Perhaps the most influential book of my liberal youth was The Dobe Ju/’hoansi by Richard Borshay Lee. In this book, the author departs from his comfortable home in Canada to go live in the South African Kalahari Desert with the ǃKung Bushmen, a society composed of about a thousand primitive hunter gatherers who had never seen a modern man. They were quite friendly and warm-heartedly welcomed him into their group.
After living with these tribespeople for a while he decided to buy them an ox as a Christmas gift. To his dismay they began insulting the gift, calling it a “bag of bones” and joking that they would have to eat the horns because there was no meat on it. Lee asked one of the wiser members of the group why they did this. He replied:
“When a young man kills much meat he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his servants or inferiors…So we always speak of his meat as worthless. This way we cool his heart and make him gentle.”
Lee’s description of primitive culture as egalitarian and even utopian shaped my way of thinking for years to come. I developed the belief that we were meant to live in primitive conditions among friends and family in a group where everyone is more or less equal. I thought of people in modern society as fish out of water, ascribing modern discontent, isolation, and boredom to the dissimilarity of our current environment with that which we were evolved to live in.
Recently, having heard conflicting reports of the personality of primitive people, I began to suspect that Dr. Lee might have misled his readers by pushing his own political agenda. I wanted to find out exactly how noble the savage really was, and began reading and watching documentaries on various hunting and gathering tribes around the world. What I found surprised me…
I learned about an Amazonian tribe where everyone commits suicide at around the age of thirty.
In another more murderous group, sixty percent of the people died of homicide.
I watched one scene of a tribe that valued honesty in trade, using it to build bonds between clans. This was done to the extent that they would sometimes exchange goods and twenty minutes later make the exact same trade in reverse. However, in another tribe the anthropologist couldn’t keep the men from stealing from him, so he resorted to eating peanut butter as his main staple (the men wouldn’t steal it because they thought it looked like feces).
I saw one tribesman, being the first of his clan to meet a modern man, smiling from ear to ear and as friendly as you could imagine. Another video showed an island of savages so xenophobic that no one could even come close to them without an arrow being shot in their direction.
And thus I learned that there is no such thing as “the character of the savage man”. One can say that the primitive state of man is completely heterogeneous.
But what happened to this diversity? By the late 1700s nearly every advanced culture in the world had a similar political structure. Power rested in the hands of one or a few individuals in Japan, China, India, Persia, Turkey, Mexico, Peru, Egypt, and all the countries of Europe. The egalitarian power structures of the savages were gone – none had risen up.*
*an analysis of Greek Democracy or the Roman Republic is outside the scope of this article, but needless to say these systems of governance have been rare throughout history.
A Natural System
There is no record of any political ideology spurring cultures to adopt non-egalitarian, hierarchical systems. It was more of an implicit knowledge retained by the societies which survived. It is an organic system which was spared by – nay, broke the shears which pruned away the other systems. From this perspective, we can see the validity of the view of the historical Nationalists, i.e. that the state enables the individual to exist rather than the other way around.
But although the Nationalists were their intellectual predecessors, Fascists departed from their way of thinking. They observed the kingdoms and empires of history and sought to emulate them in their most idyllic scenario. Gentile spoke of a leader who, just as great artists and poets do, embodies the thought and the will of the masses. In this sense the state and the people are one and the same, acting out their history in the present moment. Although this sounds idealistic, if one can see through the anti-fascist propaganda which pervades our culture today, one can appreciate the glimmering potential that even in its short life, this form of government showed when manifested into reality.
Another Natural System
However, since WWII, liberal democracy has been spreading and traditional hierarchical rule has been receding. This phenomenon seems to undermine the argument that Fascist rule is “natural”. Could it be that by these standards, Liberal Democracy is just as “natural” a system as Fascism ever was?
To answer this question we must first look into how hierarchical societies have maintained their rule, which is by force. And, as Heinlein said, “force my friends is violence, the supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived.” Violence is found all around us in nature. It is the mechanism by which animals eat and maintain their territory. Even in the plant world you can see the slow violence of the blackberry bush as it reaches up its long vines to tear down the evergreen tree.
But there is another force in nature that is just as prevalent as violence – deception. Camouflage skin, mimicry, and feigning death are just a few examples. Deception is ubiquitous in nature. It is also the primary mechanism of rule in Liberal Democracy.
So we find that although Fascism is the ultimate system for the mass mobilization of society to physically defend itself – or achieve any of its goals; Liberal Democracy has surpassed it in its ability to fool the masses, convincing them that they are the rightful rulers of their own countries. It has also given plutocrats the ultimate platform from which to enact their actual rule.
In the end, I still yearn for a society with the closeness that the !Kung have. Although it’s impossible to achieve this kind of society on a large scale, I see that Fascism encourages friendship and camaraderie by emphasizing our common past and working together towards a brighter future. I also see the division and disunity caused by Democracy and the lack of trust brought about by having a system based on deception.