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Category Archives: Middle east

Black boxes, the rectification of names and the revival of slavery

The Chinese sage Kong Qiu (551-479 BC) (Kongzi ”Master Kong”), known to the West as Confucius–which is derived from Kong Fuzi ”Grand Master Kong”–had a doctrine Zhèngmíng, normally translated as “rectification of names“. There is a straightforward statement of the doctrine in the Analects: A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names […]

Immigration and social order

The entire debate over immigration, particularly illegal immigration, turns on the issue of social order — specifically, its value and cohesiveness. Those who think there is simply no issue — that no people who make the effort to go to another country to live can be a threat to the social order they are entering, […]

States start with violence and expropriation

I came across this passage in a collection entitled States and Development: Historical Antecedents of Stagnation and Advance (pdf): A realistic, even if stylized, account begins with the coalition building in which the elites of an emergent state are likely to engage, both with other power holders and with economically successful interests (p.11). It is in a similar […]

History and surplus: 10,000 years in one blog post

Human history has largely been driven by the creation and use of surplus production — that is, production beyond subsistence. (Subsistence meaning sufficient to sustain life and reproduction.) The change from prehistory to history is very much a matter of the generation and use of surplus production. There are essentially only three ways for such surplus […]

Open and closed state systems: the geography of regional unification

Recurring periods of unification were a notable feature of the history of China; notably the Qin-Han (221BC-220), Sui-Tang (589-907), and Yuan-Ming-Qing (1271-1912) periods of unification. (The Northern Song [959-1126] arguably do not count as a full unification, since they never controlled the northern regions, which was under the control of the Liao dynasty [907-1125].) Indeed, of all the major civilisation centres, China was unified more […]

Lenin, Luxemburg and Gorbachev’s failure (a Vladimir, Rosa and Mikhail story)

Vladimir Lenin gave his name to Leninism, a way of operationalising revolutionary socialism. In fact, essentially the only way that has proved effective, based on adopting the Jacobin model of political action. That is, totalist politics–no limit on the range, or means, of political action in pursuit of a specific political project. Lenin was happy to adopt the title of Jacobin: A Jacobin […]

Frustrated status and bigotry

Bigotry (in the sense of prejudice-by-category) is a form of moral exclusion–one excludes some group from the moral consideration and standing given to other people. As I have noted before, bigotry is always and everywhere a moral claim–a claim about some category of people’s moral status or standing. A claim not based on specific individual actions against others, […]

The hollow states of Islam

Reading Norman Davies’s Vanished Kingdoms, it struck me how much Islamic states–across most of the history of Islam–resembled the fluid warlord states of Europe in the centuries immediately after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, but did not resemble the institutionally resilient Christian states of the later medieval period. These divergent paths came from the very different internal dynamics […]

Thinking about states

While writing a paper on state dynamics in Latin Christendom, it was useful to try and think (think out aloud indeed) coherently about states as historical entities. State understood as an institutionalised structure of expropriation and coercion dominant in a particular territory. The notion that a state has to have, or even aspire to, a monopoly of coercion does not make […]

Palestine’s disastrous political leadership

I recently read Mark S. Weiner’s The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals About the Future of Individual Freedom. I heartily recommend the book, which includes various case studies–the comparison of the largely contemporaneous consolidation of state power against claims of kin, clan and lineage in Anglo-Saxon England with Arabia […]