2010 April 29 Thursday
Bureaucracy Enables Conquest

The expansion of the world's first states was made possible by bureaucracy.

"Bureaucracy is the death of all sound work," said Albert Einstein, sharing a popular view about bureaucracy grinding progress to a halt.

But it now appears that the organizing functions of bureaucracy were essential to the progressive growth of the world's first states, and may have helped them conquer surrounding areas much earlier than originally thought. New research conducted in the Valley of Oaxaca near Monte Albán, a large pre-Columbian archaeological site in southern Mexico, also implies that the first bureaucratic systems may have a lasting influence on today's modern states.

The research by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate, is published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"The earliest evidence of state organization is contemporaneous with the earliest evidence of long-distance territorial expansion," said lead researcher Charles Spencer, curator of Mexican and Central American Archaeology at the AMNH. "This pattern was consistent with the territorial-expansion model of primary state formation, which I have proposed in a number of publications over the years."

Spencer's territorial-expansion model argues that states arise through a mutual-causal process involving simultaneous territorial expansion and bureaucratization. Spencer's model breaks with previous ideas that suggest states rise through a protracted, step-by-step process--first the state forms, then an organizing bureaucracy takes hold, and sometime later, the state begins to expand into other regions in an "imperialistic" fashion, thus giving birth to an empire.

Whatever genetic variants enabled the formation of bureaucracy probably have been under positive selective pressure. The expanding states captured more resources that helped feed the bureaucrats. So attributes that helped a person become an effective bureaucrat probably provided reproductive advantage. Don't like bureaucracy? It is probably a product of human evolution.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 April 29 11:20 PM  Civilizations Formation


Comments
joseph Moroco said at May 2, 2010 10:00 AM:

How much expansion of Rome was there in the low bureacracy republic as opposed to the big bureaucracy empire?


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