• 11-07-23 18:23 Alter: 287 Tage

    Franz Oppenheimer: The State (1909) - Excerpts


    Of the emergence of the state: the conquest and overlaying of place-bound peasant cultures by militarily superior warrior groups.

    So what is the state in sociological terms? The very history of the word tells us. It comes from the Italian of the Renaissance period. There it denoted the prince, who had come to rule, mostly by force, together with his appendix: "The rulers and their appendix are called lo stato, and this name was then allowed to usurp the meaning of the entire existence of a territory," says Jakob Burckhardt. Thus Louis XIV was right in a deeper sense than he himself suspected with his lofty words: "L'Etat c'est moi". In our word "Hofstaat" the old meaning still lives on. It is "the law according to which it began," and that is what the state has remained. It is, according to its origin, entirely, and, according to its nature, in its first stages of existence, almost entirely, a social institution, imposed by a victorious group of men upon a defeated group of men, with the sole purpose of regulating the rule of the first over the last, and of securing it against internal revolts and external attacks. And the domination had no final intention other than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors. No primitive "state" in the history of the world has come into being otherwise. [...]

    Everywhere a warlike savage tribe breaks over the borders of a less warlike people, establishes itself as nobility and founds its state. In Mesopotamia wave upon wave and state upon state: Babylonians, Amorites, Assyrians, Arabs, Medes, Persians, Macedonians, Parthians, Mongols, Seljuks, Tatars, Turks; on the Nile Hyksos, Nubians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks; in Hellas the Dorian states, typical coinage; in Italy, Romans, Ostrogoths, Lombards, Franks, Normans, Germans; in Spain, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs; in Gaul, Romans, Franks, Burgundians; in Britain, Saxons, Normans. Wave after wave of warlike savage tribes also poured over India down to Insulindia, also over China; and in the European colonies everywhere the same type, where only a settled population element was found: in South America, in Mexico. But where this is lacking, where only wandering hunters are found, whom one can destroy, but not subjugate, one helps oneself by importing from far away the mass of people to be exploited, who are obliged to work as slaves: slave trade! [...]

    There are two fundamentally opposed means by which man, set in motion everywhere by the same impulse to care for life, can obtain the necessary means of satisfaction: Labor and robbery, own labor and forcible appropriation of foreign labor. "Robbery! Forcible appropriation!" To us contemporaries of a developed culture, built precisely on the inviolability of property, both words sound like crime and penitentiary; and we cannot get rid of this timbre even when we convince ourselves that land and sea robbery under primitive living conditions are by far the most respected trades, just as the war trade - which for a very long time is also only organized mass robbery. [...]

    The primitive hunters, however, live in practical anarchy. In general, all adult men are equal within the tribe. [...] The social formations of the primitive farmers have hardly more similarity with a "state" than the hunter hordes. Where the farmer working the soil with the hoe lives in freedom - the plow has always been the characteristic of a higher form of economy, which occurs only in the state, namely the large-scale economy operated by subjugated servants -, there is still no "state". Isolated from one another, widely scattered in individual farmsteads, perhaps villages, fragmented by disputes over district and field boundaries, they live at best in loose confederations, held together only loosely by the bond which the consciousness of the same descent and language and of the same faith wraps around them. Rarely, perhaps once a year, are they united by the common celebration of famous ancestors or of the tribal deity. There is no authority ruling over the whole; the individual village chiefs, or at most district chiefs, have more or less influence in their limited circle, depending on their personal qualities, especially on the magic power attributed to them.

