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SECT. III.: Of Rude Nations under the Impressions of Property and Interest. - Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society 
An Essay on the History of Civil Society, 5th ed. (London: T. Cadell, 1782).
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Of Rude Nations under the Impressions of Property and Interest.
IT was a proverbial imprecation in use among the hunting nations on the confines of Siberia, That their enemy might be obliged to live like a Tartar, and have the folly of troubling himself with the charge of cattle* . Nature, it seems, in their apprehension, by storing the woods and the desert with game, rendered the task of the herdsman unnecessary, and left to man only the trouble of selecting and of seizing his prey.
The indolence of mankind, or rather their aversion to any application in which they are not engaged by immediate instinct and passion, retards the progress of industry and of impropriation. It has been found, however, even while the means of subsistence are left in common, and the stock of the public is yet undivided, that property is apprehended in different subjects; that the fur and the bow belong to the individual; and the cottage, with its furniture, are appropriated to the family.
When the parent begins to desire a better provision for his children than is found under the promiscuous management of many copartners, when he has applied his labour and his skill apart, he aims at an exclusive possession, and seeks the property of the soil, as well as the use of its fruits.
When the individual no longer finds among his associates the same inclination to commit every subject to public use, he is seized with concern for his personal fortune; and is alarmed by the cares which every person entertains for himself. He is urged as much by emulation and jealousy, as by the sense of necessity. He suffers considerations of interest to rest on his mind, and when every present appetite is sufficiently gratified, he can act with a view to futurity, or rather finds an object of vanity in having amassed what is become a subject of competition, and a matter of universal esteem. Upon this motive, where violence is restrained, he can apply his hand to lucrative arts, confine himself to a tedious task, and wait with patience for the distant returns of his labour.
Thus mankind acquire industry by many and by slow degrees. They are taught to regard their interest; they are restrained from rapine; and they are secured in the possession of what they fairly obtain; by these methods the habits of the labourer, the mechanic, and the trader, are gradually formed. A hoard, collected from the simple productions of nature, or a herd of cattle, are, in every rude nation, the first species of wealth. The circumstances of the soil, and the climate, determine whether the inhabitant shall apply himself chiefly to agriculture or pasture; whether he shall fix his residence, or be moving continually about with all his possessions.
In the west of Europe; in America, from south to north, with a few exceptions; in the torrid zone, and every where within the warmer climates; mankind have generally applied themselves to some species of agriculture, and have been disposed to settlement. In the north and middle region of Asia, they depended entirely on their herds, and were perpetually shifting their ground in search of new pasture. The arts which pertain to settlement have been practised, and variously cultivated, by the inhabitants of Europe. Those which are consistent with perpetual migration, have, from the earliest accounts of history, remained nearly the same with the Scythian or Tartar. The tent pitched on a moveable carriage, the horse applied to every purpose of labour, and of war, of the dairy, and of the butcher’s stall, from the earliest to the latest accounts, have made up the riches and equipage of this wandering people.
But in whatever way rude nations subsist, there are certain points in which, under the first impressions of property, they nearly agree. Homer either lived with a people in this stage of their progress, or found himself engaged to exhibit their character. Tacitus had made them the subject of a particular treatise; and if this be an aspect under which mankind deserve to be viewed, it must be confessed, that we have singular advantages in collecting their features. The portrait has already been drawn by the ablest hands, and gives, at one view, in the writings of these celebrated authors, whatever has been scattered in the relations of historians, or whatever we have opportunities to observe in the actual manners of men, who still remain in a similar state.
In passing from the condition we have described, to this we have at present in view, mankind still retain many marks of their earliest character. They are still averse to labour, addicted to war, admirers of fortitude, and, in the language of Tacitus, more lavish of their blood than of their sweat* . They are fond of fantastic ornaments in their dress, and endeavour to fill up the listless intervals of a life addicted to violence, with hazardous sports, and with games of chance. Every servile occupation they commit to women or slaves. But we may apprehend, that the individual having now found a separate interest, the bands of society must become less firm, and domestic disorders more frequent. The members of every community, being distinguished among themselves by unequal possessions, the ground of a permanent and palpable subordination is laid.
These particulars accordingly take place among mankind, in passing from the savage to what may be called the barbarous state. Members of the same community enter into quarrels of competition or revenge. They unite in the following leaders, who are distinguished by their fortunes, and by the lustre of their birth. They join the desire of spoil with the love of glory; and from an opinion, that what is acquired by force justly pertains to the victor, they become hunters of men, and bring every contest to the decision of the sword.
Every nation is a band of robbers, who prey without restraint, or remorse, on their neighbours. Cattle, says Achilles, may be seized in every field; and the coasts of the Ægean sea were accordingly pillaged by the heroes of Homer, for no other reason than because those heroes chose to possess themselves of the brass and iron, the cattle, the slaves, and the women, which were found among the nations around them.
