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Primates and Political Authority: A Biobehavioral Perspective*

Fred H. Willhoite

American Political Science Review, 1976, vol. 70, issue 4, 1110-1126

Abstract: This paper presents an evolutionary-biological perspective on the stratification of political authority, power, and influence. The rudiments and relevance of a biobehavioral approach are indicated, particularly in regard to study of the behavior of subhuman primate species. Dominance-deference behavior patterns in four species—rhesus macaques, savanna baboons, gorillas, and chimpanzees—are described and compared, followed by discussion of some stratification concepts that have been derived from primate studies and applied to human societies. The possible continuing influence on man's behavior of his evolutionary history is considered through discussion of a zoologist's attempt to reconstruct it, and through tentative reinterpretations of social psychological conceptions of leader-follower relationships and dispositions to obey authority figures. Finally, it is suggested that the modern conception of political authority per se as contingent and contrived may be empirically untenable, and, if so, that certain implications may follow concerning theories of political obligation and constitutionalism.

Date: 1976
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