Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name




Author's Keywords

political theory; systems theory; Deleuze and Guattari; state of nature; sovereign exception; monopoly on violence


The theories of the state of nature provided by the political philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke have made a significant impact in the general conceptions of the origin of states. Though there are many critical differences in the conceptions of the state of nature between each in their seminal works, they both possess of a view of states that is rational and constructivist.

In this paper, I use the game theory concepts of the coordination game, collective action problem, and focal point to illustrate a lacuna in this rational and constructivist conception of the origin of states, as their models of state formation contain their own collective action problems. I then utilize the evolutionary biology theories of inclusive fitness and kin selection to pose a model of the origin of states that is based on an emergent dynamic. In this model, I suggest that states are social technologies whose early instantiations are made to mediate between kinship groups, acquiring constructive characteristics as social complexity builds and the needs and structure of society shifts. I discuss a number of historical anecdotes to illustrate this point.

Lastly, I propose two models of state organization utilizing the Deleuzo-Guattarian concepts of rhizomatic and arborescent structures based on this emergent conception of the state of nature. I also make use of the systems theory concept of cybernetics to consider control structures and efficiency in these political structures. Some states maintain arborescent structures, with the potential for complete sovereignty consisting of a monopoly on violence and the right to decide exceptions to legal and customary procedure. Others are rhizomatic, consisting of institutional networks in a state of political equilibrium without a central coordinating organization. Both types contain emergent and constructed forms, but the existence of constructed polities of either type is reliant on the emergent of constructed forms first.

Lay Summary

The conceptions of the state of nature provided by political philosopher Thomas Hobbes and John Locke caused a significant impact on the conception of the origin of states. Though their theories on the state of nature propounded in their seminal works differed in significant ways, they both possess of a view of states in which states come from deliberative action by rational individuals.

I critique this view of the state of nature and the formation of political systems and propose instead a model of the state of nature based on evolved institutions and family group competition. I pose two models of state that come from this evolution, a “rhizomatic” diffuse and “arborescent” centralized state with differing forms of organization and control structures. The “arborescent” state has centralized control structures and a centrally held monopoly on violence, while the “rhizomatic” state has a network of institutions bound by custom or contract to uphold a peaceful equilibrium.