June 19, 2006

Quote of the Day

Prior to the miracle of Civil Society, human societies habitually lived under coercive and superstitious systems, and generally took such a condition for granted. They were right to do so. There was no alternative. Within such societies, the maintenance of the social order was normally quite properly accorded far more importance than any possible augmentation of the cognitive capital or of productive potential, if indeed those things were valued at all, or held to be attainable or even conceivable. All this was reflected in the values pervading agrarian societies; these values led to a reverence of martial and hieratic skills, a Rule of the Red and the Black. They did not lead to any great respect or encouragement of productive capacity or of intellectual innovation. The specialist was often the object of contempt or fear or both. This, once again, is the normal social condition of mankind. It is foolish to expect anything else.

Then, on one occasion, something strange and unusual happened. Certain societies, whose internal organization and ethos shifted away from predation and credulity to production and a measure of intellectual liberty and genuine exploration of nature, became richer and, strangely enough, even more effective militarily than the societies based on and practicing the old martial values. Nations of shopkeepers, such as the Dutch and the English, organized in relatively liberal polities, repeatedly beat nations within which martial and ostentatious aristocracies, addicted to the values of aggression and conspicuous display, dominated and set the tone.

Ernest Gellner, The Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and Its Rivals .

(Alan Macfarlane lecture on Gellner, speaking as if he were Gellner. Macfarlane’s review of Conditions of Liberty.)

Posted by Lexington Green at June 19, 2006 02:58 PM
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