Monday, December 15, 2008

A Political Fable from Stephen R. L. Clark

“There was once a band of brigands, living as predators rather than producers. The brigands formed some friendships with each other, but their relationships were mostly those of dominance and submission. One winter it occurred to them that instead of taking food away from the productive villagers down in the valley they could simply set up residence there. This they did, killing such of the villagers as openly opposed them and telling the rest that they were now their protectors against any (other) robber bands. The villagers, who had hitherto organized their affairs by the laws of free will, were slowly forced into a sly submission. The robbers took the village women, reared children and grew old. Their descendants might have been peacefully absorbed, but it occurrred to that same brigand genius to enlist youngsters in his military elite. At first only their own descendants became nobles, but likely looking villagers were also taken up. After a few hundred years the common people were even allowed some limited say in the question of who should reach the nobility, though it was always understood that no one who advocated any radical change in the organization of the village would be welcome. These elections were held in adversarial rather than consensus style, and power to manipulate 'the people's choice' and determine the event notoriously lay with cabals. All villagers were heavily taxed, and encouraged to accept the situation by being told that some of these moneys would be dispersed on projects of their own choice. It rarely occurred to anyone to note that if Group A and Group B agreed to support each other's projects then the whole community would be pay8ing for both A and B, though no one very much wanted either of them, and either group could probably have afforded its own project were it not also paying for the other. The villagers were always subject to confiscation of their property, to press-gangs (or conscription) and continual propaganda to the effect that they were incapable of governing themselves within their own natural communities. The Spencerian question is, of course, when did these conquered villagers retrieve their freedom? And the answer comes: not yet.”
—Stephen R. L. Clark, “Slaves and Citizens,” The Political Animal: Biology, Ethics and Politics (London: Routledge 1999) 33-4.

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