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The Political and Economic Mystiques of State Power

One of the great political mysteries has been the success of governments in ruling over societies with little opposition and resistance from the vast majority of the population, even when those governments have been brutal tyrannies and openly dictatorial in their control.

This has been true, no less, under democratic regimes, as well, under which levels of taxation have been far higher and the degrees of regulation over personal, social and economic activities often much more intrusive than under tyrants of bygone ages. This has been in spite of the fact that those governments are formally “answerable to the people” through regular elections determining who holds high political office with legitimized power over the electorate’s lives.

Conquest and Plunder as the Origin of the State

It has long been understood by historians that most modern States, such as in Europe, have their origins in conquest and plunder. Invading tribes and bands would vanquish existing rulers and their peoples, and settle down to permanently live off those whom they had not killed during the conquest.

The German sociologist, Franz Oppenheimer (1864-1943), especially emphasized this in his classic work on the origin of political power and authority, The State (1914). He argued that there are fundamentally two ways by which individuals may obtain the material means that they wish to have to maintain and improve their lives: the economic means and the political means: Said Oppenheimer:

There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. There are work or robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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