...............this is a book libertarians with an enthusiasm for history will find very, very interesting indeed — though probably not so much for its extremely illuminating discussion of Southeast Asian history as for its even more illuminating observations on the place of the state in human history generally.
"Until shortly before the common era," Scott writes, which is to say the last 2000 years, "the very last 1 percent of human history, the social landscape consisted of elementary self-governing kinship units that might, occasionally, cooperate in hunting, feasting, skirmishing, trading, and peacemaking. It did not contain anything one could call a state. In other words, living in the absence of state structures has been the standard human condition."
According to Scott, world history may be divided intofour eras: 1) a stateless era (by far the longest), 2) an era of small-scale states encircled by vast and easily reached stateless peripheries, 3) a period in which such peripheries are shrunken and beleaguered by the expansion of state power, and finally, 4) an era in which virtually the entire globe is 'administered space' and the periphery is not much more than a folkloric remnant. The progression from one era to the next has been very uneven geographically (China and Europe being more precocious than, say, Southeast Asia and Africa) and temporally (with peripheries growing and shrinking depending on the vagaries of state-making). But about the long-run trend there can be not a shred of doubt.
The very earliest states in China and Egypt — and later, Chandra-Gupta India, classical Greece, and republican Rome — were, in demographic terms, insignificant. They occupied a minuscule portion of the world's landscape, and their subjects were no more than a rounding error in the world's population figures. In mainland Southeast Asia, where the first states appear only around the middle of the first millennium of the common era [around 1500 years ago] their mark on the landscape and its peoples is relatively trivial when compared with their oversized place in the history books. Small, moated, and walled centers together with their tributary villages, these little nodes of hierarchy and power were both unstable and geographically confined. To an eye not yet hypnotized by archaeological remains and state-centric histories, the landscape would have seemed virtually all periphery and no centers. Nearly all the population and territory were outside their ambit.
an ingathering of previously stateless peoples. Some subjects were no doubt attracted to the possibilities for trade, wealth, and status available at the court centers, while others, almost certainly the majority, were captives and slaves seized in warfare or purchased from slave-raiders. The vast "barbarian" periphery of these small states was … the source of hundreds of important trade goods and forest products necessary to the prosperity of the … state … [as well as] the most important trade good in circulation: the human captives who formed the working capital of any successful state. What we know of the classical states such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome, as well as the early Khmer, Thai, and Burmese states, suggests that most of their subjects were formally unfree: slaves, captives, and their descendants.
their subsistence routines, their social organization … and many elements of their culture … are purposefully crafted both to thwart incorporation into nearby states and to minimize the likelihood that statelike concentrations of power will arise among them. State evasion and state prevention permeate their practices and, often, their ideology as well.
Another way of saying this might be that densely populated, prosperous trading centers, where civilization exists in its most advanced form are usually taken over by a state of some kind before they have been densely populated, prosperous trading centers for very long. The same might be said about the more prosperous and more densely populated farm towns. In effect, ironically, the state is the price of civilization — not, as the statists believe, because the state is necessary to safeguard or protect civilization, but rather because it is civilization the state fastens upon like a leech or a tapeworm, because the most civilized societies are the wealthiest and thus the most profitable to loot. If you want to live in a civilized place, you'll probably have to put up with the state. Faced with that dilemma, there have been a lot of people who have chosen to walk away from civilization and thereby escape the state rather than stay in civilization and attempt to reform or abolish the state.
Of course, as Scott notes, in the early state's propaganda counseling against any such walking away from civilization, "the linkage between being civilized and being a subject of the state is … taken for granted." And countless generations of historians have followed the lead of the early state's court intellectuals and cheerfully "confounded 'civilization' with what was, in fact, state-making." As a result, Scott argues, we find ourselves today with a "huge literature on state-making, contemporary and historic, [that] pays virtually no attention to its obverse: the history of deliberate and reactive statelessness. This is the history of those who got away."
At a time when the state seems pervasive and inescapable, it is easy to forget that for much of history, living within or outside the state — or in an intermediate zone — was a choice, one that might be revised as the circumstances warranted. A wealthy and peaceful state center might attract a growing population that found its advantages rewarding.
Still, "it appears that much, if not most, of the population of the early states was unfree; they were subjects under duress." And "it was very common for state subjects to run away." For "living within the state meant, virtually by definition, taxes, conscription, corvée labor" — that is, forced, unpaid, short-term labor, such as being required to work a day or two unpaid on a road-repair crew — "and, for most, a condition of servitude."
