Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

B. PATTERNS OF INITIAL DEVELOPMENT
OF POLITICAL CENTERS

CHAPTER III

Major Types of Breakthrough from
Proliterate Societies: Introduction

I

As we have pointed out in the introduction to the section on Primitive Political Systems, it has been a common assumption in historical and ethnological research that in the earliest history of the human race—a beginning or prehistory, which, timewise, was certainly much longer than its written record— all societies were "primitive" according to the criteria specified above and therefore very similar to contemporary primitive societies. It has also been often assumed that it was out of these primeval, primitive societies that the various types of archaic and historical societies developed. In a very broad sense, this is unquestionably true. There can be no doubt that the first human societies were indeed preliterate and had a low level of technological development. Literacy and even minimal technological development are of relatively recent invention. They appeared quite late in the history of human societies and only in parts of the human race. They were usually connected at first with the evolution of more complex social structures with a greater degree of structural specialization and differentiation.

There can also be no doubt that a crucial aspect of such development and a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for it have been a degree of technological or organizational advance which facilitated the creation and accumulation of some surpluses, together with the invention of literacy, which enabled and facilitated the transmission of accumulated tradition. 1 But it is also true that we know little about the exact conjunction through which such different "advances" have developed, whether of the nature of social differentiation, literacy, or more highly specialized technology.

There exists some archaeological and historical evidence through which some of the more general trends of such developments can indeed be identified. More and more recent archaeological research is in fact moving in the direction of providing us with somewhat more detailed analyses of how such development and breakthroughs to the more "advanced" stages of social life took place. 2

It is to be hoped that with the advance of research, we may arrive at some more specific indications of the nature of these processes, even if—by the very nature of the available and nonavailable evidence (that is, the lack of adequate literary evidence, beyond what is given about these earlier periods of their history in the historical records of societies which have passed into the more advanced stage)—it is doubtful whether we shall ever have such full and detailed accounts of these transitions as we have about contemporary primitive societies.

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