The Search for the Just Society
Edward J. Dodson
INSTRUCTOR'S MANUAL -- LESSON 1
Explain to students that the course is designed to provide them
with a sound historical framework from which to evaluate the degree
of justice inherent in various societal structures.
As a beginning exercise, ask the students for their opinion,
first, about the degree of justness and, second, the degree
of liberty existing in the U.S. Do not attempt, as this
point, to provide definitions of these terms.
Put a line graph on the board, with zero at the left and ten at
the right. Write each student's name on the graph below whatever
number they choose. Ask them to explain why they feel the way they
Next, put several more line graphs on the board and write the
names of different countries next to them (e.g., Russia, India,
France, etc.). Ask the students to rate each society as well, then
discuss the reasons for their answers.
Introduce two general benchmarks of how societies might be
measured as just:
(1) that the overwhelming majority of citizens have a
sufficient quantity and quality of the basic goods (economic
and political) necessary for a decent human existence (i.e., food,
clothing, housing, employment opportunities, access to education and
medical care, and sufficient time to participate in civic affairs
and for leisure); and
(2) widespread participation in the political
decision-making process. Discuss the current conditions in the above
countries based on these general criteria and ask whether anyone
feels any differently about their previous answers.
Begin discussion of the history of the human civilization. Key
points to make are as follows:
- The earliest archeological evidence traces the origins of homo
sapiens to some 2.5 million years ago in the savannah of
Northeastern Africa (Ethiopia). Early humans probably evolved in a
number of regions; some groups survived and grew in numbers,
others became extinct.
- Use a small circle graph to show initial territorial range of
early foraging groups. Explain that they existed as small clans or
extended families -- some more, some less nomadic depending on the
resources available to them in their immediate locations.
- Increase the size of the circle graph to display territorial
expansion, explaining that advances in technology and tool-making
enabled them to become effective hunters (adding concentrated
protein to their diets) and contributing to population increases.
Advise the students that a controversy of some note has been
raised by biologists who contend that fertility might be related
to the amount of certain proteins in the diets of various peoples;
a high rate of fertility is actually related to a protein
deficiency (and a corresponding higher rate of infant mortality).
- Explain that effective hunting skills eventually would greatly
reduce the supply of large game animals, so that population size
pressed against the resources of their natural environment (given
their stage of technological development, particularly the absence
of domestication of foodcrops or animals). Some of the group might
move out on their own to a new territory, or the entire group
might migrate as a tribe, following the natural migration of
- Draw several other circle graphs on the board to show the
existence of other groups and the extent of their territories. Use
a dotted line around each circle to show how their territories
might overlap. Discuss what would be likely to occur when these
groups come into contact with one another: (1) reach an accord and
share access (cooperation); (2) engage in hostilities (conflict).
- Discuss internal changes in tribal/clan societies resulting
from external threats. Division of labor arises where some hunters
become warrior-protectors. Hierarchy eventually produces a
warrior-chieftain. Larger, more powerful tribes may vanquish,
absorb or annihilate their competitors. Slaughter of adult males
was a common practice. Enslavement of captives added to number of
people involved in food production and contributed to further
subversion of a communitarian form of socio-political
organization. A communitarian society is one in which
mostly all property (particularly food) is owned in common and
there is a minimum of hierarchical complexity, usually limited to
decision-making assigned to tribal elders.
- External pressures from other groups stimulate not only a
division of labor but also changes to the physical form of
settlement. Villages become fixed in location for longer periods
of time, and some groups construct walled exteriors to protect
themselves from attack. Fixed settlement stimulates the
domestication of animals and plants and eventually leads to
- With settlement and the general increase in population, the
role of the hunter becomes diminished and evolves into a
full-fledged warrior subgroup. Eventually the warriors (sometimes
in combination with the mystics/knowledge-bearers) use their
coercive and persuasive strength to secure privilege for
themselves (i.e., a redistribution of wealth to themselves far
above what producers would willingly pay -- that is, give up part
of their production -- for services provided).
- Oppression by the leadership group leads to further change in
the physical structure of settlements. Within the outer walls the
leaders build fortified centers (citadels) designed to consolidate
administration of government and to protect themselves from
periodic outbursts by the peasant population.