There is a simplistic model of history that roughly goes:

In the beginning people wandered the land with pointy sticks and the most masculine guy beat up all the other guys and made himself king. Societies were governed by those who were most brutal.

Even Marx had a more sophisticated model than this - as I recall he postulated an idyllic pre-communist society before the invention of evil capitalists where people sang songs and played games and there was no conflict. Because of course there can be no conflict without capital.

Both models contradict what we know of preagricultsural societies, most of which are formed on models of big men. My understanding is that current models assume that hunter-gatherer societies are so interdependent governance takes place within the context of a carefully maintained consensus. Certain individuals are recognized to have greater influence or wisdom, and their opinions matter more.

I recall a theory that when such tribes cross certain thresholds of complexity, Chieftains emerge with relatively defined powers (an unwritten constitution), balanced by alternative institutions (such as the warrior societies and women's lodges of the Amerindians).

There is another threshold which catapaults the Chieftains to Kingship; in Western Europe Kingship was originally based on the ability to lead in war (elected by peer war leaders), and eventually codified into lineages through a strong desire to avoid civil conflict.

Obviously any theory that attempts to encapsulate the manifold complexity of human social conduct into less than a dozen discrete stages will be grossly flawed, but it can still be a useful model (more useful for example than the "men with pointy sticks" model).

  1. Is there a name for this theory/model?
  2. Can someone articulate it more clearly?
  3. Is there a more useful model? Has a superior model emerged??
  4. Is there a model of enfranchisement through social development? (Aside: I'd actually be particularly interested in what might be called fractional enfranchisement social structures and institutions that accord (formally or informally) different individuals different levels of franchise.)

I'd also like to apologize to OP for hijacking the question

  • What do you mean by "prior to Rome"? Prior to the foundation of Rome? Prior to the first Roman consuls? Prior to the institution of Plebeian Tribues? Does aristocrats electing one or more of their own to administer the city count as "citizens had a chance to vote"? – Semaphore Oct 3 '14 at 15:53
  • The term "citizens" is problematic. Many societies "vote" for kingship; the Iroquois vote for tribal chieftains in two houses -the men's lodge and the women's lodge. I doubt we could go back to find when that originated. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 3 '14 at 16:02
  • Possible duplicate of history.stackexchange.com/questions/5668/… – Anixx Oct 3 '14 at 16:10
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    Would this not be a bit too broad for a single question? – Semaphore Oct 3 '14 at 18:38
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    @semaphore - good catch. I'm not sure what the correct word is. I suspect "pre-agricultural"; it isn't clear what OP really means, because the Greeks were voting when the Romans were still looking for women, and most primitive societies operate on some form of consensus, which is kin to "voting". – Mark C. Wallace Oct 4 '14 at 1:07

The question sort of implies that voting is a concept so complex that it was invented once, and everyone else borrowed the concept from a predecessor.

In fact, tribal societies the world over have long been observed to select leadership and/or decide issues via voting. So this appears to be a fairly natural method of joint decision-making, that certainly goes back far before any written record.

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  • This is a good example of a good answer to a bad question; the question is predicated on an erroneous assumption, but the answer hints at "Governance of premodern societies" which is a kind of fascinating topic. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 3 '14 at 16:43
  • I'm not so sure I agree with this. It seems to me that in a tribe of ancients ( maybe Neanderthals ), the 'vote' would have been by 'he who wielded the biggest club', i.e. not really a vote – CGCampbell Oct 3 '14 at 18:43
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    @CGCampbell - that doesn't match the informal reading I've done. Many if not most pre-modern societies work on a consensus model. Even in the dark ages the election of kings was through a vote of the war leaders - who wanted a qualified dux, not a bully. I won't say that reality didn't often fall short of aspiration; the participants were human and flawed. I don't have the strong scholarship I want to offer a good answer, but later tonight I may offer a bad answer. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 3 '14 at 19:01
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    @CGCampbell I agree with MarkC.Wallace that consensus based governance is more natural in tribal politics. In an environment where everyone is a blood relative, use of force is tempered by both personal relationship and the threat of repercussions - humans are social animals who do not approve of rule breakers. IMHO it is when groups became larger after civilisation that impersonal force began to trump personal connections, when rulers could shield themselves from public opinion. I imagine it's a lot harder for a chief who dines with his whole tribe. – Semaphore Oct 3 '14 at 19:19

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