Early Civilization: An Introduction to Anthropology

By Alexander A. Goldenweiser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
SOCIETY

THE FOUNDATIONS OF SOCIETY

Man is a political animal. No matter how far down we go in civilization some form of social organization is always there. In one sense, indeed, society antedates the individual; for some of the most distinctive attributes of man, such as speech and perhaps religion, could not have originated in the absence of a social setting. It goes without saying that the individual as a discrete unit, as a self-conscious individuality juxtaposed to society, is a later product of social evolution.

If there is a social organization, there must be a basis on which it rests. Some writers are wont to ascribe the institution of the fundamental forms of society to the deliberate thought and decision of wise and powerful men. There can be no doubt that the intervention of premeditated control by groups and individuals has played a conspicuous part in the history of social and political organization, but it is equally certain that the basic forms of society have arisen out of certain factors given in man's relation to his physical and social environment, and that the process was as spontaneous as it was unconscious. Whatever later transformations have occurred in society and politics, they were always rooted in these basic forms, some of which are as old as man and older than the self-conscious individual.

What, then, are the factors in early life that were utilized for purposes of social organization? The first is locality. Man has always lived somewhere. Perpetual vagrancy is not a primitive phenomenon. The unceasing migrations of modern gypsies seem to be correlated with the permanently fixed habitats of a higher civilization. The gypsy and the Wandering Jew do not belong to the beginning of history.

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