Capital, Civilization, War, Fascism, And Democracy

Capital is intrinsic to civilization: capital makes civilization possible, and, in turn, civilization feeds capital. Capital started with mates, family, friends, territory, flint, obsidian, furs, grains, dogs, etc. Our ancestors, twenty million years ago, already worked to amass capital. Cities could be defined as concentration of lodgings greater than sustainable before the Neolithic (the new stone, when herding and agriculture appeared in the most advanced populations).

The entity with the greatest capital has always been, in the last 5,000 years, the mightiest government, presently the USA. Followed by the People Republic of China. Communists often talk as if they opposed capital, but their leaders often muster more capital than their allegedly more capitalist opponents. It’s Stalin’s greater capital in… tanks which overwhelmed that other (and lesser!) capitalist, Adolf Hitler. Hitler recognized no German anticipated or even could comprehend, that Stalin had a capital of 35,000 tanks. That Franklin Delano Roosevelt had decided that the USA would have 24 Fleet Aircraft carriers was another major capitalist event, with long term consequences, as Japan would bitterly find out. Recently Biden, following Trump, having discovered that most electronic semiconductor integrated circuits were made in Asia, a minute flight time from thousands of Xi’s rockets, decided that it would be a good idea to make those in the good old USA (Trump had already obtained that Apple Inc. would make chips, and in the USA). 

However, war is also intrinsic to civilization, and may well be the fundamental reason why cities got built.

Even when not warring with nomads, civilizations compete: barred from the International Space Station (ISS), China just launched the core module of its own second space station. This sort of competition is of course excellent, and we are very grateful to “Communist” China for producing so much excellent science and technology. The USA would probably scoff at the Moon, but for China’s announced drive to establish itself there (the government of the CCP has not formally said so, but the top Chinese engineers let it be known).

In the past. Civilizations, besides each other, had another problem: nomads. In any case, they had to arm themselves. But it turns out too much of a good thing is not good for progress. 

Exponentials Everywhere:

“Capital” comes from “caput”, the head. Civilization, gathering large populations of people in cities, was made possible from, and necessary because of, the exponentiation of population.

The exponentiating population happened because of exponentiation of food production, thanks in turn to mass agriculture made possible by mass irrigation and other massive structures, which provided with many riches. Those, in turn were defended against scavenging nomads by mass armies (the nomads themselves often doubled as traders, who were indispensable, as they provided with otherwise inaccessible, indispensable goods from far away regions: obsidian, currency shells, metals, furs are examples).

It’s not just Quantum Physics, hence the world, which is entangled, but also all most significant human civilizational notions. Notice that I did not bother with explicitly mentioning religions above, as they are tentacular subsets of fascism.

Armies in turn are organized through command and control, to act as giant bodies with just one head. Naturally power runs in families and the children of commanders end up in command. Thus hierarchies of families ended on top of society. Religions they invented with fascist gods explained that the universe was organized according to fascist principles, very naturally, with a few jealous bloodthirsty maniacs on top. The large populations of civilization insured that they would stay on top of innovation, in particular with the best weapons, and would generally not be conquered by nomads (although there were exceptions, in particular the exposure of China to various invaders, the propensity of various Central Asian nomads to invade, such as the Huns-Avars-Mongols, and of course Islam, a particularly invasive ideology which the Turkish leadership found particularly profitable to adopt).

The gods and their servants adjudicated a morality where most found themselves in abject submission, because their very existence was a sin. Watch Incas sacrificing children: the massive usage of fascism to implement civilization was, and is, a worldwide phenomenon. It is not having an Eurasiatic bias to say this. Human sacrifices and slavery were ubiquitous in Africa, up to the Eighteenth Century. The Incas built a vast empire without the wheel, powerful draft animals, copper, bronze or iron working, coinage or a writing system. But they had fascism. The Inca empire could not have done without fascism.

Thus, fascism arose naturally, as a way to achieve civilization. But fascism is not natural to the human species. Human life may have been brutish and short, but it was not under fascism: human life had to be free for other humans, evolution did not anticipate the human condition to be anything, but a dialogue with nature. Hence, the human neurology of most of the population suffered: most humans did not live in conditions optimal for a full blossoming of their mental systems.

This implies that, if one could somehow tame fascism, one could create a mass society that would be smarter and more motivated to act progressively, rather than being passive, depressed and dumb.