A Tartar mounted on his horse, is an animal of prey, who only inquires where cattle are to be found, and how far he must go to possess them. The monk, who had fallen under the displeasure of Mangu Chan, made his peace, by promising, that the Pope, and the Christian princes, should make a surrender of all their herds* .
A similar spirit reigned, without exception, in all the barbarous nations of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The antiquities of Greece and Italy, and the fables of every ancient poet, contain examples of its force. It was this spirit that brought our ancestors first into the provinces of the Roman empire; and that afterward, more perhaps than their reverence for the cross, led them to the East, to share with the Tartars in the spoils of the Saracen empire.
From the descriptions contained in the last section, we may incline to believe, that mankind, in their simplest state, are on the eve of erecting republics. Their love of equality, their habit of assembling in public councils, and their zeal for the tribe to which they belong, are qualifications that fit them to act under that species of government; and they seem to have but a few steps to make, in order to reach its establishment. They have only to define the numbers of which their councils shall consist, and to settle the forms of their meeting: They have only to bestow a permanent authority for repressing disorders, and to enact a few rules in favour of that justice they have already acknowledged, and from inclination so strictly observe.
But these steps are far from being so easily made, as they appear on a slight or a transient view. The resolution of chusing, from among their equals, the magistrate to whom they give from thenceforward a right to controul their own actions, is far from the thoughts of simple men; and no persuasion, perhaps, could make them adopt this measure, or give them any sense of its use.
Even after nations have chosen a military leader they do not intrust him with any species of civil authority. The captain, among the Caribbees did not pretend to decide in domestic disputes; the terms jurisdiction and government were unknown in their tongue* .
Before this important change was admitted, men must be accustomed to the distinction of ranks; and before they are sensible that subordination is requisite, they must have arrived at unequal conditions by chance. In desiring property, they only mean to secure their subsistence; but the brave who lead in war, have likewise the largest share in its spoils. The eminent are fond of devising hereditary honours; and the multitude, who admire the parent, are ready to extend their esteem to his offspring.
Possessions descend, and the lustre of family grows brighter with age. Hercules, who perhaps was an eminent warrior, became a god with posterity, and his race was set apart for royalty and sovereign power. When the distinctions of fortune and those of birth are conjoined, the chieftain enjoys a pre-eminence, as well at the feast as in the field. His followers take their place in subordinate stations; and instead of considering themselves as parts of a community, they rank as the followers of a chief, and take their designation from the name of their leader. They find a new object of public affection, in defending his person, and in supporting his station; they lend of their substance to form his estate; they are guided by his smiles and his frowns; and court, as the highest distinction, a share in the feast which their own contributions have furnished.
As the former state of mankind seemed to point at democracy, this seems to exhibit the rudiments of monarchical government. But it is yet far short of that establishment which is known in after-ages by the name of monarchy. The distinction between the leader and the follower, the prince and the subject, is still but imperfectly marked: Their pursuits and occupations are not different; their minds are not unequally cultivated; they feed from the same dish; they sleep together on the ground; the children of the King, as well as those of the subject, are employed in tending the flock; and the keeper of the swine was a prime counsellor at the court of Ulysses.
The chieftain, sufficiently distinguished from his tribe, to excite their admiration, and to flatter their vanity by a supposed affinity to his noble descent, is the object of their veneration, not of their envy: He is considered as the common bond of connection, not as their common master; is foremost in danger, and has a principal share in their troubles: His glory is placed in the number of his attendants, in his superior magnanimity and valour; that of his followers, in being ready to shed their blood in his service* .
The frequent practice of war tends to strengthen the bands of society, and the practice of depredation itself engages men in trials of mutual attachment and courage. What threatened to ruin and overset every good disposition in the human breast, what seemed to banish justice from the societies of men, tends to unite the species in clans and fraternities; formidable, indeed, and hostile to one another, but, in the domestic society of each, faithful, disinterested, and generous. Frequent dangers, and the experience of fidelity and valour, awaken the love of those virtues, render them a subject of admiration, and endear their possessors.
Actuated by great passions, the love of glory, and the desire of victory; roused by the menaces of an enemy, or stung with revenge; in suspense between the prospects of ruin or conquest, the barbarian spends every moment of relaxation in sloth. He cannot descend to the pursuits of industry or mechanical labour: The beast of prey is a sluggard; the hunter and the warrior sleeps, while women or slaves are made to toil for his bread. But shew him a quarry at a distance, he is bold, impetuous, artful, and rapacious: No bar can withstand his violence, and no fatigue can allay his activity.
Even under this description, mankind are generous and hospitable to strangers, as well as kind, affectionate, and gentle, in their domestic society* . Friendship and enmity are to them terms of the greatest importance: They mingle not their functions together; they have singled out their enemy, and they have chosen their friend. Even in depredation, the principal object is glory; and spoil is considered as the badge of victory. Nations and tribes are their prey: The solitary travelier, by whom they can acquire only the reputation of generosity, is suffered to pass unhurt, or is treated with splendid munificence.
