Cultural Premises, Political Structures and Dynamics

Date01 October 1987
Publication Date01 October 1987
AuthorS.N. Eisenstadt,N. Chazan,M. Abitbol
DOI10.1177/019251218700800401
SubjectArticles
291
Cultural
Premises,
Political
Structures
and
Dynamics
S.
N.
EISENSTADT
WITH
M.
ABITBOL
AND
N.
CHAZAN
ABSTRACT.
Using
the
typical
early
pre-colonial
African
state
as
well
as
the
Byzantine
and
Chinese
empires
as
examples,
the
authors
argue
that
the
proper
understanding
of
the
state
and,
more
generally,
of
political
institutions
and
processes,
requires
that
political
actors
and
actions
be
studied
in
the
context
of
the
culture
of which
they
are
a
part.
The
three
case
studies
provided
show
that
the
impact
of
cultural
factors
on
political
processes,
specifically
the
impact
of
a
society’s
fundamental
cultural
premises,
or
what
might
be
called
a
society’s
vision
of
civilization,
is
effected
through
the
activities
of
and
the
types
of
coalition
formed
by
a
society’s
elites.
Introduction:
The
Cultural
Dimension
in
Political
Analysis
In
this
paper
we
illustrate
the
usefulness-indeed,
the
necessity-of
bringing
back,
albeit
in
a
new
way,
the
cultural
dimension
to
the
analysis
of
political
organizations
and
dynamics.
The
importance
of
this
dimension
was,
of
course,
fully
recognized
in
the
classical
period
of
sociological
analysis,
in
the
works
of
Weber
and
Durkheim
and
before
that
in
those
of
de
Tocqueville
and
even
Marx.
It
was
also,
of
course,
prominent
in
the
1950s
and
1960s
in
the
works
of
the
structural/functional
school,
in
studies
of
modernization
and
development
and
of
political
culture.
Culture
has,
however,
disappeared
to
a
large
extent
from
our
sociological
and
political
analyses,
with
the
exception
of
anthropological
works
such
as
those
by
Tambiah
(1976),
Geertz
(1980)
or
Keys
(1971,
1983),
those
dealing
with
modern
Japan
(Social
Analysis,
1980),
or
those
of
Rokkan
(1975).
Even
the
recent
call
for
&dquo;Bringing
the
State
Back&dquo;
(Evans,
Rueschmeyer
and
Skocpol,
1985),
despite
its
Weberian
overtones,
has
almost
entirely
neglected
culture,
stressing
instead
social,
structural,
organizational
and
power
variables.
The
reason
for
the
neglect
of
culture
cannot
be
attributed
simply
to
the
&dquo;natural&dquo;
history
of
sociology
and
political
science.
The
fact
is
that,
since
the
1960s
and
the
breakdown
of
the
relative
dominance
of
the
structural/functional
school,
there
has
occurred
a
growing
dissociation
between
the
study
of
&dquo;culture&dquo;
and
that
of
social
structure
(see
Eisenstadt,
1985,
1986).
It
is
our
claim,
which
we
attempt
to
substantiate
by
case
studies
of
the
early
African
states
as
well
as
of
the
Byzantine
and
Chinese
empires,
that
structures
can
be
best
understood
by
taking
a
civilizational
292
approach,
one
that
starts
from
the
premises
of
a
given
civilization,
specifically
its
conception
of
politics
and
authority.
We
pay
special
attention
to
several
aspects
of
political
life
and
dynamics
that
have
been
of
central
interest
in
recent
comparative
analyses:
types
of
centers
and
regimes;
patterns
of
conflict
and
protest;
processes
of
change
in
regimes;
and
revolutions.
Analysis
of
the
Early
State:
Criticism
of
Evolutionary
Approaches
We
begin with
an
analysis
of
the
formation
of
early
states,
concentrating
on
Africa.
Our
point
of
departure
is
the
inadequacy
of
those
approaches,
mostly
evolutionary,
that
define
the
state
in
terms
of
different
degrees
of
structural
differentiation.
These
faulty
approaches
have
their
roots
in
the
classical
evolutionary
studies
of
the
origins
of
the
state,
those
of
Marx
and
Engels
(1942),
Herbert
Spencer
(1925-29)
and
earlier
anthropologists.
Several
scholars
have
continued
this
tradition,
including
the
neo-Marxists
Friedman
and
Rowlands
(1977),
whose
work
indicates
intriguing,
if
somewhat
paradoxical,
parallels
to
some
of
Person’s
schema
(1968);
to
Balandier
(1970)
and
his
more
differentiated
comparative
studies
undertaken
over
several
decades;
and,
more
recently,
to
Claessen
and
Skalnick
(1978)
and
Service
and
Cohen
(1978).
The
assumptions
that
there
are
universal
stages
of development
of differentiation
in
all
societies
and
that
there
are
concomitant
manifestations
of
similar
institutional
qualities
at
each
stage
have
minimized
the
importance
of
elements
specific
to
the
internal
structure
of
a
given
polity.
Those
assumptions
also
foster
the
perception
that
variations
at
each
level
of
development
are
secondary
to
the
major
characteristics
of
the
overall
stage.
In
fact,
such
variations
are
indeed
of
crucial
importance
in
understanding
the
political
dynamics
of
the
societies
concerned.
Closely
related
to
these
assumptions
is
the
fact
that
much
of
this
literature
is
unable
to
explain
why
certain
states,
such
as
Egypt
and
Ethiopia,
developed
into
more
differentiated
or
archaic
states,
whereas
others,
such
as
the
Sudanese
empires
of
Ghana,
Mali
and
Songhai,
did
not
go
beyond
more
rudimentary
phases
(Eisenstadt,
et
al.,
forthcoming).
Many
societies
in
Africa,
the
Mediterranean
Near
East,
the
&dquo;fertile
crescent&dquo;,
and
the
Far
East
cannot
be
explained
in
terms
of
the
variables
derived
from
classic
evolutionary
theory
(Service,
1975;
Service
and
Cohen,
1978).
Societal
Centers
and
Their
Dimensions
Major
differences
among
these
societies
can
be
traced
to
the
structure
of
their
respective
centers,
but
the
latter
should
not
be
viewed
only
in
terms
of
relative
specialization
of
political
roles
and
organizations.
The
center,
or
centers,
of
a
society
do
not
deal
only
with
the
organizational
aspects
of
the
social
division
of
labor;
they
also,
and
perhaps
foremost,
deal
with
their
connection
to
the
charismatic
dimensions
of
the
social
order,
that
is,
to
the
building
of
trust,
the
regulation
of
power,
and
the
provision
of
meaningful
explanations
(Eisenstadt,
1968,
1971;
Shils,
1975).
Centers
should be
distinguished
in
terms
of
their
structural
and
symbolic
autonomy,
their
distinctiveness,
the
nature
and
type
of
their
activities,
their
relationship
to
the
periphery,
their
pattern
of
elite
coalitions,
their
systematic
tendencies,
and
their
capacity
for
change.
Characteristics
are
not
always
related,
and
each
factor
may
be
articulated
within
different
centers
to
different
degrees,
giving
rise
to
different
modes
of
control
by
the

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