I have always been attracted to the writings of Karl Popper, and I keep returning to him. And I agree with him that long range historical prediction is impossible, and I agree with him that Plato’s program was a conservative one of preserving a totalitarian State, and I agree with him that Marx’s prophecy of how capitalism would develop was a failure.
I have also greatly admired his scholarship. As an example, I reproduce his findings on the origin of the State through conquest — a position with which I agree. However, a fundamental disagreement that I have with Popper is whether the State can be dispensed with. He thinks the State is indispensable and can be justified. I disagree on both counts. But I leave this issue for another occasion.
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies
, Chapter 4: footnote 43:
Plato’s remarkable theory that the state, i.e. centralized and organized political power, originates through a conquest (the subjugation of a sedentary agricultural population by nomads or hunters) was, as far as I know, first re-discovered (if we discount some remarks by Machiavelli) by Hume in his criticism of the historical version of the contract theory (cp. his Political Discourses, 1752, the chapter Of the Original Contract): — ‘Almost all the governments’, Hume writes, ‘which exist at present, or of which there remains any record in history, have been founded originally on usurpation or conquest, or both . . .’ The theory was next revived by Renan, in What is a Nation? (1882), and by Nietzsche in his Genealogy of Morals (1887); see the third German edition of 1894, p. 98. The latter writes of the origin of the ‘state’: ‘Some horde of blonde beasts, a conquering master race with a war-like organization . . lay their terrifying paws heavily upon a population which is perhaps immensely superior in — numbers. . . This is the way in which the “state” originates upon earth; I think that the sentimentality which lets it originate with a “contract”, is dead.’ This theory appeals to Nietzsche because he likes these blonde beasts. But it has been also more recently proffered by F. Oppenheimer (The State, transl. Gitterman, 1914, p. 68); by a Marxist, K. Kautsky (in his book on The Materialist Interpretation of History); and by W. G. Macleod (The Origin and History of Politics, 1931). I think it very likely that something of the kind described by Plato, Hume, and Nietzsche has happened in many, if not in all, cases. I am speaking only about ‘states’ in the sense of organized and even centralized political power.
I may mention that Toynbee has a very different theory. But before discussing it, I wish first to make it clear that from the anti-historicist point of view, the question is of no great importance. It is perhaps interesting in itself to consider how ‘states’ originated, but it has no bearing whatever upon the sociology of states, as I understand it, i.e. upon political technology (see chapters 3, 9, and 25).
Toynbee’s theory does not confine itself to ‘states’ in the sense of organized and centralized political power. He discusses, rather, the ‘origin of civilizations’. But here begins the difficulty ; for what he calls ‘civilizations’ are, in part, ‘states’ (as here described), in part societies like that of the Eskimos, which are not states; and if it is questionable whether ‘states’ originate according to one single scheme, then it must be even more doubtful when we consider a class of such diverse social phenomena as the early Egyptian and Mesopotamian states and their institutions and technique on the one side, and the Eskimo way of living on the other.
But we may concentrate on Toynbee’s description (A Study of History, vol. I, 305 ff.) of the origin of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian ‘civilizations’. His theory is that the challenge of a difficult jungle environment rouses a response from ingenious and enterprising leaders; they lead their followers into the valleys which they begin to cultivate, and found states. This (Hegelian and Bergsonian) theory of the creative genius as a cultural and political leader appears to me most romantic. If we take Egypt, then we must look, first of all, for the origin of the caste system. This, I believe, is most likely the result of conquests, just as in India where every new wave of conquerors imposed a new caste upon the old ones. But there are other arguments. Toynbee himself favours a theory which is probably correct, namely, that animal breeding and especially animal training is a later, a more advanced and a more difficult stage of development than mere agriculture, and that this advanced step is taken by the nomads of the steppe. But in Egypt we find both agriculture and animal breeding, and the same holds for most of the early ‘states’ (though not for all the American ones, I gather). This seems to be a sign that these states contain a nomadic element; and it seems only natural to venture the hypothesis that this element is due to nomad invaders imposing their rule, a caste rule, upon the original agricultural population. This theory disagrees with Toynbee’s contention (op. cit. III, 23 f.) that nomad-built states usually wither away very quickly. But the fact that many of the early caste states go in for the breeding of animals has to be explained somehow.
The idea that nomads or even hunters constituted the original upper class is corroborated by the age-old and still surviving upper-class traditions according to which war, hunting, and horses, are the symbols of the leisured classes; a tradition which formed the basis of Aristotle’s ethics and politics, and is still alive, as Veblen (The Theory of the Leisure Class) and Toynbee himself have shown; and to these traditions we can perhaps add the animal breeder’s belief in racialism, and especially in the racial superiority of the upper class. The latter belief which is so pronounced in caste states and in Plato and in Aristotle is held by Toynbee to be ‘one of the . . sins of our . . modern age’ and ‘something alien from the Hellenic genius’ (op. cit., III, 93). But although many Greeks may have developed beyond racialism, it seems likely that Plato’s and Aristotle’s theories are based on old traditions; especially in view of the fact that racial ideas played such a role in Sparta.