George Walford: History in Brief

UNLESS we assume extra-terrestrial influence, authoritarian society must have grown out of the non-hierarchical foraging communities; there was nowhere else for it to come from. Archaeology shows this to have happened not just once but six times independently (in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus and Yellow river valleys, Mesoamerica and Peru), producing the ‘primary’ states, those which did not derive from other states.

The evidence suggests tendencies in humanity which lead communities to move on from nomadic foraging to a combination of this with agriculture, sedentary society, hierarchy and authority and, appearing later, movements to perfect, reform, revolutionise and abolish these institutions.

It may not be obvious that modern industrial society does incorporate the foraging modes of behaviour, but this is only because they form part of the familiar background. Slaughtering may well be seen as hunting with the risk and fun taken out of it, shopping as conditional gathering; pieces of paper have to be handed over or signed before the food collected can be taken. And as for nomadism – tourism and its services form the world’s largest and fastest-growing industry.

Whether these developmental tendencies get realised or not, and if so in which way, depends partly upon the conditions encountered. Many peoples have had authority imposed upon them rather than developing it for themselves; this having happened, however, they overwhelmingly find it consonant with their tendencies. Others remain in or close to the original state; these inhabit areas of heavy forest, desert or near-desert, where it is hard, perhaps impossible, to move on to agriculture and sedentary society without the powers of modern industry.

from Ideological Commentary 62, November 1993.