Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V

Patrimonial Systems: Introduction

I

In the first historical stage of breakthrough from primitive systems—in what may be called the preimperial and prefeudal stage—the great majority of political systems consisted of patrimonial regimes. Yet they have probably been less studied and more often treated as a sort of "residual category," as "predecessors" of imperial symbolic systems, or as "underdeveloped," "embryonic" types of such systems.

Even Weber, in whose writings the fullest exposition of the basic characteristics of patrimonial systems can be found, does not distinguish on the whole between patrimonial and imperial systems, although just because of this he succeeds in pointing out the persistency of many important patrimonial elements in the more developed of differentiated imperial systems. 1

Let us first list briefly some of the most important historical examples of patrimonial systems. They would include many of the earlier kingdoms in the Near and Middle East, such as the Ancient Egyptian Empire, 2 Assyrian 3 and Babylonian 4 kingdoms, and smaller empires like ancient Akkad; 5 the many nomad kingdoms or "empires," ranging from relatively loose tribal conquerors such as those of the Hyksos 6 and the Hittites 7 up to the more fully organized ones of the Mongols; 8 most of the first Germanic 9 and Slavic 10 tribes that settled in Europe; many of the Indian and Southeast Asian 11 and also, to some extent, the Middle American kingdoms, 12 as well as, probably, many of the medieval Balkan and Slavic states mentioned above. Possibly also several embryonic types of such political systems could be found in Polynesia. 13

The greatly varied historical and cultural settings of these regimes also indicate the broad variety of their origins. They developed from tribal systems or federations of different kinds, from city-states, from different congeries or convergences of these systems, or from the breakdowns of feudal and imperial systems. They could develop through processes of immigration and conquest by nomad tribes, or through processes of amalgamation and settlement of primitive or semiliterate groups, as well as through some combination of these various processes. Within this great variety, two basic ecological types of such regimes can be discerned: the sedentary and the nomadic. 14 Each of them necessarily developed some specific problems and characteristics.

As in the case of the other major types of systems which developed at this stage—that is, tribal federation with states—these various systems existed, in almost all known cases, in very close geopolitical proximity to one another and could very often merge into one another.


II

Despite this great historical, cultural, and geographical spread of such patrimonial systems, whenever they arose they developed some characteristics that were common from the point of view of dynamics of political regimes and systems. What are these common characteristics? 15 We may perhaps start with Weber's definition.

With the development of a purely personal administrative staff especially a military force under the control of the Chief, traditional authority tends to develop into "Patrimonialism," where absolute authority is maximized, it may be called "Sultanism."

The "members" are now treated as "subjects." An authority of the Chief which was previously treated principally as exercised on behalf of the members, now becomes his personal authority, which he appropriates in the same way as he could any ordinary object of possession. He is also entitled to exploit, in principle, like any economic advantage—to sell it, to pledge it as Security, or to divide it by inheritance. 16

-138-

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