The State: Its History and Development Viewed Sociologically
The State: Its History and Development Viewed Sociologically integrates political and historical philosophy on the one hand, with economic philosophy on the other. Illustrates Oppenheimer’s general theory of the origin, development, and expected transformation of the state, central political institution of the modern world.
The State first appeared in Germany in 1908. Since then a Hungarian edition has been published, a French translation has been made, and Roumanian and Italian translations are in course of preparation. Perhaps it is not surprising that the faculties of the great German universities maintained complete silence about this work, just as they had done in the case of most of the authors other books, while in the meantime they put the stamp of their highest approval on less worthy publications. But despite their opposition no less an authority than Herr A dolph Wagner, Dean of the University of Berlin and foremost among German political economists, in his Handworterbuch der Staatsrvissenschaften, in the course of the paper entitled Der Staat in Nationalokonomischer Hinsicht, pronounced The State to be the most important work of its kind ever published.
Prior to reading this typographical reprint of this phenomenal 1908 work (translated into English in 1914), I held, overall, a very low opinion of the field of sociology. I perceived it as more-or-less a psuedo-science created to rationalize social engineering schemes of academics and the privileges of the ruling class.
And indeed, most sociologists, particularly now, in the 21st century, use their field precisely to propagate such agendas. But in _The State_, Oppenheimer leads us to the binding, resolute, and thoroughly convincing conclusion that it is not sociology that lacks utility for the betterment of society, but rather, it is the incompetence of most of the sociologists themselves. Oppenheimer shows that the analytic approach to sociology proper, and its relation to history, must transpire with the recognition that two forces, and the conflict between them, have shaped the progression of all of history heretofore: namely, the “economic means” of life, i.e., the peaceful means of improving one’s standard of living through labor and exchange; and the “political means,” i.e., the violent means of improving that standard through the parasitic exploitation of the labors of subordinates. It is, in brief, a history of the unceasing conflict between subjects and rulers.
Oppenheimer here demonstrates, first deductively and then empirically with supplementary historical evidence, the origins and essence of the State, its development, and his prognosis for its future. In particular, and by employing a comparatively simple mathematical deduction in the first chapter of the book, he demonstrates that all previous theories regarding the origins and essence of the State have failed to furnish adequate supporting evidence, whether deductive or empirical, to validate their claims. With these previous theories torn asunder and cast aside, Oppenheimer reveals conclusively that the State could have arisen in no other manner than through conquest and subjugation, through the violent imposition of dominion over peaceful tribes by violent tribes. To quote:
“The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Teleologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors.”
He thereafter proceeds to cover the genesis of the State, involving a dynamic of interaction between peaceful primitive farmers, hunter and gatherer tribes, nomadic herding tribes, and the manner by which this gave rise to the slave trade, and thus, “the first seedling of the State, the first economic exploitation of man by man.”
Henceforth, Oppenheimer traces the development of the State after its genesis through the “primitive feudal State,” consisting of a simple caste system; into the “maritime State” wherever States arise near the sea and its necessary subsequent end; proceeding to the “developed feudal State,” consisting of a far greater degree of complexity and hierarchy of castes than its “primitive” predecessor; thereafter arriving at the emergence of the “constitutional State”; and concluding the book with his deductive prognosis for the future, i.e., the advent of the “free citizenship,” a social arrangement in w
Paul Gottfried is professor of political science at Elizabethown College in Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Search for Historical Meaning; Conservative Millenarians: The Romantic Experience in Bavaria; and Arthur Schopenhauer and the Heritage of European Pessimism. He is general editor of the Religion and Public Life Series.