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Emet m'Tsiyon

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Sociology of Arab Imperialism, according to Joseph Schumpeter - Part One

Arab imperialism had specific sociological-economic features which are described by Joseph Schumpeter. This author was a famous economist in the early and mid-20th century. He belonged to the so-called Austrian School of economics and he was not a socialist, although at certain periods he associated with some Marxian socialist economists on a committee. His important work was written from the first decade of the 20th century up to 1950 when he died in the United States. I agree with most of what he says about Arab imperialism, although there are probably a few minor points that I would not agree with. Without being a socialist or Marxist, he was influenced by them at least in the sense that he was interested in exploring some of the same categories and phenomena that they considered important.

His writings on imperialism quoted here seem to go back to the 1930s.

In order to illuminate especially the character of the religious brand of imperialism, let us briefly discuss the case of the Arabs. The relevant facts are simple and uncontroverted. The Arabs were mounted nomads, a persistent warrior type, like the nomadic Mongol horsemen. At heart they have remained just that, despite all modifications of culture and organization. Only at a late date and incompletely did portions of the Arab people relinquish the equestrian profession --no one readjusts so slowly and with such difficulty as the mounted nomad. Such people are never able to support themselves alone, and in Arabia they constituted a master class that systematically exploited for its own purposes, sometimes by means of outright robbery, the (likewise Semitic) population that had settled here and there and was engaged in agriculture and trade. Internally the Arabs were organized along thoroughly democratic lines, again like all mounted nomads. It was a gentile [clan] and patriarchal type of democracy, in keeping with the "relations of production" that prevailed among a nation of herdsmen and horsemen, and quite different from agrarian and urban democracy -- but democracy all the same in the sense that all members of the nation carried political weight and that all political expression grew from the people as a whole. The Arabs were divided into loosely knit tribes, headed by a freely elected sheik or emir who was dependent, in all affairs of importance, on the assent of the clan chiefs. The stock from which the tribes developed constituted the primary community, the fundamental social bond.
[Joseph Schumpeter, Imperialism / Social Classes (New York: Meridian, 1955), pp 34-35]

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to be continued
Coming soon: more on the status of Jews in Arab-Muslim society

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