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Machiavellism - Small-scale Societies And Kingdoms

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Linear expansivity to Macrocosm and microcosmMachiavellism - Small-scale Societies And Kingdoms, Ancient China, Ancient India, Europe, Machiavellian Rule

Small-Scale Societies and Kingdoms

"Stateless" societies have no formal structure of government or any formal authorities. Anthropologists have made it clear that there are very few stateless societies in which violence is rare. Machiavellian deception makes its appearance wherever vengeance is taken and wars are fought. The best-known account of a violent, often deceptive people is Napoleon Chagnon's often controverted description of the Yanomamö, who live on the borderland between Brazil and Venezuela. In their chronic wars between villages, they make use of what is translated as "dastardly tricks." What was actually a raiding party once came to a village under the pretense of teaching the men of the village how to pray to a spirit that gives machetes and cooking pots. When the villagers knelt to pray to the spirit, the raiders killed them.

War, generally on Machiavellian principles, is frequent among the more organized societies called "chiefdoms." An anthropologist who studied warfare in the chiefdoms of both Oceania and North America found that it has been frequent and acute. Thus Fiji had many ruthless rulers and ruthless wars, while in North America, warfare in the form of small-scale raids seems to have been inseparable from tribal culture. In New Guinea, the surest route to leadership was by means of bold or sly killing. Some societies favored ambushing, some the destruction of property or kidnapping, and some the driving away or exterminating of the enemy. Stealthy, often treacherous raiding was usual.

In considering the Machiavellian traits of kingdoms or empires, one should at least mention those of South and Central America and Africa. The Incas justified their conquests by the claim that all other peoples had originated from them and therefore had to serve them, give them much of their wealth, and provide them—without showing any signs of grief—with children for sacrifices. The Aztecs' belief that the sun and the powers of the earth would die unless fed with human blood created a need for sacrificial victims and the wars to provide them. That Machiavellism was involved is proved by the fact that most of the victims were from other tribes, whose towns the Aztecs wrecked, whose fields they burned, and whose people they raped and murdered.

Among the African kings, the one best known for ruthlessness was Shaka (c. 1787–1828). By the conquest of many nearby peoples, he created the Zulu empire. Purposely enigmatic and frightening, and informed by a network of spies, he was as ruthless within his own country as outside it. When he gave orders to exterminate all the members of a tribe, he explained that he did so because otherwise the children would grow into possible enemies. Any relative or important person he had any reason to suspect was killed. His justification for his cruelty was that only the fear of death made it possible to hold together the many unruly clans of what would one day be a nation.

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