Political Models, A Brief History: Empire vs. Tribe

Class System vs. Egalitarian

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The Paleolithic Tribal Model

Throughout human existence there have been two basic frames that humans have employed to understand their political systems – the Empire-building Model and the Tribal Model.

The original cognitive frame was the Tribal Model. It developed during the Paleolithic Era, when small hunter-gatherer tribes were prevalent. Every member of the tribe was essential for survival. The collective tribe took care of its own citizens. There was a place for everyone. Each member of the tribe, the young, the old and even the disabled, was given a task to perform to serve the greater tribe. Although these small tribes had chiefs, they were essentially egalitarian. In other words, women and men were treated equally. These prehistoric Paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies tended to worship the fertility of the Earth, generally personified as a pregnant woman.

This Tribal model also applies to the extended Family – the Clan. Each member of the Clan supported and was supported by the other members of the Clan. The father and mother protect and nurture their children when they are young. Sons and daughters protect and nurture their parents when they become too old to take care of themselves. This notion of collective support and assistance also applies to the ideal extended Family or Clan. Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandchildren and grandparents hope to assist and receive assistance from each other in times of need. No member of the extended family considers themselves exempt from participation in the overall family good.

The Tribal Model also applies to the Village. The Village was developed around a common agricultural product. It was easier to tend the wheat fields or rice paddies collectively, rather than individually. Again these small communities took and take care of their elders, the sick, and the disabled. Everyone in the Village, men and women, old and young, strong and weak, was and is treated with equal respect. Further everyone participates in the work of the Village. No individual or class of humans is exempt from helping out. Everyone contributes according to his or her potentials.

The Tribal Model can also apply to a Democracy. Under this way of thinking, the government’s role is to protect and take care of every human in the greater Group, whether Tribe, Family, Village or Nation. No member of the Democratic community is exempt from helping out. We are all equal members of the Democratic Family. In the Tribal Model, we should all have the same rights and justice should be applied consistently without regard for class. In theory, the Tribal Model applies to the American Democracy. In practice, it does not, as we shall see.

The Bronze Age Empire-building Model

An alternate model first emerged during the Bronze Age – the Empire-building Model. At this time, militaristic nomadic cultures from the Central Asian Steppes conquered and enslaved indigenous agrarian cultures. This same process took place in the Mediterranean, Europe, China, and India – virtually the entire Eurasian super-continent.

Aggressive nomadic cultures from the Steppes were easily able to dominate the agricultural communities on their borders due to their superior military technology. Their military technology was based around the chariot, which employed bronze, the domesticated horse and the wheel. Due to the bronze-based chariot, the nomadic cultures were invincible against the farming communities, who fought on foot with their pitchforks and bows and arrows.

At first, the nomadic herders just raided the more prosperous trade-based agri-cultures. Eventually they came and stayed. After conquering the local inhabitants, they became their rulers or kings. However, they treated the indigenous peoples and women as their property, not as equals. They protected their property from other militaristic cultures, just as they would their livestock.

However, their property was dispensable. In other words, once the property had served its purpose, it was no longer protected or cared for. For instance, once a chicken stopped laying eggs, it was turned into soup. Once a soldier was disabled, he was left to his own devices. The greater community felt no responsibility for the welfare of its citizens, except to protect them from harm when they were still useful.

The class system was a significant feature of these militaristic political systems. The property, i.e. the indigenous culture and women, belonged to the underclass, while the ruling culture belonged to the upper class. This system emerged naturally. Originally, the ruling class spoke a different language, had different traditions and worshipped different gods than the peoples they conquered.

The indigenous agri-cultures tended to worship fertility, as epitomized by the Earth and personified as a Woman. The conquering culture worshipped military prowess, as epitomized by the Heavens and personified as a Man. In other words, the agrarian cultures tended to worship a Fertility Goddess, while the militaristic nomadic cultures tended to worship a War God. The Fertility Goddess conferred fecundity and creativity, while the War God led to victory in battle.

This cultural division led to 2 distinct classes. Those to whom fertility was important belonged to the lower class. This included anyone producing goods, services and children, i.e. the artists, craftsman, farmers and women. Those to whom military prowess was important belonged to the upper class. This included the warriors, generals and kings. From childhood, this class developed, practiced and honed their martial skills.

They employed their martial skills for 3 distinct purposes:

1) Dominate the lower class, i.e. those producing all the goods, services and children that provided their wealth.

2) Protect their property, i.e. land, humans, and animals, from other militaristic cultures.

