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Defining Characteristics Of A Political State

It would be an act of vanity to tell you I’ve read all three volumes of Oxford scholar S.E. Finer’s The History of Government From Earliest Times.

However, since blogging is an act of vanity, I will indeed tell you that I have in fact read all three volumes.

Samuel Finer was a student of government at Oxford who lived between 1915 and 1993. Earliest Times was published after his death. He had finished all but two of the 36 chapters. The Economist saw Earliest Times as a work of political science equal to Aristotle’s Politics.

Below are Professor Finer’s five defining characteristics of a political state—

1. They are territorially defined populations each recognizing a common paramount organ of government.

2. This organ is served by specialized personnel; a civil service, to carry out decisions and a military service to back these by force where necessary and to protect the association from similarly constituted associations.

3. The state so characterized is recognized by other similarly constituted states as independent on its territorially defined—and hence confined—population, that is, on its subjects. This recognition constitutes what we would today call its international sovereignty.   

4. Ideally at least, but to a large extent in practice also, the population forms a community of feeling—A gemeinschaft based on self-consciousness of a common nationality.

5.  Ideally at least, and again to a large extent in practice, the population forms a community in the sense that its members mutually participate in distributing and sharing duties and benefits.

Consider your own personal favorite nation and ponder if it meets these tests.

If it were an independent state, I’m not sure my home city of Houston, Texas would pass the fourth and fifth standards.

Here is some of the 1997 review of this title from The Economist

IF THERE were a Nobel prize for political science, Sammy Finer would deserve to win one for this extraordinary trilogy—a work of scholarship so broad in its sympathies, so ambitious in its scope and so elegantly crafted that it leaves the reader gasping, literally, with astonishment and delight. To read it is like seeing the pyramids or the Taj Mahal for the first time. Sadly, Finer—who taught politics at Manchester, Keele and Oxford before retiring—died four years ago. Happily, before he died he had completed all but two of his projected 36 chapters.

The task he set himself was nothing less than to describe and account for the principal forms of government that have existed on this planet since “the first unambiguously attested states yet known emerged round about 3200 BCin the Nile Valley and southern Mesopotamia.” The sweep of his reading and research encompassed—but was far from exhausted by—the ancient states of Sumer, Egypt, Persia and Assyria, the classical states of Greece and Rome, the Byzantine and Caliphate empires of the near east, the Han, Tang and Ming regimes of China, Tokugawa Japan and the emergence of the so-called “modern” states of Europe and North America.

Earliest Times must be bought used now. I hope it is reissued. It’s well worth the effort and money to track down and buy all three volumes.

December 20, 2007 Posted by | Books, Political History, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment