represented to their peoples only as slave driver and the tax collector”
The kings combined in them both religious and political powers. The priestly class was very influential. Disobedience to the authority of the king was regarded not only a crime but also a sin.
These early empires were loosely organized and their authority was mainly based on awe and despotism. These were merely tax-collecting and recruiting agencies.
As soon as the ruling dynasty became weak, powerful rivals would come into the field and thus the power would pass to a number of rulers and initiated the beginning of culture and civilization.
In spite of these shortcomings, the early empires played a very useful role in the evolution of the state because they infused in the people a sense of obedience to authority.
The Greek City-State:
The second important stage in the evolution of the state was witnessed in Greece. Although civilization in Greece emerged much later than the orient yet it developed a high stage of excellence. In fact, Greece was especially fitted for political growth because of its geographical position and physical features.
The mountains and the sea divided the country into a number of valleys and islands separated from one another. As a result of these physical features, each of these units developed into a self-governing and self-sufficing city- state. The city-state could not develop on the lines of oriental empires.
It was destined by Nature to be the seat of new civilization and civic life. The Greek city-states were small in size. They were large enough to be self- sufficient but small enough to enable the citizens to take an active part in the administration of the state.
The total population of Athens in the fifth century B.C. was about 1,19,000 of whom only about 40,000 were citizens. Slaves and women were not given the rights of citizenship.
Thus most of the people inhabiting Athens were slaves who did manual work. Being relieved of the strain of manual work, the citizens could easily participate in politics.
Payment for the performance of public duties like jury service and membership of popular assembly were also incentive for such participation.
In these small states numerous experiments in political institutions were conducted. With the exception of Sparta which was a conservative state, the city states of Greece tried all sorts of governments like monarchy, aristocracy, polity, etc. Greece was thus a laboratory for political experimentation. It produced great philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
The Greek religion and outlook were natural. They did not fear their gods. They were intensely patriotic. They regarded all other people living in other city-states as their enemies. They were so proud of their civilization that they regarded the non-Greek people as barbarians.
There were frequent wars among the city-states. All the Greek city-states could not be united under a common political authority. The result was that Greece fell an easy prey to Macedonia and then to Rome.
The Roman world empire:
Rome began her political career as a city-state like the city-states of Greece. It was founded in 753 B.C. by a union of several living tribes on the fertile plains of Tiber. In the early days, her government was monarchic. The nobility known as the Patricians had some share in political authority.
The common people known as the Plebeians had no share in the authority whatsoever. About 500 B.C. monarchy was replaced by the Republican form of Government. The people became the final authority in all matters. The civil and military authority of the magistrates was limited.
But before democracy could reach the final stage Rome found herself involved in wars with neighboring countries. Soon she subjugated her weaker neighbors and turned westwards and southwards, bringing all the countries round the Mediterranean under her sway.
The Roman Empire at one stage extended over the whole of Europe. Thus Rome as a city-state developed into the biggest empire the world had known till then.
As an empire, Rome made valuable contribution to political institutions. In Rome the Republican form of the Government was replaced by military despotism. The Emperor’s decrees were recognized as law. The imperial authority came to be viewed as the divine authority.
The ancient democratic city-states turned into an autocratic empire. The Greek ideals of liberty, democracy and local independence were substituted by the Roman ideals of unity, order, universal law and cosmopolitanism. In fact, the world owes to Rome for giving it the first well-organized and well- governed state.
The Roman Law and the Roman methods of colonial and municipal administration are used even in modern times. Her methods of welding people having diversity of race and language into a sort of political unity are her great achievements. The Roman empire fell in 500 A.D. because of internal decay and the invasions of the Teutonic barbarians.
Its provinces fell off one after another. Greece had developed democracy without unity. Rome secured unity. To secure authority, individual liberty was sacrificed and local self-government vanished with growth of centralized administration. Thus the very strength of Rome caused its decline.
The Feudal State:
The downfall of the Roman empire at the hands of the Teutonic barbarians was responsible for the establishment of feudal states in Europe. The Teutonic people were leading a tribal life. Their kings were merely successful warriors.
They had no notions of unity, order and universal law which were characteristic of the Roman people. Feudalism was only a compromise between the clan type society of the Teutonic’s and the imperial states of the Romans.
After the decline of the Roman Empire her vast territories fell into the hands of powerful nobles. Every noble became an authority into himself. The centralized state authority was replaced by a weak central king; real power being exercised by the feudal chiefs.
The feudal system was founded on hierarchy based on the ownership of land. According to this system, the kings were the vassals of the emperor who in turn was the vassal of God. The kings were supposed to be loyal to the emperor. Every king granted land to the tenants-in-chief who owed allegiance to him.
The tenants-in-chief further distributed the land amongst the tenants who were to be loyal to them. The tenants subdivided the land among vassals and serfs on similar conditions. Thus rigid system of groups was established. Every group owed allegiance to its immediate superior.
