SOCIOLOGY, INDO-EUROPEANS, AND THE DESTINY OF THE WARRIORS
In 1987-91 I must have had too much
time on my hands. I actually did an informal survey of what was
going on British sociology. It wasn't pretty. British sociology
was "eat up" with Structural Marxism, that French imposture
made up by Louis Althusser (Half-Hussar, as I call him) and his
merry band. In the hands of British academic lefties, who took the
whole thing too seriously, it was even worse. Standard textbooks
intended for A-Level and AS-Level students went on endlessly about
the two-class model of society bourgeoisie (hiss) and proletarians
(cheers, mate) but with all those extra subclasses ("fractions" 3/8, 5/6?) making up the layer-cake of our oppressive Western
was, however, some light shining through the dialectical gloom.
I inadvertently discovered what might be called the British Post-Marxist
School of Sociology, writers who have noticed that political power
exists and may not always be reducible to some elusive economic
"base." Here we find Sir Ernest Gellner, no friend of
the market or classical liberalism, but a cranky and witty critic
of Marxist sociology both Western and (then) Soviet. Even better
were Michael Mann and John A. Hall. (There are some others.) Hall
began his analyses in historical sociology with the proposition
that there are three forms of "power" (understood, I suppose,
as the ability to get things done) in human history ideological,
political-military, and economic none of which determines the
others "in the last instance." This seemed a step forward.
happens over and again in Western thought, Hall has reinvented the
Indo-European wheel, as Sir Ernest likewise did in his discussion
of "plough, sword, and book." And this brings us to the
late Georges Dumezil, the giant of comparative Indo-European linguistics
and mythology. (I realize this may put off multiculturalists, but
you can't please everyone unless you are the Democratic Party.)
Dumezil and his followers by painstaking comparative study of
the earliest literatures associated with our own language family
(mythology, epic, and early Roman pseudo-history as in Titus Livy)
"reconstructed" a set of ideas about the proper order
of society an ideology. This worldview traveled with the speakers
of the related tongues, undergoing much modification over time and
space. (This frees us from worrying about the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis
in which language "determines" thought.)
emergent theme of this reconstructed world-outlook is a near-obsession
with grouping everything into threes a habit still alive in the
works of Hegel and Marx and, possibly, in the American Constitution.
Ideally, society consisted of three "functions" (castes):
Priests, Warriors, and Economic Producers (herdsmen, farmers, craftsmen that is, the ancestors of most of us). Celtic Ireland's druids,
bo-aire, and grad fene and Vedic India's brahmans, kshatriyas, and
vaisyas corresponded exactly to the Indo-European model (with the
addition in India of a fourth group, the conquered sudras). In Dumezil's
words, the hierarchical society in Plato's Republic is "une
reminiscence indo-europeenne" and, despite Christianity, the
tripartite view of society underwent a remarkable revival at the
hands of 10th and 11th-century clerics, who aimed at strengthening
the feudal monarchy and divided the people into "those who
pray," "those who fight," and "those who work"
(and see George Duby on this). There are colors, too: white for
priests, red for warriors, and blue (sometimes green or black) for
the farmers/herdsmen/craftsmen. (I think we have seen this scheme
in several national flags.) The three-caste order remained the legal
description of France down to the Revolution. In these terms, classical
liberalism represents the revolt of the Third Estate against an
Old Order in which the other two Orders were dominant.
political upheavals of the 17th and 18th centuries left liberals
up against the question of how best to provide for the "Second
Function" (warriors, national defense) without creating new
dangers to liberty. Some materials lay at hand in republican theory,
revived during the Renaissance (and itself reflecting classical
Greek and Roman departures from the tripartite view of society).
The solution to which the American Founders leaned (and which they
embedded in the Constitution) drew on the English reading of republican
theory and set up the armed citizens ("the militia") as
the federal republic's first line of defense (genuine defense as
opposed to worldwide armed philanthropy) . This was one reason for
the Second Amendment (the other being an individual right to defend
oneself and one's property, which drew on classical liberalism and
English law). Time and again, spokesmen for the new Constitution
made the point that an armed population would able to resist tyrannical
encroachments (terribly unlikely, of course) by the new government.
