States, economics and how the Ottoman Empire was killed by diversity

Peter Frost made a great post on the interrelationship between culture, history and economics.

“In Why Nations Fail, economist Daren Acemoglu sees global inequality as a legacy of colonialism. Wherever European settlers were numerous enough, they formed inclusive, democratic societies that aimed for sustainable growth. Wherever they were few in number, they created exclusive, undemocratic societies that sought to extract resources and do little else.”

“Acemoglu is half-right. These differences in fortune are at least partly due to the different ways human societies organize themselves, i.e., their “institutions.” But is European colonialism responsible? Would non-European societies have continued onward and upward had it not been for the great European expansion that began around 1500 AD?

These questions have caught the interest of another economist, Michael Cembalest, who has charted per capita GDP in different world regions over the past two thousand years (Thompson, 2012). His conclusion? Europe, and Western Europe in particular, had already overtaken the rest of the world by the year 1500. The relative poverty of the non-European world cannot therefore be due to European colonialism. Instead, the arrow of causality seems to run in the other direction. Europe was able to expand into Asia, Africa, and the Americas because it already had a lead over those regions socially, economically, and technologically.”

Frost summarises the rise of civilisation and its reproductive corollaries, which will be familiar with anyone who knows from bloggers in the manosphere what ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ males are. It will also sound familiar to anyone who knows the parallel between civilisation and the domestication of animals – or who remembers Nietzsche’s statement about domestication being a process of breeding sickness into animals so that humans can have control over them.

“All states originate in warrior bands that seize power with a view to plunder and self-aggrandizement. In so doing, they seek to keep the plundering to themselves. Rival bands are outlawed, and the use of violence greatly limited. The State thus becomes a means for pacifying society and providing an environment that favors people who create wealth rather than steal wealth (Frost, 2010).

In time, this new economic environment leads to a new cultural environment. The violent male goes from hero to zero. Instead of being a desired sexual partner and a role model for younger males, he becomes a despised criminal to be tracked down and killed. The role model now becomes the industrious family provider. This cultural evolution is described by Gregory Clark with respect to England from the 11th century onward. With the pacification of society and the State’s monopoly on violence, successful individuals were now those who would settle disputes peacefully and display thrift, foresight, and sobriety—what would become known as middle-class values (Clark, 2007; Clark, 2009). “

However this isn’t simply a linear ‘progress’ towards a modernity that brings problems of its own and may not be desirable anyway.

“This process can lead to steady economic and material advancement. But it can also abort. There is no reason to assume that Europe’s rivals would have kept on going onward and upward. In fact, they were developing serious internal contradictions long before Europeans were able to exploit these weaknesses for their own benefit.”

Frost discusses the Ottoman and Manchu empires and, more briefly, West Africa as examples of how cultures developed differently around the world. The Ottoman example is the most interesting because their Turkish Empire was so ethnically diverse and this fact contributed to their downfall.

“Elsewhere, Clark’s model of cultural evolution would abort at a later stage. This was the case with the Ottoman Empire, which by 1500 had encompassed the Middle East, North Africa, southeastern Europe, and much of Ukraine and southern Russia. Yet pacification within this territory remained incomplete. Even at the height of its power, the countryside was often controlled by warlords, called ayans, who commanded their own private armies. Typically, the Ottoman state would try to co-opt the most powerful ones by appointing them to official posts or endeavor to play one off against another. And typically the results were disastrous. Furthermore, since the ayans were Muslim, effective action against them often meant arming the empire’s Christian subjects, but such action offended the sensibilities of Ottoman leaders (Jelavich & Jelavich, 1977, pp. 16-17, 28).

Thus, societal pacification was much less complete in the Ottoman Empire than in Western Europe. It was also largely confined to the empire’s non-Muslim subjects, who could not serve in the army and were normally forbidden to bear arms (Jelavich & Jelavich, 1977, pp. 5-6). They were thus the ones who would experience the kind of economic and demographic dynamism that was already making Western Europe so successful. Trade and industry became dominated by Greeks, Armenians, and Sephardic Jews.”

Therefore the Ottoman’s state suffered from many market dominant minorities within their empire gaining wealth, in contrast to the noble Turkish soldiers and landowners who were not getting richer from the new market economy.

“We see here the same sort of change that Gregory Clark has described with respect to England: a steady expansion of what would become the middle class at the expense of less productive classes (Clark, 2007; Clark, 2009). During this early phase of capitalist development, early marriage and childbearing were the easiest way for a successful farmer or artisan to expand his workforce. Through downward mobility, such family lineages created an ever larger middle class while steadily replacing the lower classes through downward mobility. By 1800, they formed the bulk of the English population.

In England, this process of population replacement strengthened the country. In the Ottoman Empire, the consequences were different. As the Christian subject peoples grew in numbers and relative wealth, they increasingly saw secession as both feasible and desirable. What other option was there? The Ottoman Empire would never come under their control, and even the possibility of joint Muslim-Christian rule seemed unrealistic. The empire was, by definition, a Muslim state.”

“Circa 1500, the European world began a great expansion that would extend its domination over most of the planet. This expansion was far from fortuitous and seems to have resulted from internal processes that had been under way for some time within Europe itself. By 1500, there remained only two other civilizations of comparable strength: the Ottoman Empire and the Chinese Empire. Both, however, suffered from internal contradictions that prevented a similar sustained expansion. These contradictions were even more evident three centuries later when both empires began to face penetration by European powers on their own territory.”

Propagandists for multiculturalism, Islam-whitewashers and advocates of Turkey joining the pro-multicultural EU are fond of Turkey’s historical tolerance whilst fanatical anti-Moslem kooks pretend it never existed at all, and write stupid books saying Islam is not a religion but some kind of genocidal hate movement that got stopped at Vienna. But the truth tells a different story – how one of histories greatest civilisations was actually rotted from within by its own tolerance of diversity.

On another note, Frost’s comments on English social history and the rise of statism remind me of the well-known Icelandic text, the Grettisaga, which was written with the intent of contrasting two related characters with similar personality living generations apart, Onund Treefoot in chapters 1-13 and Grettir the Strong in the following chapters 14-84. As well as being a pre-modern description of psychopathy, with the corollary that certain mental ‘disorders’ are more acceptable in some cultures than others (ever wonder why modern society scapegoats a few psychopaths, but ignores the damage caused by rampant pathological altruism?), the Grettisaga is famous for its contrast of Icelandic morality and society in the settlement period, in the time of Onund, with that of the Christianised and more statist Icelandic society in the time of Grettir. What we would now call Cleckleyan psychopathy is employed by the medieval author as a device for stressing the shift in Icelandic social attitudes as a martial Viking age society became pacified.

On global inequality
Peter Frost


The Grettisaga can be read as a translation into English here.

The Saga of Grettir the Strong (Grettir’s Saga)
G.H. Hight (translator)


About skadhitheraverner
I'm a young freelance writer from the UK, with an interest in anthropology, the outdoors and rightist politics.

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