    As Cunow describes the Peruvian peasants before the Inca invasion, so were and are the primitive peasants everywhere in the Old and New World: "an unregulated coexistence of many independent, mutually feuding tribes, which in turn split again into more or less independent territorial associations held together by ties of kinship". In such a state of society, the coming into being of a warlike organization for purposes of attack is hardly conceivable. It is difficult enough to mobilize a district or even a tribe for common defense. The farmer is just immobile, grounded, like the plant he grows. He is actually "bound to the sheol" by his farm even if he is legally free to move. And what purpose should a raid serve in a country largely occupied only by peasantry? The peasant can take nothing from the peasant that he does not already possess himself. To each of them, a little work in the extensive culture of a state of society distinguished by an abundance of field land brings as much as he needs; more would be superfluous to him, his acquisition would be lost effort, even if he could keep the captured grain longer than is possible in such primitive conditions, where it quickly perishes through weather influences or ant infestation and the like. According to Ratzel, the Central African farmer must transform the surplus part of his harvest into beer as quickly as possible in order not to lose it completely! For all these reasons, the primitive peasant completely lacks the warlike offensive spirit that characterizes the hunter and herdsman: war can bring him no benefit. And this peaceful mood is reinforced by the fact that his occupation does not exactly make him fit for war. He may be muscular and persevering, but of slow movements and hesitating resolution, while the hunter and the herdsman are trained by their occupation to quickness and swiftness of action. Therefore the primitive peasant is mostly of a gentler disposition than those. In short, in the economic and social conditions of the peasant district there is no differentiation that would urge higher forms of integration, there is neither the urge nor the possibility of warlike subjugation of the neighbors, therefore no "state" can arise, and never has arisen. If no impulse had come from outside, from groups of people of a different type of nutrition - the primitive peasant would never have invented the state. [...]

    Even the peasant, with his undisciplined rural army, consisting of untrained lone fighters, cannot withstand the onslaught of the rice-fed herdsmen in the long run, even if he fights in strong superior numbers. But the peasant does not evade, because he is down-to-earth; and the peasant is already accustomed to regular work. He remains, allows himself to be subdued, and controls his conqueror: this is the emergence of the landed state in the Old World! In the New World, where the great grazing animals, cattle, horses, camels are not originally present, the shepherd is replaced by the superior hunter, still infinitely superior to the hoe farmer by skill in arms and martial discipline. "The culture-generating contrast of pastoral and agricultural peoples in the Old World is reduced in the New to the contrast of migratory and resident tribes. [...]

    Nowhere is it so clear as here on the border of nomadic and arable peoples that the great effects of the culture-promoting impulses of the nomads do not arise from peaceful cultural activity, but as warlike endeavors first counteract peaceful ones, even harm them. Their importance lies in the talent of the nomads to energetically unite the sedentary and easily disintegrating peoples. But this does not exclude that they can learn a lot from their subjects. But what all these industrious and skilful people do not have and cannot have is the will and the power to rule, the warlike spirit and the sense of state order and subordination.

    In the emergence of the state from the subjugation of an agricultural people by a pastoral tribe or by sea nomads, six stages can be distinguished. When we describe them in the following, it is not the opinion as if the real historical development had been forced to climb the whole staircase, step by step, in every single case. It is true that nothing here is theoretical construction; each individual step is found in numerous representatives in world history and ethnology, and there are states which have apparently completed them all. But there are more who have skipped one or more of the stages.


    I. The first stage is the war of robbery and murder on the frontier: the battle rages without end, knowing neither peace nor truce. Slain men, carried off children and women, stolen herds, burning homesteads! If the attackers are sent home with bloody heads, they come back in stronger and stronger groups, united by the duty of blood revenge. From time to time the Confederation rallies, gathers the peasant army, and perhaps succeeds once in capturing the fugitive enemy and preventing him from returning for a while; but the mobilization is all too cumbersome, the rations in the desert all too difficult for the peasant army, which, like the enemy, does not have its source of food, the herds, with it [...] - and finally the spirit of the church is powerful, and at home the fields lie fallow. Therefore, even in such cases, in the long run, the small but united mobile power almost always triumphs over the larger fragmented mass, the panther over the buffalo. This is the first stage of state formation. It can stand on it for centuries, perhaps millennia. [...]

