State, History

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Summary

A state is an organized community living under one government. States may be sovereign. The term state is also applied to federated states that are members of a federal union, which is the sovereign state. Some states are subject to external sovereignty or hegemony where ultimate sovereignty lies in another state. The state can also be used to refer to the secular branches of government within a state, often as a manner of contrasting them with churches and civilian institutions.

Details

The earliest forms of the state emerged whenever it became possible to centralize power in a durable way. Agriculture and writing are almost everywhere associated with this process: agriculture because it allowed for the emergence of a class of people who did not have to spend most of their time providing for their own subsistence, and writing (or the equivalent of writing, like Inca quipus) because it made possible the centralization of vital information.

The first known states were created in Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, the Inca civilization, and others, but it is only in relatively modern times that states have almost completely displaced alternative "stateless" forms of political organization of societies all over the planet. Roving bands of hunter-gatherers and even fairly sizable and complex tribal societies based on herding or agriculture have existed without any full-time specialized state organization, and these "stateless" forms of political organization have in fact prevailed for all of the prehistory and much of the history of the human species and civilization.

Initially states emerged over territories built by conquest in which one culture, one set of ideals and one set of laws have been imposed by force or threat over diverse nations by a civilian and military bureaucracy. Currently, that is not always the case and there are multinational states, federated states and autonomous areas within states.

Since the late 19th century, virtually the entirety of the world's inhabitable land has been parcelled up into areas with more or less definite borders claimed by various states. Earlier, quite large land areas had been either unclaimed or uninhabited, or inhabited by nomadic peoples who were not organised as states. However, even within present-day states there are vast areas of wilderness, like the Amazon Rainforest, which are uninhabited or inhabited solely or mostly by indigenous people (and some of them remain uncontacted). Also, there are states which do not hold de facto control over all of their claimed territory or where this control is challenged. Currently the international community comprises around 200 sovereign states, the vast majority of which are represented in the United Nations.

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