To this citizen-based system of defense, the new republic added
a small standing army and a modest navy, which finally grew, like
Topsy, making their bosses the World's Last Remaining Super Power,
which like the ancient Athenian Empire has the "right to rule,
because we overthrew the Persians."
could get inside Indo-European ideology because the myths and epics
dealt with whole sets of gods and heroes who "represented"
the three social functions. (Here Dumezil echoed Durkheim, Marcel
Mauss, and Marcel Granet.) These tales take in, among other things,
sins and misdeeds likely to rise up in each caste. In the case of
the Second-Function warriors, the danger is that they will use their
training and talents against the people and society which it is
their job to defend. As Dumezil and Jaan Puhvel show, there is a
whole body of myth in which this theme unfolds. We see it with Cuchulainn,
the Third Horatius, Indra, and others. Cuchulainn and Batraz had
to have their martial ardor cooled with enormous quantities of water
lest they destroy their own society.
last thing isn't as much of a worry for us, as far as our military
functionaries go they tend to be cold-blooded technicians these
days but perhaps their civilian-militarist bosses should take
a few cold showers. Even they show rather little real ardor except
during air campaigns or when an ideological bug bites them. But
they, too, have a myth to live by. Their myth is Science! (blinded
with?), as understood by a mob of 19th-century worthies beginning
with Auguste Comte, whose key notion was that human society is as
transparent and subject to manipulation as any problem in 19th-century
physics. This "scientism" (as Friedrich Hayek called it
in The Counter-Revolution of Science) comes down to us in two broad
streams: from Comte's Positivist cadres to early 20th-century Progressives
and social engineers (among whom we may include Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd,
architect of Grand Apartheid), and from Comte through Marx and his
followers. Revisionist Marxists, by moving towards the center, brought
about a happy reunion of the two lines. These are the people who
want to give us The End of History. (My suggested bumper-sticker:
"Marx, Freud, and Darwin: Two Down, One To Go.")
is not without interest that by working towards a society dominated
by a secularized priesthood or New Class made up of themselves and
backed up with all those "weapons of mass destruction"
(which would be so dangerous in other hands), our present rulers
are recreating the Old Order in which the first and second "functions"
(estates) command the third. Their chief innovation is to be doing
so without God, or even a short-list of pagan gods, but in the name
of Humanity (Feuerbach, call your office) and Science.
sub sole novi there is nothing new under the sun. As Jaan Puhvel
notes, President Nixon was nearly impeached for "abuse of justice,
abuse of power, and abuse of money" (Puhvel quotes James Jackson
Kilpatrick here) that is, for crimes pertaining to each social
"function." If mythic themes don't go away, it is because
they embody important truths about persistent problems. Films like
"The Siege" and "An Enemy of the State" remind
us that the great issues of "tribal security" are still
with us. Besides, if the present Empire and its "defensive
alliance" ever have to rescue anybody in the Caucasus, the
story of Batraz may come into better focus. Batraz was a neo-Scythian
Good Old Boy from just those parts.
is not entirely the fault of the soldiers that the New Priesthood
rewrote the military's mission statement while those of us in the
Third Estate were taking the long constitutional nap we call the
Cold War. It is not all their fault if they forgot the purpose of
American foreign policy, which is to defend the freedoms of the
American people (Taft said that, remember?). While on this conciliatory
note, let us remind ourselves of a Roman tale about the Second Function
(perhaps without parallel elsewhere). I refer to Cincinnatus, a
landed gentleman who took up arms and led his republic to victory
and then, with self-restraint and modesty, went back to farming
his lands. This ideal to which George Washington was early assimilated reflects the merger of the second and third estates in defense
of their society which is characteristic of republics. Had he lived
much later, imperial publicists would have given us a Cincinnatus
who conquered whole new realms for the Empire, went into politics,
and died rich as Croesus on the profits of politically-rigged markets.
I like the original story better. It reminds me of Robert E. Lee,
who did his best, accepted defeat gracefully, and settled down to
a peaceful life as President of Washington College.
that's one set of mythical traditions, to which some of us feel
close because of our history and our language. Of course, this pagan
Indo-European material has its limits. You get nothing like the
Christian theory of the Just War in the Rig Veda, the Prose Edda,
or in Titus Livy.
more thing the poor Structural Marxists by breaking capitalist
society down into ideological, political, and economic "levels,"
also reinvented the Indo-European wheel, but with the proviso that
the "economic level" dominates "in the last instance."
There is a little truth here, but things are hardly that self-starting.
At times, the Third Estate has had to fight for its freedom against
Estates very like the one the Marxists themselves have aspired to
create. The Mode of Production did not hand their freedoms to them.
History is littered with expanding modes of production stifled and
suppressed by political authorities exercising that very "autonomy"
they don't according to some theorists ever have. (Several Chinese
dynasties come to mind.) I could go on about the deep connection
between war, militarism, and non-market forms of economy, but that
will be another day.
R. Stromberg has been writing for libertarian publications since
1973, including The Individualist, Reason,
of Libertarian Studies, Libertarian Review, and the
and is completing a set of essays on America's wars. He is a part-time
lecturer in History at the college level. You can read his recent
Cold War," on the Ludwig
von Mises Institute Website. His column, "The Old Cause,"
appears each Tuesday on Antiwar.com.
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