    To the first stage are also to be counted the mass marches known from the whole history of the ancient world, as far as they were not aimed at conquest, but only at plunder, mass marches, as Western Europe suffered from the Celts, Teutons, Huns, Avars, Arabs, Magyars, Tatars, Mongols and Turks from the land and from the Vikings and Saracens from the water. They flooded whole parts of the earth far beyond the usual area of predation, disappeared, returned, seeped away and left only a desert. Often enough, however, they proceeded directly to the sixth and last stage of state formation in a part of the flooded territory, by establishing a permanent dominion over the peasant population. [...] One has only to step back far enough, to choose the point of view so high that the colorful play of details no longer hides the great mass movements from us; then the "modi" of the fighting, wandering, working mankind disappear from our view, and their "substance", their eternally same, eternally renewed, their lasting in change, reveals to us their "monotonous" laws.

    II. Gradually the second stage develops out of this first, especially when the peasant, staggered by a thousand failures, has surrendered to his fate and renounced all resistance. Then it begins to dawn on even the savage shepherd that a farmer struck dead can no longer plow, a fruit tree cut down can no longer bear. In his own interest he lets the farmer live and the tree stand, if it is possible. The ricey expedition still comes, armed, but no longer actually in anticipation of war and violent appropriation. It burns and murders only as much as is necessary to maintain salutary respect or to break isolated defiance. But in general, in principle, according to a firmly established customary law - the first germ of all state law! - the shepherd takes only the abundance of the peasant. That is, he leaves him house, tools and enough food until the next harvest. A comparison: the shepherd in the first stage is the bear who destroys the beehive by robbing it; in the second he is the beekeeper who leaves him enough honey to overwinter. A tremendous step forward between the first and second stage! Economically and politically a tremendous step! For at first the acquisition of the shepherd tribe was purely occupational; relentlessly the enjoyment of the moment destroyed the source of wealth of the future; now the acquisition is economic, for all economic activity means wise husbandry, limiting the enjoyment of the moment for the sake of the future. The shepherd has learned to "capitalize". This is the beginning of all servitude, oppression and exploitation, but it is also the beginning of a higher social formation that goes beyond the kinship family; and already, as we have seen, the first thread of a legal relationship between robbers and robbed is stretched across the gulf that had hitherto gaped between the nothing-but-deadly enemies. The peasant receives a kind of right to the necessities of life; it becomes an injustice to kill or completely plunder the unresisting. And better than that! Finer, more delicate threads weave into a still very weak web more human relations than those contained in the brutal customary pact of division along the lines of the partitio leonina. Since the shepherds no longer meet the peasants in a raging battle, a humble request is granted or a well-founded complaint is heard. The categorical imperative of equity, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," which the shepherd also strictly obeys in his dealings with his own blood and tribal comrades, begins to speak for the first time, still quite timidly and quietly, also for the foreigner of blood. Here is the seed of that grandiose process of external fusion which has created the nations and confederations of nations out of the small hordes and will one day fill the concept of "mankind" with life; here likewise the seed of the internal unification of the once fragmented, which led from the hatred of the βάρβαροι to the all-embracing love of man of Christianity and Buddhism. The nation and the state, the law and the higher economy, with all the developments and ramifications which they have already driven and will still drive, arose together in that moment of incomparable world-historical significance in which first the victor spared the vanquished in order to manage him permanently. The root of everything human dives into the dark soil of the animal, love and art no less than state, law and economy. Soon another one comes along to tie those spiritual relations even closer. There are other tattletales in the desert besides the bear, now transformed into the bee father, who also lust after honey. Our shepherd tribe blocks them from the wild, he protects "his" hive with the gun. The peasants get used to calling the shepherds when they are in danger; already they appear no longer as the robbers and murderers, but as the protectors and saviors. Imagine the jubilation of the peasants when the band of avengers brings the robbed women and children back to the village, together with the heads or scalps of the robbers that have been cut off. What is tied here is no longer threads, but a bond of tremendous strength and tenacity. Here the most noble force of "integration" is shown, which in the further course will finally forge a people with one language and custom and one national feeling out of the two ethnic groups originally foreign to blood, often enough foreign to language and race: common suffering and hardship, common victory and defeat, common rejoicing and lamentation of the dead.