Indeed, Rome, Athens, and quite a few other Greek city-states, found a way to mitigate fascism. They invented Demos-Kratia, People-Power. People voted directly, instead of being submitted to superiors. Laws were decided after direct debate insured by isegoria (everybody can address assemblies) and parrhesia (right of candor). 

Paradoxically that democratic revolution started for military reasons. Civilizations and their agricultural system need to be defended. That’s done with armies. Around 650 BCE, the Greek city-state of Argos on the Peloponnesian peninsula found a new military system. It replaced cavalry by hoplites. Hoplites were heavily armed foot soldiers with lances, swords, and shields. Warriors would protect each other with their shields. Hoplite formations, to be effective, needed extensive drilling, and the equipment was expensive. Thus hoplite armies were made of upper middle class citizens with plenty of time to practice. Cavalry had been even more expensive, only aristocrats could afford it. The switch from cavalry to hoplites enabled city-states to field much larger armies. Intact, disciplined hoplite formations could resist the charges of cavaliers. Thus hoplite upper middle class armies defeated aristocracies and took power. Around 550 BC, during the de facto quasi-Republican rule of king Servius Tullius, a universal levy of eligible (that is upper middle class) adult male citizens was instituted as Rome deliberately copied the Greek heavy armor hoplite army. (Two centuries later, fighting the obdurate mountain people, the Samnites, Rome abandoned the Greek phalanx by instituting smaller infantry units; the next big reform would be Marius, around 100 BCE, switching to a professional army… with catastrophic results; I like Marius, and he had no choice… still it was a catastrophe.)  

Democracy spearheaded by citizen-soldiers hoplite armies was enormously successful on the battlefield. The ancient Greeks suggested that was because citizen-soldiers fought for themselves instead of for a master. But there is more: Demos-Kratia was a better method, a scientific method to establish better truth, hence deeper motivation. Demos-Kratia is empowering in another way as people are free to be free.

However, Athens was conquered by the Macedonian tyrant Antipater in 322 BCE. Antipater had the resources of the entire Macedonian empire, all the way to India, and Athens had still not fully recovered from the Peloponnesian war (which had been fought against the Spartan Alliance, led by enslaving Sparta and financed by the Medes, the Persian empire). Antipater then transformed Athens into a plutocracy (only the wealthiest could vote)… Athens would not be really free for 23 centuries thereafter.

Whereas Athens confronted enormous and fanatical enemies, the Roman Republic’s democracy had a different fate. What happened to Rome is more troubling for us. The Republic kept its hubris in check, most of the time, growing slowly, cautiously, and mostly reactively (defending itself with gusto after being attacked, most of the time… or at least that’s how Roman historians present it… But there is a logic to it: clearly, Rome did not go on a rampage until after counter-striking the Carthaginian coalition). Rome never had to surrender. Her one crazy king, Tarquinius Superbus, was thrown out and defeated. “Sumptuary” laws and redistribution to the Ager Publicus limited the wealth and power of families strictly.

However, the horrendous war against Hannibal killed a lot of the best, brightest, most courageous and morally upright in the Roman elite. Those who had rented space in the fortified cities while Hannibal roamed the countryside dominated the post-war period. That was immediately followed by the Roman version of globalization. Indeed pushing back and defeating Carthage and its allies, left the Republic in control of most of the Mediterranean. Instead of imposing Roman law all over, the Republic opted for local self-management, making often alliances with local elites close to those Rome had just defeated. That sounded a good idea at the time.

So Rome left in place many local laws. That legal localization enabled many of the wealthiest Roman of the topmost classes (Senatorial and Equestrian) to evade the Roman barriers to exponential wealth: they just made their fortunes overseas, and then quickly came back and bought plenty of land illegally, managed by armies of imported slaves. This violence led to increasingly brutal plutocrats paying politicians (especially tribunes). Rome degenerated in a way similar to what is happening now, with holders of capital so wealthy they could also hold public opinion in their claws. Wealth got so great the wealthiest created a legion, and then entire armies. Civil war resulted. Optimates (=plutocrats; Sulla, Cicero) against Populares (Gracchi, Marius, Caesar). In the end an alliance was formed between the most powerful army and the plutocracy, led by Octavian/Augustus.

After this triumph of plutocracy, there was no looking back: the Roman power structure invented Catholicism, which became the state religion in the Fourth Century… Under the penalty of death (basically). 