Thus the early state extruded populations as readily as it absorbed them, and when, as was often the case, it collapsed altogether as the result of war, drought, epidemic, or civil strife over succession, its populations were disgorged. States were, by no means, a once-and-for-all creation. Innumerable archaeological finds of state centers that briefly flourished and were then eclipsed by warfare, epidemics, famine, or ecological collapse depict a long history of state formation and collapse rather than permanence. For long periods people moved in and out of states, and "stateness" was, itself, often cyclical and reversible.
Of course, it wasn't only famine, epidemics, or internal struggles for political power that brought down these fragile early states. At least as often, it was greed. As Scott observes, "one might have expected statecraft to consist in sailing as close to the wind as they could: that is, in extracting resources just short of the point at which they would provoke flight or rebellion. … [T]his would be the most reasonable strategy." But it wasn't the strategy most of these early states actually pursued.
For example, the early rulers in Southeast Asia knew that the fiscal capacity of the population varied widely, as it would in any agrarian economy, from season to season depending on harvest fluctuations due to weather, pests, and crop diseases. Even theft and banditry could be a factor here: concentrated above-ground grain crops were just as big a temptation to gangs of thieves, rebels, or rival kingdoms as they were to the state. Allowing for the great variation in the cultivators' capacity to pay year by year would have required the crown to sacrifice its own fiscal demands for the welfare of its peasantry. All the evidence suggests that, quite to the contrary, the precolonial and colonial states tried to guarantee themselves a steady take, at the expense of their subjects. …
As long as even the most successful states were adjacent to areas they couldn't control, however, the oppressed people still had somewhere else to go. "Until at least the early nineteenth century," Scott writes, "the difficulties of transportation, the state of military technology, and, above all, demographic realities placed sharp limits on the reach of even the most ambitious states." In Southeast Asia, for example, in 1600, the population density was "only 5.5 persons per square kilometer … (compared with roughly 35 for India and China)," so that any ruler's subjects in Southeast Asia "had relatively easy access to a vast, land-rich frontier." And just beyond that frontier lay the uplands, the highlands, the hills, "an area roughly the size of Europe" which Scott, in common with increasing numbers of historians and social scientists, calls "Zomia."
Zomia is a new name for virtually all the lands at altitudes above roughly three hundred meters all the way from the Central Highlands of Vietnam to northeastern India and traversing five Southeast Asian nations (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Burma) and four provinces of China. … It is an expanse of 2.5 million square kilometers containing about one hundred million … peoples … at the periphery of nine states.
Their political structures are, with extremely rare exceptions, imitative in the sense that while they may have the trappings and rhetoric of monarchy, they lack the substance: a taxpaying subject population or direct control over their constituent units, let alone a standing army.
it presents two fundamentally different types of political organization. This difference is not one of degree, but of kind. It does not do to take the one type as merely marking a lower order of civilization and the other a higher; they are commonly so taken, but erroneously. Still less does it do to classify both as species of the same genus — to classify both under the generic name of "government," though this also, until very lately, has always been done, and has always led to confusion and misunderstanding.
is in the common understanding and common agreement of society; … [G]overnment implements the common desire of society, first, for freedom, and second, for security. Beyond this it does not go; it contemplates no positive intervention upon the individual, but only a negative intervention.
the code of government should be that of the legendary king Pausole, who prescribed but two laws for his subjects, the first being, Hurt no man, and the second, Then do as you please; and … the whole business of government should be the purely negative one of seeing that this code is carried out.
did not originate in the common understanding and agreement of society; it originated in conquest and confiscation. Its intention, far from contemplating "freedom and security," contemplated nothing of the kind. It contemplated primarily the continuous economic exploitation of one class by another, and it concerned itself with only so much freedom and security as was consistent with this primary intention; and this was, in fact, very little. Its primary function or exercise was not by way of … purely negative interventions upon the individual, but by way of innumerable and most onerous positive interventions, all of which were for the purpose of maintaining the stratification of society into an owning and exploiting class, and a propertyless dependent class. The order of interest that it reflected was not social, but purely antisocial; and those who administered it, judged by the common standard of ethics, or even the common standard of law as applied to private persons, were indistinguishable from a professional-criminal class.