I have been having a lot of conversation, doing a lot of reading, about modern politics and economics. Anarchists and Marxists are among my friends nowadays, and the root causes for a lot of modern oppression is a fun thing to debate about. I like debate! But so much of the conversation is ahistorical. As a student of the early medieval period, I am perhaps more aware than some that class structures are not the same thing as ‘capitalism’, however that is defined. ‘Pre-capitalist’ societies were also predicated on some folk coming under other folk- for all that there is no wealthy middle class in Anglo-Saxon England, or that the pursuit of profit was all-consuming, one still has kings and clerics, abbotts and peasants.
So today, when I came across David Korten’s article “The End of Empire” at Yes! Magazine, I had only one response: Citation Needed.
As the institutions of Empire took root, humans turned from a reverence for the generative power of life to a reverence for hierarchy and the power of the sword. The wisdom of the elder and the priestess gave way to the arbitrary rule of often ruthless kings. Social pathology became the norm and society’s creative energy focused on perfecting the instruments of war and domination. Priority in the use of available resources went to military, prisons, palaces, temples, and patronage.
Seriously. ‘Turned from a reverence for the generative power of life’? What? I don’t even know what that means. Is he trying to say that pre-monarchical societies revered life? The human sacrifice of captured enemies practiced by pre-Christian Germanic peoples puts paid to that particular lie. What makes the so-called ‘wisdom’ of a priestess or an ‘elder’ any less arbitrary or ruthless than that of a king or emperor? For that matter, the Roman Republic is one of the clearest examples of the kind of dominating ‘Empire’ that Korten is blithering about, and that wasn’t ruled by anything resembling a King! It was expressely founded to avoid kingship, and yet had no problems at all with dominating neighbouring cultures and civilisations.
I, too, have many issues with the modern world and its emphasis on greed and destruction of the Other to further itself. I readily agree that many of our modern concepts of fair play and ‘freedom’ (.i. freedom for those on top, and fair play for those who rule) were forged in the corrupting and sadistic smithies of ancient empires. Any student of any period of history can see these things play out.
Yet human history covers a period some five thousand years long, and our species has experiemented with many types of governance and systems of rulership- some fairer than others. If one wishes to discuss the historicity of modern imperialism, then get the fucking history right.
Take a university course! Read some books! Understand what the hell you are talking of before you seek to condemn it. Because every time I see a fellow member of the so-called ‘Left’ blithering about history in such ignorance, I cover my face in my hands and start to gently weep.
I am willing to be your ally. I want to stand alongside you against government corruption, against hierarchical hatred, be for the people. While you continue to be wrong, I will not. I cannot, in good academic conscience, be willing to nod my head alongside people who are wrong. When people in the atheist movement get a matter of religion wrong, I call them on it. When feminist activists get scientific matters wrong, Jen McCreight calls them on it. If one can get basic facts simply wrong, or one overextends a generalisation, it calls the entire movement into disrepute.
So. Citation fucking needed. Bring me your evidence, and then I will call you my ally again. But until you know, shut up.