One may wonder why plutocracy increasingly triumphed after (say) the Third Punic war. That’s because the Third Punic War was a triumph of plutocracy. The Roman optimates (the plutocrats) did not like the power and increased democracy of Carthage. It was a very bad example, just when aristocrats such as the Gracchi and their friends and allies decided that the Roman equity-equality Republican system was broken, and had to be refurbished. Such a situation of aristocrats leading a People’s revolution had been seen before: king Sergius Tullius had instituted the basic Republican structures Rome needed. The Optimates prevailed (Carthago delenda est; Carthage is to be destroyed), and visited a holocaust on Carthage, an acto fmass evil. Now when one has committed one act of mass evil, it is easy to do the next.

Another Sergius Tullius could have turned things around. And one came: Julius Caesar. But he was assassinated when he had barely started his work… whereas Sergius Tullius was assassinated by Tarquinius after he had made his main reform, that of the army. In particular, Rome kept a professional army… Even when said army was insufficient in power, numbers and enthusiasm, to repeal the barbarians. Thus Rome, population sixty million or more, fell to hordes of at most 50,000 warriors. Why? Because the plutocrats in power in Rome feared, first of all, a popular army of We The People (as Rome had for its first five centuries or so).

And when Rome “fell”, Roman plutocracy did not really fall. Rome did not really fall, because it took centuries, and a queen such as Brunehilde, writing in perfect Latin in 600 CE to impose Roman law to millions of “Franks” can well be viewed as a Roman head of state… As Charlemagne would be proclaimed, two centuries after her. Rome did not really fall also because Roman plutocrats made alliances with the invading Germans, Alans (Iran) and Huns (Mongolia)…A good Fourth Century Roman potentate preferred a good alliance with the invaders, rather than befriending “We The People” (an example is Aetius, the last great Roman commander in the West before the horrendous reconquista under Justinian).

So I am saying that what is called WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic) started with Rome and the best Greek city-states. And that was so true that it was not forgotten: by the Fifth Century, the Franks made educational reforms leveraging the church, and that was passed into stiff laws before the birth of Charlemagne. Also many of the Frankish reforms (shown by Lex Salica) were pro-equity and equality (equal mandatory inheritance among children, women not forgotten)… The outlawing of slavery (657 CE, queen Bathilde) was more of the (Democratic) drive towards equality…. And technological progress. Chinese emperors tried to cancel slavery a few times, but it did not stick. When Europeans visited China as soon as the Thirteenth Century, they were struck by the massive usage of human muscle power instead of mechanical advantage, for example to carry the trunks of giant trees.

Thus starting under the Franks, progressive traits of the early Roman Republic were recovered. The effort was not accidental, but conscious and deliberate: a great hope was what was then called the “Christian Republic”. Most of the historical documents may have had disappeared by then, but the essential was left, namely the collective memory of a more democratic past.

So why have the full democratic practices of 25 centuries ago not been recovered yet?

Indeed, we are still victims of the ideology which caused the fall of the Roman Republic, being told that we cannot have democracy. Instead we have representative oligarchy, a few hundred individuals enjoying extravagant powers.

One reason is an enormous inertia of moods and ideas. That can be better understood by looking at China, where the mood of “mandate from heavens” to designate the imperial system was established more than 22 centuries ago… and continues to this day. More basically, the elites in power have had interest to reinstitute as much fascism as they could get away with. For example, after eight centuries of (theoretically and formally) electing kings of the Franks, the king of the Franks decided he was king of France, and his job was hereditary (and a mandate not from We The People, but from the god; Charlemagne was already furious when the Pope pulled that trick on him… Charles wanted to be elected by the army, not god…).

Democracy, if and when one can make it work, is mightier than fascism… And this is because it is ethologically correct. Fascism is also ethologically correct but if, and only if, one is in combat. Thus fascist regimes are implicitly telling the people they subjugate that they are at war, and combat is engaged. 

The consequence of democracy is exponentiating intelligence. The consequence of fascism and its generalizations, oligarchism and “representative” pseudo-democracy, is the degenerescence into stupidity.

Our civilization is in an extremely delicate situation. It has to pilot several raging exponentials, just right, and they are technologically and scientifically dependent. If a civilization collapsed 10,000 years ago, the consequences were insignificant in the fullness of time. However, the destruction of civilization in the present circumstances could well condemn humanity, or what’s left of it, being unable to regain ever again the present level of wisdom and understanding. Cannibalism, though, would have a great future…

Patrice Ayme

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