    A new vast field has opened up in which masters and servants serve the same interests; this generates a current of sympathy, of togetherness. Each part senses and recognizes more and more the human being in the other; the similarity of disposition is felt, whereas before only the differences in outward appearance and costume, in the foreign language and religion, aroused hatred and aversion. One learns to communicate, first in the actual sense, through language, then also psychologically; the network of psychic connections becomes ever denser. In this second stage of state formation, everything essential is already contained in the plant. No further step can compete in importance with that which led from the bear stage to the beekeeper stage. We can therefore content ourselves with brief hints.

    III. The third stage consists in the fact that the "surplus" of the peasantry is regularly delivered by them as "tribute" to the camp of the shepherds, an arrangement which obviously has significant advantages for both parts. For the peasants, because the small irregularities, which were connected with the past form of the taxation: a few slain men, raped women and burned homesteads, now completely disappear; for the shepherds, because they do not have to spend any more "expenses" and work for this "business", to express themselves completely commercially, and can use the freed time and strength on "extension of the enterprise", i.e. in other words, subdue new peasantry. This form of tribute is already very familiar to us from historical times, Huns, Magyars, Tatars, Turks drew their best income from the European tributes. Under certain circumstances, the character of a tribute, which the subjugated have to pay to their masters, can be more or less blurred here, and the service takes on the appearance of a protection money or even a subsidy. One knows the legend of Attila, whom the imperial imbecile in Byzantium had depicted as his liege lord, because the tribute appeared to him to be auxiliary money.

    IV. The fourth stage means again a very important step forward, because it brings the decisive condition for the emergence of the "state" in its external form familiar to us: the spatial unification of the two ethnic groups on one territory. (As is well known, no legal definition of the state can do without the concept of the territory of the state). From now on, the originally international relations of both groups turn more and more into intranational ones. [...] The duty of protection against the "bears" forces them to keep at least a posse of young warriors near the hive, and this is at the same time a good precautionary measure to keep the bees back from rebelliousness or any inclination to set another bear as bee father over them. Because also this is not rare. [...] But where either the land is unsuitable for large livestock - as, for example, Western Europe almost everywhere - or where a less unwarlike population suggests attempts at uprising, there the master population becomes more or less sedentary, sitting, of course, at fixed or strategically important points, in tent camps or castles or cities. From here they rule over their "subjects", about whom, incidentally, they care no further than tribute law requires. Self-government and worship, jurisdiction and economy are left entirely to the subjects; indeed, even their autochthonous constitution, their local authorities, remain unchanged.

    V. But from this fourth, the logic of things leads quickly to the fifth stage, which is now almost the full state. Disputes arise between neighboring villages or districts, the violent settlement of which the lordly group cannot tolerate, since the "prestation ability" of the peasants would have to suffer thereby; it throws itself up as arbitrator and enforces its verdict in case of emergency. Finally, at the "court" of each village king or Gauhaupt, it has its official representative, who exercises power, while the old lord retains the appearance of power. [...]

    VI. The necessity of keeping the subjects in raison and at full capacity leads step by step from the fifth to the sixth stage, namely, to the formation of the state in every sense, to full intranationality, and to the development of "nationality". The compulsion to intervene, to arbitrate, to punish, to enforce becomes more and more frequent; the habit of ruling and the customs of domination are formed. The two groups, first spatially separated, then united in one area, but still only first laid side by side, then shaken together, a mechanical "mixture" in the sense of chemistry, become more and more a "chemical compound". They interpenetrate, mingle, merge in custom and usage, language and worship into a unity, and already threads of consanguinity are stretching from the upper to the lower classes. For everywhere the master race chooses the most beautiful virgins of the subjugated as kebs, and a tribe of bastards grows up, soon assigned to the master class, soon rejected, and then, by virtue of the master's blood rolling in their veins, the born leaders of the ruled. The primitive state is ready.


