Collective Action and Political Evolution

Part of the Fundamental Issues in Archaeology book series (FIAR)

In these final comments, we ask the socio-cultural evolutionary question: Does collective action represent evolutionary progress in state-building? An evolutionary perspective is based on the assumption that human history, since the end of the Pleistocene, can be understood as a series of progressive social transformations, culminating in the modern world. From the data summarized in previous chapters we could, plausibly, interpret collective action as an expression of social progress. The more collective societies in our sample exhibited, by comparison with the less collective and more autocratic, a tendency toward increased population size, economic growth, and increased material standard of living for ordinary persons in addition to the many benefits accruing from collective action politics such as accountable rulers, voice, and public goods. However, can we say that humans have made progress in overcoming the limitations of more autocratic regimes by developing the ability to build collective political systems? To answer this question, we address three issues: Is collective action found in the earliest phases of state formation, or does it appear primarily as an evolutionarily late phenomenon? Do the “Axial Age Civilizations” represent a progressive transitional phase in the evolution from “Pagan” civilizations to the modern democracies? Lastly, was the widely-accepted transition from pre-modern autocracy to modern democracy truly evolutionary?


Public Good Collective Action Modern World Allocation Rule Political Evolution 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

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