PART V. THE DEVELOPMENT OF ADVANCED SOCIO-POLITICAL SYSTEMS

CHAPTER 25. THE ECOLOGY OF ADVANCED SOCIO-POLITICAL SYSTEMS

This part of the book presents an ecological approach to understanding the socio-political systems (national and state fascisms, capitalism, socialism, and communism) that developed in response to industrialism. To do so, it follows the histories of several of the major nations of the world from the stage of feudalism to industrialization. The nations chosen are those that represent the full range of political possibilities: England, France, Russia, India, China, and Japan. In addition, a number of former English colonial settlements have been chosen: the United States, South Africa, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

The start of the histories of the older group of nations begins with feudalism, because this stage importantly influenced the more advanced stages that came later. The common feature of the former British colonies is that these nations share a non- nobility heritage. In spite of this common factor, the nations took different paths of socio-political development. As will be shown, race and racism is the most important determining factor (although certainly not the sole one) differentiating the political systems developed by this group of nations.

This particular chapter summarizes the theory derived from the discussions of the histories to follow. This framework (which excludes the non-nobility nations) will make the discussions of the histories of the chosen nations easier to follow.

Ecological Factors

The ecology of the earth with its different zones set off by varying climates and terrains was the primary and originating source of diversity among humans. As discussed in a previous chapter, this diversity includes race, language, cultures, economies, ethnic origins, and many other sources. This diversity in turn is the major determinant of the types of socio-political systems in the world today.

By carefully examining an ecological map of the world, one can make insightful predictions about the types of socio-political systems the different areas of the world are likely to develop. (To avoid too much complexity, we will exclude the non-nobility societies of the former British colonies. These will be discussed in full in a following chapter.) In comparing ecological maps with maps of various stages of man's civilization, an early conclusion is that all of the early agricultural societies are restricted to the warmer regions. Since the earliest civilizations did not develop in the cold regions of the earth, one of the primary limiting ecological factors affecting socio- political development is climate.

Type of vegetation is another important factor in determining socio-political systems. Vegetation patterns helped create different societies and hence different cultures, as in the contrast between the rice cultures of the east and the wheat cultures of the west. As mentioned previously, in contrast with wheat cultivation, rice cultivation was very labor intensive at the local level. This, in turn, supported a higher density of peoples and promoted greater social cooperation. Rice cultivation thereby helped create more highly cooperative societies and cultures.

Another important ecological factor is geographic location. Partial isolation, such as an island near a major continent, creates societies that are neither too homogeneous nor too heterogeneous. Such is the case for Great Britain. (Complete isolation, as in the case of Japan, produced a society with too much unity.) A key advantage for a society is to be located near major trade routes (as was the case for England), but not too near so that the society is swamped by the heterogeneity of incoming peoples (such as was the case of the near eastern societies, which were on the main trade routes between east and west).

Economic Development Variables

Location is a primary determinant as to the amount of trade between peoples. Trade encourages exchanges and, hence, the development of technology. Technology, in turn, is one of the main determinants of economic development.

Related to the factor of economic development is the factor of imperialism. The technological advantage of the west produced by the industrial revolution allowed Europe and the United States to dominate most of the world during the age of imperialism. This further hampered the development of non-western societies (except for Japan, which avoided western domination and quickly copied the west's imperialist actions).

Population Diversity and the Degree of Unity

Ecological variables primarily determine the degree of population diversity in a given society. The ecological variable of location also affects the occurrence and severity of invasions by other peoples. For instance, those nations located on or near the great steppes that stretch from northeastern China to eastern Europe (Hungary) were repeatedly invaded and, in addition, subjected to a great intermingling of peoples. One need only think of the repeated Mongol assaults on China and Russia to appreciate the devastating impact of such invasions. Often accompanying invasion was political occupation, which certainly slowed the occupied nations' economic and political developments.

Population diversity is an important factor in determining the intensity of social divisions within a society. The level of economic development and invasions also affect the social divisions within any given society. In turn, social divisions affect the degree of unity in a nation's socio-political system. Either too much unity (as in the case of state fascism in Japan) or too little unity (as in totalitarian communism) produces undesirable socio-political results. These divisions within a society are overlaid by various cultural and social ideas and values that often reinforce the divisions.

Political Variables

The social divisions and the ideological justifications for these, in turn, affect political decisions as regards the running of government itself. An example of an important decision with long-range political implications can be taken from feudalism. In feudalism the key political struggle is between the nobles and the king. The decisions to set up China's mandarin class and Russia's military-service gentry split these noble classes into two disunited camps. If it had not been for these splits, the nobles might have been able to offer significant resistance to governmental autocracy. Such decisions as these affect the type of socio-political system that a society develops later in time.

The chart below outlines the influences of the many factors discussed. (The more secondary causes are so numerous that they have been left out in order to avoid giving the chart a cluttered appearance.)

Reading the Ecological Map

Examining a relief map with an ecological perspective, one sees those areas and nations most likely to have the worst problems of political disunity and slow economic development. These areas were on the main trade routes and subject to settlement by myriads of different peoples and constant invasions and strife.

