Government and Religion

What motivates the evolution of social organization from bands to to states? [GGS] points out to the need of order as the size of society increases. In a group of 100 people there may be only 10 adult males so the number of possible conflicts is 10*9/5 or 45. In a group of 10,000 people there maybe 1000 adult males and the number of possible conflicts is 1000*999/2 or 249,500. So as the society size increases there is need for referees or peacemakers. This is the role taken by leaders. Some anthropologists have idealized primitive societies as peaceful but both Diamond ([GGS], p. 277) and Pinker ([PNKR]) show that the opposite is true (Figs 2-2, 2-3, 2-4). The number of war deaths per 100,000 people per year averaged for 27 non state societies is close to 600. The same number for Germany and Russia in the 20th century is only about 200, in spite of the carnage of WW-II.

Both Diamond and Pinker paint a negative picture of the motives of "leaders." Pinker (p. 42) describes early states as "protection rackets" where a chief extorted resources from the population in exchange for protection from each other and from hostile neighbors. A chief had the same motivation for preventing crime as a farmer has from preventing his animals from killing each other. Of course there is a downside to such control. Pinker (p. 57) quotes the Roman historian Tacitus who wrote: "Formerly we suffered from crimes; now we suffer from laws."

Diamond titles the relevant [GGS] chapter "From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy" and points out that the difference between a kleptocrat and a wise statesman is one of degree! (p. 276). He asks the question why would people tolerate the transfer of the fruits of their labor to their leaders and lists four reasons with the main one being the "protection racket." and a second related to it, the disarmament of the masses. Another is promise of redistributing the tribune in popular ways and the fourth is the use of ideology or religion to convince people to part with their treasure.

The enrichment of the leaders by the taxation of their subjects suggests that it is in the interest of the leaders to have well off subjects but it turns out that this need not be true. The leaders of a country rich in, say, mineral resources may enrich themselves by selling resources to buyers in other countries while their own subjects remain impoverished. This is visible in many "third world" countries today. Even if a country is poor in exportable resources leaders amy enrich themselves by monopolizing economic activity. Their main source of revenue are not taxes, but profits from state controlled enterprises.

Robert Wright in the Evolution of God [WRT] traces parallels between level of social organization and religion. Hunter-gatherer societies are animist while chiefdoms are often headed by a shaman, an intermediary to the gods. In such societies religion is used to facilitate tribute collection as offering to the gods ([WRT], p. 54). As states became bigger, religion became more refined leading to monolatry (worshiping only one god but allowing for the existence of other gods) and monotheism (there is only one god). Historically, the first monotheistic religion was Zoroastrianism, the religion of the first major state in the world, the Persian Empire. One thing led to another and by the time of the Persian Sassanid dynasty, there was a full fledged clergy with bishops and official orthodoxy ([EG], Chapter 8.) The Roman emperor Theodosius copied that system by making Orthodox Christianity the sole religion of the Roman Empire.

Religious orthodoxy acts as a thought control and all intellectual activity had to be within what was allowed by religion. By the start of the fifth century CE the Roman Empire was a single monolithic state. But that state did not last long. Its western part was taken over by Germanic tribes that were in essence chiefdoms. Even these chiefdoms were integrated in bigger states such as the "Holy Roman Empire" the individual chiefs (dukes, counts, barons, etc) kept a fair amount of independence. We should add to them such independent states such as the Italian city of Venice that became autonomous around 700 and rose be a poweful state by the time of the Crusades. Another Italian city, Genoa was an autonomous state from 1005 to 1797. According to [PNKR] (p. 74) there were about 5000 political units in Europe in the fifteenth century.

In the meantime the original Roman Empire had been confined in the East and after the rise of Islam in the seventh century CE, it became confined to Asia Minor and the Balkans. The various small states in the West were following their own line of development.

[GGS] Jared Diamond Guns, Germs, and Steel, Norton, 1997-2005.
[EG] Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, first published in 1788.Note: I use the 1978 reprint of the 1910 Everyman's Library (Dutton: New York) unabridged edition with comments by Oliphant Smeaton.
[PNKR] Steven Pinker The Better Angels of our Nature, Viking, 2011.
[WRT] Robert Wright, The Evolution of God, Little, Brown, New York, 2009.

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