The Rise of Classes

One of Lanchester’s points in his New Yorker article, “The Case Against Civilization” that I wrote about in my last blog  is that it took 4000 years for hunter-gatherer societies to settle down and adopt an agricultural system. They were reluctant because hunting and gathering worked just fine for them, thank you very much. He doesn’t say it, but one can surmise that ultimately force was involved, because once agriculture predominates, you also get taxation, writing – originally developed to keep track of taxes – and the State, with the development of classes, one of the oppressor and one of the oppressed, not far behind. The establishment of classes is likely associated with the development of weaponry, the rise of the Bronze Age, with one emerging class achieving this technology first and using it against the other.

If the hunter gatherers took some 4000 years to develop an agricultural, class based, oppressive society, then what makes us think we can achieve a caring socialist world within a generation or two? Our best guess is that slavery itself existed as the primary economic model for another 4000 years, from, say Mesopotamia/Egypt to the fall of Rome. Feudalism lasted significantly shorter as the predominant mode, about 1000 years. The capitalist system which replaced feudalism has dominated for 500 years at the most.

The numerous defeats of the socialist project in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe – as well as perhaps in China – indicate that capitalism is stronger and more resilient than we might like. On the other hand, the increasing militarization of the capitalist class – the U. S. never demobilized after World War II – is a sign of the system’s weakness.

It’s noteworthy that the social transformations happened at different times in different places. For instance, while feudalism was holding sway in Europe and China, hunter-gatherer societies flourished in Africa, North and South America. Capitalism has now united the world under one system.

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