Journal of International and Global Studies


Why did human societies grow from small bands and villages into highly populous nations and empires? This process, termed political evolution, is explained by one major strand of anthropological theorizing as having resulted from population pressure, warfare, and conquest. War is seen as having been essential because polities do not willingly surrender autonomy. The 20th century apparently brought both an increase in population pressure (the ratio of humans to the available resource base) and a considerable amount of war, but only a modest increase in political evolution as measured by the average population of nations. One interpretation of this is that in order to precipitate political evolution, population pressure and war are only necessary conditions, not sufficient ones; if and when substantial political evolution resumes, it again will be by force of arms. A second interpretation is that a great deal of political evolution did occur in the 20th century, but in a new form: voluntary federation. Motivated by fear of future global war, nations surrendered modest but appreciable autonomy to join the League of Nations, then its successor, the United Nations. Regression analysis using decennial time-series data reveals a highly significant relationship between voluntary federation and population density, supporting the possibility that voluntary federation is indeed the culminating form of political evolution. (N = 11, R2 = .7495, t = –5.189, p < .001).

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