India is a case in point. This country has great topographic diversity. There are three main geographic regions: high Himalayan mountain wall, bounding the country on the north; flat Indo-Gangetic Plain, extending in a swath across India from to the Sundarbans; and the peninsula, including the southern tableland of the Deccan Plateau. Major river systems are associated with each main region. India is divided by chains of low mountains and hills lying roughly west to east across central India and along peninsular coasts. Desert and arid regions of west-central India contrast with heavy forestation in eastern areas and elsewhere. Of special significance was the attraction exerted by the fertile Indo-Gangetic Plain on the peoples inhabiting Central Asia and West Asia. Over the millennia, numerous migrants came and stayed. The geographic boundaries then isolated these people and their ways of life from others. Within the subcontinent, hills, heavy forests, or deserts separated fertile zones from each other and thus slowed the process of cultural diffusion, and political unification. Five major core regions developed geopolitically and culturally: the northwest, north central, northeast, western peninsula, and the southern peninsula. Each developed by itself, thus creating the several "Little Traditions" of India that came within the "Great Tradition" of Indian civilization.

The great geographic diversity and location of India led to considerable disunity in the country. This expressed itself in the country's ethnic and linguistic complexity, which is unparalleled in virtually any other country in the world. There was so much religious diversity in the country that the Moslems formed the two nations of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Moreover, there are sixteen official languages, of which English and Hindi have all-India status. In addition, there are hundreds of other languages and dialects, including a total of some fifty major regional tongues.

The next most difficult situation occurs in China, Russia, and those parts of eastern Europe that were on or near the great steppe. High degrees of population heterogeneity and/or repeated invasions and occupation characterized these nations. An additional problem for Russia was its isolation from the west. Most of Russia is one enormous plain, which was originally the floor of an ocean that stretched from the Arctic to the Black and Caspian Sea. The steppe-lands begin in Hungary and stretch eastward into Asia until they reach Manchuria, the northernmost province of China. To the east of Manchuria lies the Sea of Japan. To the west lies Mongolia, which from time immemorial, like the rest of the steppe-lands, has been inhabited by tribes of nomads. Russia's open and vulnerable geographic situation brought forth Mongol invasions that subsequently walled off Russia from its western neighbors.

The flatness of the great steppes of Russia contributed somewhat to the limited linguistic and cultural homogeneity of the country during its early development. Given so few natural barriers to internal migration, early Russian culture was national. The Russian plain also facilitated the establishment and maintenance of a single political system. However, the plain was so vast and the population so sparse that there was little contact among the Slavic groups. Consequently, their development into a politically united nation was very slow. This development was further hindered by the fact that the various tribes in each group struggled continually among themselves for the mastery of their group.

Another source of diversity in Russia was the constant invasions of the country. There were at least eight invasions in historical times: the Scythians; the Sarmatians; the Huns; the Avars; Khazars; the fierce Pechenegs; the Polovtsy; and the all-conquering Mongols. Partly as a result, within her borders, modern Russia contains more than one hundred nationalities.

China's development was somewhat hampered by ethnic diversity, but the primary obstacle was invasion by occupying forces. In the third century B.C. China constructed the Great Wall to keep out the nomadic "barbarians". The wall is as much an economic boundary as a fortification. Its serpentine route across northern China tends to follow fairly well the boundary (determined by climate and soil) of the feasible cultivation of grain by traditional methods.

Returning to the ecological map, a more favorable geographic location is the area that became Germany. That nation had less heterogeneity in its population than the nations discussed above. However, there was still considerable heterogeneity in the area. Germany had no settled natural frontiers, except perhaps in the south, where the Alps erected a massive barrier. The plain of northern Europe extending from the English Channel across Germany and Russia into Asia was not marked by any important uplands. Through the centuries, armies and migrations have been able to cross and recross this plain almost at will. Many scholars feel that this lack of protective geographical features and the resultant near continuous fighting between England and France on the west and Russia on the east has caused the heavy military emphasis in German history (Dill 198 :3).

There is a danger in being too isolated and too homogeneous. Such is the case for Japan. Its rice culture and homogeneous people made for a unified society and culture. But Japan's physical isolation added to its insularity. These forces produced too much homogeneity so that the socio-political system that developed was too centralized around the person of the emperor.

France had a more beneficent blend of ecological variables. However, it did suffer from considerable heterogeneity in its population. After all, France was the meeting place of cultures and peoples moving towards the west. Modern France is the result of the descendants of peoples who moved into the country along three routes in prehistoric and early historic times. The first movement was via the Mediterranean seaboard up the valley of the Rhone, which produced a Mediterranean type of people. The second movement was along the Alpine zone into the areas of the French Alps and the Central Massif. These people, known as the Alpine type, were of a peasant culture. The third movement of peoples was from the lowland of central Europe. Repeated invasions came from this area. These fair-skinned people were of the Nordic type. Their northern lands were agriculturally poor, so that in earlier times stock raising was an important feature of their economy, and their society was consequently more mobile and martial than those of the cultivating peasantries of the more southerly regions. In the first millennium B.C. Celts (another Nordic type of people) invaded France and gradually imposed themselves as a sort of ruling class. Their tribal leaders became the landlords of great estates and their descendants gave France her first name, Gaul.

France lacked the unity that England had. For instance, it did not achieve a common language until many centuries after England had established such homogeneity. In fact, it was not until the seventeenth century that the idea of a standard spoken language became reality. Developments in France were also hampered by repeated territorial struggles, especially with Germany.

The most beneficent ecological mix occurred in England. Because of its partial isolation it could have its cake and it eat too. The nation could be isolated from continental conflicts to a considerable extent, while close enough to partake of the benefits of trade. Its relatively homogeneous people (but not too homogeneous as was the case for Japan) allowed the development of considerable political unity.

From this discussion it should be clear that the "isms" of moralism and culturalism cannot explain the development of the many different socio-political systems. It is not superior races or superior cultures that account for this diversity, but rather the great variety in the world's ecology (which, in turn, affects other important causal factors).

 

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