    [...] Let us speak first of integration! The network of spiritual relations, which we have already seen knotted in the second stage, becomes ever denser and tighter in the measure in which the material fusion, which we have described, advances. The two dialects become one language, or one of the two, often quite different, languages disappears, sometimes that of the victors (Lombards), more often that of the vanquished. The two cults merge into one religion, in which the ancestral god of the victors is worshipped as the chief god, while the old gods become sometimes his servants, sometimes his enemies: demons or devils. The outward type assimilates to each other under the influences of the same climate and similar attitude to life; where a strong difference of types existed and is maintained, at least the bastards fill the gap to some extent, and the type of the enemies beyond the borders is gradually felt by all more strongly as an ethnic contrast, as "foreign", than the still existing contrast of the now united types. More and more, masters and servants learn to regard themselves as "their equals," at least in relation to the strangers outside. Finally, the memory of the different ancestry often disappears completely; the conquerors are regarded as sons of the old gods - they often are literally, since these gods are sometimes nothing else than the souls of the ancestors, deified by apotheosis. The more acutely in the clash of the neighboring "states," which are, after all, much more aggressive than before the neighboring communities of blood, the feeling of segregation of all the inmates of the state circle of peace from the foreign strangers becomes pronounced, the stronger within becomes the feeling of togetherness; and the more the spirit of brotherhood, of equity, takes root here, which formerly prevailed only within the hordes and now still prevails within [p. 50] the aristocratic community. These are, of course, very weak threads from top to bottom; equity and fraternity are given only so much room as the right to the political means permits: but so much room they are given! And above all it is the legal protection inwardly which weaves an even stronger bond of spiritual fellowship than the protection of arms outwardly. Justitia fundamentum regnorum! If the Junkerschaft as a social group "by right" executes a Junker manslayer or robber who crossed the border of the right of exploitation, then the subject thanks and cheers even more heartily than after a won battle. These are the main lines in the development of psychic integration. The common interests in legal order and peace produce a strong common feeling, a "state consciousness", as it can be called.

    On the other hand, as in all organic growth, an equally powerful psychic differentiation takes place pari passu. The group interests generate strong group feelings; upper and lower classes each develop a "group consciousness" according to their special interests. The special interest of the master group consists in maintaining the valid right of the political means imposed by it; it is "conservative". The interest of the dominated group is, on the contrary, to abolish this right and to replace it by a new right of equality of all the inmates of the state: it is "liberal" and revolutionary. [...]As long as the relations of the two groups were merely the international ones of two border enemies, the political means needed no justification. For the blood stranger has no right at all. But as soon as psychic integration has to some extent developed the communal feeling of the state consciousness, as soon as the bonded servant has acquired a "right," and to the extent that the consciousness of sameness deepens, the political means requires justification, and in the master group the group theory of "legitimism" arises. Legitimism justifies domination and exploitation everywhere with the same anthropological and theological reasons. The master group, which recognizes courage and warrior ability as the only virtues of man, declares itself, the victors - and from its point of view quite rightly - as the more capable, better "race", a view which is reinforced the more the subjugated race comes down to hard work and slender fare. And since the tribal god of the master group has become the supreme god in the new state religion created by fusion, it declares - again from its point of view quite rightly - the state order to be God-willed, to be "taboo". By simple logical inversion, on the other hand, the subjugated group appears to it as such of a worse race, as stubborn, treacherous, indolent and cowardly, and quite incapable of governing and defending itself; and every revolt against the rule must necessarily appear to it as an outrage against God himself and his moral law. That is why the lordly group is everywhere in the closest connection with the priesthood, which, at least in all leading positions, is almost always supplemented by its sons, and has its share in its political rights and economic privileges. [...]

    The entire text in German language can be found here:

    19 Leser


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