What is the most atavistic state on the planet?
That would be the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), aka North Korea. It is a state of hereditary God-kings using a hierarchy of officials and soldiers to extract resources from a poverty-stricken population. And a system of God-Kings extracting resources from poverty-struck mass populations harks back centuries and millennia in human history. Though the system North Korea most resembles is that which evolved in Sung China (907-1279) and replicated under Ming (1384-1644) and Qing China (1644-1911) of hereditary ruler ruling through a meritorious bureaucracy over labour-service-and-tax-paying peasants. Except, as a command economy, rather than sitting “on top” of society as the mandarin state (mostly) did, the North Korean state effectively subsumes society.
Nor does it make much sense not to call the ruling dynasty of North Korea God-kings. Since the first ruler of the Kim Dynasty is the eternal President, and the second the eternal General Secretary, what would we call them other than God-Kings?
There is, of course, a huge irony in North Korea being the most atavistic state on the planet, since it is a product of Leninism, which regarded itself as the end of history; the culmination of hunan social political and economic understanding. How can such a vicious irony occur?
Getting the state wrong
From a series of errors embedded in Marxism, mainly in understanding the state. Historically states are:
(1) originally based on exploitation
(2) fundamental moulders of human society.
Leninism is a derivation of Marxism, and Marxism treats exploitation as a product of capitalist commerce and states as a epiphenomenon of society. So, if one gets rid of capitalist commerce, one gets rid of exploitation.
Nor is it the state one has to worry about; in Marxism the state is a tool of class interests. So, as long as the state proclaims itself to be a servant of the “correct” class, then social developments are on the correct path, no matter how powerful the state gets.
But states are not epiphenomena of society: a fact most obviously displayed in the history of Leninism itself, where state power was used to hugely remould societies. Moreover, states are the prime vehicles for exploitation of humans by their fellow humans. Indeed, genuine exploitation is always based on unbalanced coercion. That is, coercion which is used against one group for the benefit of another. And the state is, almost always, the most effective instrument of coercion, hence the most effective vehicle of exploitation.
Exploitative origins of the state
In its origins, the state is an instrument of exploitation. Perhaps the most striking single feature of Western civilisation is that it creates states which are not primarily vehicles of exploitation. Ironically, it was the very distinctiveness of Western states which encouraged Marx to be so wrong about the state–observing states which were actively responsive to their societies, he took the wildly abnormal as the normal and generalised from that.
[I rather like Deidre McCloskey's view of Marx:
... the greatest social scientist of the nineteenth century, without compare, though mistaken on almost every substantive point, and especially in his predictions ...
But he was attempting to generalise from C19th Europe; in so many ways, the most wildly anomalous place and time in human history up to that time, bar none.]
Farming societies do not automatically produce hierarchy or surpluses–the extra food produced mainly goes into producing babies and supporting some increased specialisation. What farming does is create extractable food–since food has to be stored across seasons. So, once the trick is managed of creating a controlled hierarchy able to systematically extract food, then a substantial surplus is created.
It generally took thousands of years to evolve the state (centuries in the case of Upper Egypt), because it took that long to get the combination of farming density and social hierarchy able to resolve the “chicken-and-egg” (or perhaps non-linear feedback) problem of sufficient-surpluses-created-through-extraction able to sustain a system of extraction-that-created-sufficient-surpluses.
Thus Marxism’s blindness about both the nature of exploitation and the nature of the state lead directly to–in its revolutionary form–the creation of exploitative tyrannies. Hence the path from Marx’s mistakes to the creation of the most atavistic state on the planet.
Ideas do indeed have consequences. Including mistaken ideas–indeed, perhaps especially mistaken ideas.
[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]