3) And finally, although no less important, they employed their martial prowess to conquer surrounding territories, i.e. expand the territory under their control.

In essence, the ruling class employed their military prowess to dominate, protect and conquer. Because of the conquering function, we refer to this notion of government as the Empire-building Model.

Why was the conquering function an inherent feature of these military cultures that first enslaved the indigenous cultures of Eurasia and eventually the entire planet? Why weren’t they content with dominating and protecting their property?

Martial training started in childhood. Initially young boys engaged in mock combat so that nobody was injured or killed. After inevitably leaving this childhood play behind, the young warrior needed to test his skills in actual combat. Indeed, in certain of these cultures, notably the Scythians, the youth only becomes a man after he kills someone in battle. In other words, because of the dynamic of military training, there was a constant and recurring need to engage in battle against neighboring cultures to test one’s military prowess. This aggresive dynamic has led to endemic warfare on our small planet.

The legends surrounding military heroes further encouraged the militaristic tendencies of the ruling cultures. No one became a hero by merely dominating and protecting the indigenous cultures from other militaristic cultures. The only way to become a hero was to defeat the heroes of another culture. This was achieved through engaging in constant warfare against neighboring cultures.

The influential Greek novel, the Iliad, provides a prime example of this mentality. Achilles wants to retreat to his land and live a long life, but is forced by circumstances to return to battle. Although eventually slain himself, he becomes a hero by slaying Hector, the Trojan hero. His tale is still told to this day, inspiring other young warriors to engage in battle to become heroes in their own right.

Due to this need to continually test martial skills in actual battle against other warriors, the ruling class produced no goods and services, except protection. Indeed they felt superior to those who had to work for a living. The ruling class was proud that they could take what they wanted by force, rather than by producing it themselves. The Viking warriors, who raided and devastated Europe in the first millennium, provide an excellent, although not isolated, example of this mentality. The Normans, who became the ruling culture of France, England, and even Sicily, epitomize the Viking culture.

Further due to their marital training, the boys were isolated from women at a tender age. After coming of age, this isolation from women was accentuated. The young warrior became part of an army that engaged in constant military campaigning. In addition to Empire-building, the endemic campaigns provided an opportunity to become a military hero. This cultural isolation from the opposite sex led to the inevitable objectification of women. Women became a type property that was seized by force.  Further, all the nurturing feminine values were and are degraded under this mindset.

A final feature of these militaristic Empire-building cultures that have dominated the Earth is that might makes right. The reasoning is basic. Our War God enabled our military culture to dominate your productive culture with its Fertility Goddess. Therefore, our god is most powerful. The extension is straightforward. Our all-powerful god has put us on top because we are superior. Genghis Khan employed this argument against the Muslim cultures that resisted his rule. He argued: "If your god is superior to mine, why am I dominating your culture?" This mindset behind this reasoning is straightforward. The ruling class is inherently superior to the working class because they are in charge.

Casting Votes for an Empire or a Tribe

In summary, the Empire-building Model of government has some distinct features that differentiate it from the Tribal Model. There are 2 classes, an upper class and a lower class. The upper class has no responsibility for the lower class, except to protect them as property. Further, as the name suggests, a primary intent of this form of government is to build an Empire. Those who are part of the Empire building, including the soldiers, are important as long as they are able to serve this intent. As soon as they have lost their usefulness, due to sickness, age or disability, the ruling classes have no more concern for them. The lower class property is worn out and is ignored.

In contrast, there is only one class in the Tribal Model. Everyone is considered equal in terms of rights. Further the Family/Tribe/Village stands behind each and every citizen. The weak, elderly, sick, and disabled are taken care of. Further every member of the Tribe contributes to the overall welfare of the extended community. No one is exempt.

Further one’s contribution to society is based upon one’s resources. In other words, the poor and needy are required to contribute the least, while the wealthy and powerful contribute the most. As an example, the rich uncle contributes the most to the welfare of the overall family, and does not expect the poorest members to contribute as much.

The question we must ask ourselves is straightforward: Which type of Political System do we want to live in? An Empire or a Tribe?

As citizens of a Democracy, we regularly have the opportunity to cast votes. Each time we cast a vote, we may be voting Empire or Tribe. Be careful. In general, voting to expand our global influence is a vote for Empire, while voting to protect the citizens of our Democracy is a vote for Tribe.

For a discussion of the application of these polar political systems to a significant aspect of the American Democracy, check out the article – Why Social Security is Not Running out of Money?

 

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