Gellner och Khalduns förklaring av stamsamhällen

Jag hade idag nöjet att fika med Per Brinkemo. Kom då att tänka på en briljant artikel av Ernest Gellner där han i Ibn Khalduns anda ger en funktionalistisk förklaring till uppkomsten av stamsamhällen.

Säga vad man vill om förklaringen, men Gellner är exceptionell i sin förmåga att skriva samhällsteoretisk prosa.

There is one point at which the conventional Hobbesian and the Ibn Khaldunian visions of the basis of social order are diametrically opposed. On the whole, the advantage lies with Ibn Khaldun.

The Hobbesian problem arises from the assumption that anarchy, absence of enforcement, leads to distrust and social disintegration. We are all familiar with the deductive model which sustains and re-enforces that argument, but there is a certain amount of interesting empirical evidence which points the other way. The paradox is: it is precisely anarchy which engenders trust or, if you want to use another name, which engenders social cohesion. It is effective government which destroys trust. This is a basic fact about the human condition, or at any rate about a certain range of real human conditions. It is the basic premise of Ibn Khaldun’s sociology, which happens to be the greatest and most accurate analysis of traditional Muslim society.

The argument is that anarchy engenders trust and government destroys it; or, put in a more conventional way, that anarchy engenders cohesion. In this case, we have both an argument and an empirical illustration. The claim that anarchy engenders cohesion is well sustained empirically, but it can also be sustained by theoretical considerations. There is a powerful model which lends support to this contention. The model is constructed with the help of a number of factors actually corresponding to the realities prevailing in an important part of the world.

To begin with, assume the absence of any strong central authority. Secondly, add the ecological conditions which prevail in the arid zone, and which impel large and significant proportions of its inhabitants towards pastoralism. Thirdly, acknowledge the diffusion of a certain level of expectation concerning what life is meant to be like. The importance of this will emerge in due course. One might even reduce these factors to two, in so far as weak government can itself be seen as a corollary of pastoralism. Shepherds are hard to govern, because their wealth is on the hoof and they can easily escape authority. Their mobility makes it possible to avoid taxation, to raid, and to elude oppression.

If you take these three points and work out the implications, the result is that those living on such terms cannot manage without cohesion. The argument runs: pastoralism implies that the major part of wealth is on the hoof. This means that it is easy to move it, but it also makes it easy to perform acts of robbery. Pastoral work is not labour intensive. Looking after 400 sheep is not very much harder than looking after 200 sheep. But pastoralism is defence intensive. What the shepherd does is protect the flock from jackals, hyenas, wolves, and above all from other shepherds. And the prospects of economic growth are very remarkable: all a shepherd needs to do in order to double his wealth is ambush another shepherd.

This is quite different from the relationship between agricultural sedentary producers, who can steal the harvest but cannot easily steal the fields. If they wish to enslave the people they defeat, they land themselves with grave problems of labour management. So the appeal of aggression for agricultural producers is much less, unless they are effectively centralized and can monopolize the means of coercion, and possess the machinery for controlling the subjugated population. But for a shepherd, the temptation to rob is very strong, immediate and unconditional, and there is only one effective means of protecting oneself against this kind of aggression.

This method is to gang up in a group, which in effect hangs up a notice saying: anyone who commits an act of aggression against any one of us must expect retaliation from us all, and not only will the aggressor himself be likely to suffer retaliation, but his entire group and all its members will be equally liable. And this notice is in effect posted by the very culture which pervades pastoral societies. It constitutes the code of honour which is familiar to all. So the gangs themselves do not need literally to put an announcement in the press or even on their tent. The culture, or specifically the obligation of feud which is inherent in it, does it for them.

To recapitulate: because these groups are mobile and live in difficult terrain, they are very difficult to tax. Consequently there is no government, there being no resources to sustain it. Because there is no government, the groups have to look after themselves: hence they are strong, and government is weak or absent. The argument is a kind of circle, but it reflects a self-perpetuating social reality. Once this kind of system is established, it manifests itself as the highly characteristic arid zone pattern of strong, self-policing, self-defending, politically participating groups, generally known as tribes. They defend themselves by the threat of indiscriminate retaliation against the group of any aggressor. Hence they also police themselves and their own members, for they do not wish to provoke retaliation. Inside each such group, order is maintained by a similar mechanism: the group itself divides into sub-groups which each exercise restraint over the others.

Referens: Gellner, Ernest, 1990. “Trust, Cohesion, and the Social Order”, s 142–157 i Gambetta, Diego (red), Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, s. 143–46.