Divide and Rule (Divide et Impera)

Let’s imagine that there is a land of foragers living in scattered tribes. Well, actually you don’t have to imagine this, because that was the situation in America and Africa before the arrival of Europeans. These Europeans came and simply declared that such and such territory belongs to the king of X. If there were any objection from the natives, the Europeans rattled their sabers, and that settled the matter. The territory was conquered!

Franz Oppenheimer, in his book The State,(1919) saw no other way of turning tribal territories into States except through conquest. The conquerors became the rulers and the conquered, the ruled. Since humans need food to live, the rulers required of the ruled to provide them with food and whatever else they wished.

But here comes the most clever of all stratagems: the division of the ruled into two groups. One group of workers is given the job of enforcement, and the other workers remain enforced workers. The enforcers are called “police,” “soldier,” “sheriff,” “deputy,” “marshal,” “bodyguard,” “security guard,” “national guard,” etc. The non-enforcers are forced into wage-labor by forbidding them free access to subsistence land. This is true from the time of recorded history. Allowing occupation of land was conditional on some kind of payment and service. At first this is called feudalism, but in a sense, feudalism still exists in the form of payment of property and other taxes to the State, and military service when required.

The ease of dividing people into enforcers and non-enforcers was dramatically demonstrated by the Stanford prison experiment by Philip Zimbardo, in which students were randomly divided into prison guards and prisoners.

What this — as well as my general independent knowledge — shows me is that people will do almost anything for a job and money. Perhaps the book by Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, 2007, captures this phenomenon as does Hannah Arendt’s description of Adolph Eichmann by the phrase the “banality of evil” — that people will sell themselves easily as slaves of others.

I have always wondered — and still do — how soldiers were recruited to fight in massive face-to-face battles, where death and the known probability of death was so extensive. I can understand the willingness of people to fight in a defensive action; but I am utterly disturbed by how easily the police and national guards comply to quell people with justifiable grievances; or even how an organized war of Americans against Americans (1861-1865) was possible.

Below is a documentary about what took place in Chicago during the August 1968 Democratic National Convention. Thousands of young people congregated in Lincoln and Grant Parks in protest against the Vietnam War. Mayor Daley ordered the police to clear the parks and stop any illegal marching, and the police brutally complied, with the national guard standing in the background.

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