What Are the Four Most Widely Held Theories That Attempt to Explain the Origin of the State?

A state requires a population occupying a specific territory.
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The question about what is the origin of the state has been discussed for centuries. In the historical and philosophical arena, this question is a debated issue among scholars. With no concrete evidence to support any of the proposed theories, it remains as speculation. All of the most accepted theories of the origin of the state do agree that the state must have certain basic elements: territory, population, government and sovereignty.

1 History of Force Theory

The history of force theory proposes that the origin of state is developed through the use of force. One person or a small group of people claim control over the population in a specific area by force. Once the rule is well established, the state is established. This theory is generally a result of war. As an example, Adolf Hitler and his control over Germany led to the attempted control of Europe as well as the mass genocide of the Jewish population during the Holocaust.

2 Evolutionary Theory Government

This theory purports that the state evolved over time starting with the primitive family. One person in the family was determined to be the leader of the family. On a primitive level, a basic evolutionary theory government was formed. Over decades, the family became a clan and a clan became a tribe. The state was then identified when the tribe settled in a designated area and claimed it as their own. Native American tribes are an example of primitive families that formed as tribes and selected a chief to be the leader of this family.

3 Divine Right Theory

The divine right theory holds that God created the state and gave certain individuals of royal birth the divine right to rule. Since God divinely ordained its rulers and they were accountable to God, the population obeyed the ruler as they were required to obey God. This theory existed in many countries such as England and Europe throughout the Middle Ages and helped lead to the religious-based conquests of other lands.

4 Social Contract Theory

In the final theories of state development, social contract theory shows that a specific population within a given designated area gave up as much power to a government as needed to promote the well-being of all. Specifically, in social contract theory, the community population and the leader have a contract. The state has power and authority over the territory while the community receives certain services such as a safe, crime-free area in which to live and keep their rights protected. This theory was developed in the 17th and 18th centuries by philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau. The United States (U.S.) political system is based on the social contract theory.

Susan Henrichon has more than 25 years of experience in education. She has taught special education and possesses administrative experience in the public school setting. She holds a Master of Education in special education from Westfield State University and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in educational administration from the University of Massachusetts.