The people at the lowest rung of the ladder had no direct contact with the king. Sovereign authority was in this manner distributed. Feudalism thus destroyed the unity and sovereignty of the state and the work done by the Roman Empire was undone. The organized political life was destroyed. Customs and traditions replaced the Roman legal codes.
Strictly speaking the feudal state was not at all a state. It did not enjoin the notions of common citizenship, common law and undivided loyalty to the central authority of the state. Political power was monopolized by those who controlled economic power as well.
The feudal lords were the repository of political power too. They exercised executive and judicial power within their realms. Under, feudalism, the place of common citizenship was taken by the personal relationship between the vassals and the landlords; the common law of the country was substituted by customs, traditions and usages. The central authority of state was divided among so many authorities under it.
After some time, Charlemagne established the Holy Roman Empire. It was, however, overthrown by the papacy which established its political and religious sway over the Princes of Europe. This state of affairs continued up to the fourteenth century. The states of this period were not ‘states’ in the strict sense of the term.
The Modern Nation States:
The modern state implies the establishment of an integrated territory of the State with a unified central control. The people are to be loyal to the central authority, a king or parliament.
Hierarchical division of authority of the feudal order has to be dispensed with. People are imbued with the spirit of nationalism. The growth of nation-states in modem era is attributable directly to the emergence of commercialism and industrialism in the womb of feudalism.
Although the development of the nation-states is attributable to a variety of factors, yet the emergence of Industrial Capitalism is the motive force behind its evolution. Feudal economy was a great obstacle in the way of the redevelopment of capitalism.
The newly arising commercial and industrial classes played a vital role in the destruction of feudalism and the establishment of the nation-state. The nation-state first of all began as an absolute monarchy with a centralized authority. The authority of the Pope was set aside.
The feudal nobility was destroyed. The Renaissance and the Reformation accelerated the pace of this change. Philosophers like Machiavelli and Hobbes defended the absolute centralized authority of the king. The rise of nation state also helped the growth of international law and the theory of sovereignty and equality of states.
The centralized absolute authority of the kings was tolerated by the people as against the authority of the feudal nobility but soon people put forward demands of their rights and privileges. The kings defended absolutism through the theory of Divine Rights of Kings.
The urge for democracy was, however, so great that the kings could not withstand it. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 established constitutional monarchy in England. The French Revolution of 1789 transformed the autocratic government of France into a popular democracy.
Side by side, with the development of democratic institutions, the growth of new nation states began to take place. People professing separate identities clamored for separate states for them. Thus the idea ‘one state, one nation’ came.to the forefront. European states which combined in them various nations and nationalities started breaking up. Assumption of dictatorial powers by Napoleon and arbitrary changes made by him in the boundaries of the states was strongly resented by the oppressed countries.
The resultant rise of national feeling in Germany and Spain was the most important cause of Napoleon’s downfall. The spirit of nationality unfortunately received a severe set-back as a result of the Congress of Vienna held in 1814-15 headed by the reactionary Metternich of Austria.
The Congress sought to divide Europe into a patchwork of states containing numerous nationalities and cut at the roots of the sentiments of nationalism. The spirit of nationality , however, could not be prevented for long.
From 1830 up to the early part of the twentieth century, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Germany, one after another asserted the right of self-determination and nation- states were established in those countries. It became the thesis of the 19th century that the states composed of various nationalities were monstrous hybrids for which no excuse could be found.
Nationalism found fuller recognition in the Treaties of Paris (1919- 20). The subject nationalities which had groaned so long under the oppression of autocrats claimed the right of self determination. The result was that national states were formed of the vast dominions.
The territorial adjustments of the Continent were, however, not made strictly according to the principle of nationality. We know only too well that it was the Problem of unsatisfied nationalities which was a potent cause of World War II. In the aftermath the big empires of England, France and Holland etc. fell and the entire Asia and Africa was liberated.
Points to Remember
1. The Oriental empire:
The earlier states were established in the fertile valley of the Ganges, the Nile, the Euphrates, and the Tigris. Peru and Mexico were the states of empires in the western hemisphere.
2. The Greek City-States:
Greece was especially fitted for political growth because of its geographical position and physical features. The mountains and the sea divided the country into a number of valleys and islands separated from one another.
As a result of these physical features each of these units developed into self-governing and self-sufficient city, states. Various experiments in political institutions were made in these small states. These contributed a lot to political thought.
3. The Roman world empire:
Rome began her career as a city state, very much like the city-states of Greece.
It changed into a republic and soon after into a big empire. As an empire, it made a valuable contribution to political concepts especially the law.
4. The Feudal States:
These were established after the downfall of the Roman Empire.
These were not states in the real sense of the term inasmuch as the authority of the state was distributed in a hierarchical manner on the basis of the ownership of land.
5. The Nation-States:
The growth of modern nation states is attributable directly to the growth of commercialism.
The newly arising commercial and industrial classes played a vital role in the destruction of feudalism and the establishment of the nation-state. The feudal nobility was wiped out and the authority of the Pope was set aside.