Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘militarism’

Pervasiveness of Warfare In Early States

Whether or not warfare was essential to the rise of the state, the rise of the state certainly marked a decisive break in the history of warfare—the most important turning point until the gunpowder revolution in early modern Europe, which brought with it a still more potent form of political and military centralization. The cultural balance of power, in which most human societies had been trapped for thousands of years, was replaced by the political balance of power, which has endured to the present day. The cultural trap had loopholes: People could escape from it by “forgetting” about their grievances when “remembering” them would have been inconvenient, by ritualization, by arbitrating their disputes, by moving away. But there was no escape from the political trap, except in circumstances of unusual geographical isolation like those of Old Kingdom Egypt. The political type of warfare, heretofore an occasional and not particularly successful experiment in human history, now broke free of all constraints. War ceased to be an ancient ritual of earth and became a struggle for power and wealth between ruling groups claiming descent from the gods. They began the progressive elimination of primitive societies and primitive ways of war, a process that today is practically completed.

The sheer scale and pervasiveness of warfare in early states justifies these conclusions about its central importance. All early states had standing armies, all were expansionist, and all engaged in chronic interstate warfare that resulted in fewer and fewer states. In Egypt, with its extremely circumscribed geography, the process resulted almost at once in the unification of the Nile Valley under a single ruler, whose theocratic functions thereafter overshadowed his military functions. In Iraq, much less circumscribed and divided among many powerful city-states, the process of unification took longer and was never permanently successful, and the militaristic character of the state became much more pronounced. Not until the twenty-fourth century [B.C.E.] did Sargon of Akkad unite all the cities of the plain into the first hegemonic empire.

Doyne Dawson, The Origins of Western Warfare, pp. 37-38

Emphasis mine.

Chiefdoms Are Powerful But Fragile

Anthropologists commonly use the term “chiefdom” for a primitive culture that has developed a formal social hierarchy in which the war leader holds a unique and permanent rank above all his tribesmen, often with theocratic and redistributive functions as well…. They provided a transitional stage in social development between the tribe and the state. At the level of the chiefdom, the causes of war become more complicated and the motives for war become separable. We can now distinguish among ideological, economic, and political motives.

  1. The articulated motives for war are still revenge and prestige. The difference is that wars are now fought to avenge wrongs against the chief and for the honor and glory of the chief. Primitive militarism is being replaced by kingly or theocratic militarism, an ideology that continues without much change until the time of Louis XIV [of France].
  2. The economic causes of war become more compelling. Genuine conquests and occupations are now possible, so wars can be fought more openly and directly to gain territory. The values of honor and glory may become a pretext, masking a chief’s grab for land and wealth.
  3. Finally, war becomes an organizational source of power. It is now possible to fight wars simply for political reasons, and the martial values may become a pretext for a chief’s grab at power for its own sake.

The more advanced chiefdoms appear to practice what is today called warfare in every sense, except for the lack of an ideology that permits self-conscious strategic thinking. The history of political warfare should therefore begin with these chiefdoms, except that they have no history. In spite of their efficiency, chiefdoms do not seem to last. Only a bare handful of chiefdoms have ever made the full transition to bureaucratic state. The process of military escalation and political centralization is reversible, and normally, it is reversed. The disadvantages of losing freedom to the chief are as obvious as the advantages of military superiority, so the chiefdom rarely survives the death of the chief, which is likely to be premature. Countless societies may have come to the edge of statehood and drawn back from that brink. Chiefdoms do not last because of their efficiency.

Doyne Dawson, The Origins of Western Warfare, pp. 35-36