Though distinguished into small cantons under their several chieftains, and for the most part separated by jealousy and animosity; yet when pressed by wars and formidable enemies, they sometimes unite in greater bodies. Like the Greeks in their expedition to Troy, they follow some remarkable leader, and compose a kingdom of many separate tribes. But such coalitions are merely occasional; and even during their continuance, more resemble a republic than monarchy. The inferior chieftains reserve their importance, and intrude, with an air of equality, into the councils of their leader, as the people of their several clans commonly intrude upon them* . Upon what motive indeed could we suppose, that men who live together in the greatest familiarity, and amongst whom the distinctions of rank are so obscurely marked, would resign their personal sentiments and inclinations, or pay an implicit submission to a leader who can neither overawe nor corrupt?
Military force must be employed to extort, or the hire of the venal to buy, that engagement which the Tartar comes under to his prince, when he promises, “That he will go where he shall be commanded; that he will come when he shall be called; that he will kill whoever is pointed out to him; and, for the future, that he will consider the voice of the King as a sword† .”
These are the terms to which even the stubborn heart of the barbarian has been reduced, in consequence of a despotism he himself had established; and men have, in that low state of the commercial arts, in Europe, as well as in Asia, tasted of political slavery. When interest prevails in every breast, the sovereign and his party cannot escape the infection: He employs the force with which he is intrusted, to turn his people into a property, and to command their possessions for his profit or his pleasure. If riches are by any people made the standard of good or of evil, let them beware of the powers they intrust to their prince. “With the Suiones,” says Tacitus, “riches are in high esteem; and this people are accordingly disarmed, and reduced to slavery* .”
It is in this woful condition that mankind, being slavish, interested, insidious, deceitful, and bloody, bear marks, if not of the least curable, surely of the most lamentable sort of corruption† . Among them, war is the mere practice of rapine, to enrich the individual; commerce is turned into a system of snares and impositions; and government by turns oppressive or weak.
It were happy for the human race, when guided by interest, and not governed by laws, that being split into nations of a moderate extent, they found in every canton some natural bar to its farther enlargement, and met with occupation enough in maintaining their independence, without being able to extend their dominion.
There is not disparity of rank, among men in rude ages, sufficient to give their communities the form of legal monarchy; and in a territory of considerable extent, when united under one head, the warlike and turbulent spirit of its inhabitants seems to require the bridle of despotism and military force. Where any degree of freedom remains, the powers of the prince are, as they were in most of the rude monarchies of Europe, extremely precarious, and depend chiefly on his personal character: Where, on the contrary, the powers of the prince are above the controul of his people, they are likewise above the restrictions of justice. Rapacity and terror become the predominant motives of conduct, and form the character of the only parties into which mankind are divided, that of the oppressor, and that of the oppressed.
This calamity threatened Europe for ages, under the conquest and settlement of its new inhabitants* . It has actually taken place in Asia, where similar conquests have been made; and even without the ordinary opiates of effeminacy, or a servile weakness, founded on luxury, it has surprized the Tartar on his wain, in the rear of his herds. Among this people, in the heart of a great continent, bold and enterprising warriors arose: They subdued by surprize, or superior abilities, the contiguous hordes; they gained, in their progress, accessions of numbers and of strength; and, like a torrent increasing as it descends, became too strong for any bar that could be opposed to their passage. The conquering tribe, during a succession of ages, furnished the prince with his guards; and while they themselves were allowed to share in its spoils, were the voluntary tools of oppression. In this manner has despotism and corruption found their way into regions so much renowned for the wild freedom of nature: A power which was the terror of every effeminate province is disarmed, and the nursery of nations is itself gone to decay* .
Where rude nations escape this calamity, they require the exercise of foreign wars to maintain domestic peace; when no enemy appears from abroad, they have leisure for private feuds, and employ that courage in their dissensions at home, which, in time of war, is employed in defence of their country.
“Among the Gauls,” says Cæsar, “there are subdivisions, not only in every nation, and in every district and village, but almost in every house, every one must fly to some patron for protection* . In this distribution of parties, not only the feuds of clans, but the quarrels of families, even the differences and competitions of individuals, are decided by force. The sovereign, when unassisted by superstition, endeavours in vain to employ his jurisdiction, or to procure a submission to the decisions of law. By a people who are accustomed to owe their possessions to violence, and who despise fortune itself without the reputation of courage, no umpire is admitted but the sword. Scipio offered his arbitration to terminate the competition of two Spaniards in a disputed succession: “That,” said they, “we have already refused to our relations: We do not submit our difference to the judgement of men; and even among the gods, we appeal to Mars alone† .”
It is well known that the nations of Europe carried this mode of proceeding to a degree of formality unheard-of in other parts of the world: The civil and criminal judge could, in most cases, do no more than appoint the lists, and leave the parties to decide their cause by the combat: they apprehended that the victor had a verdict of the gods in his favour: and when they dropped in any instance this extraordinary form of process, they substituted in its place some other more capricious appeal to chance; in which they likewise thought that the judgment of the gods was declared.
The fierce nations of Europe were even fond of the combat as an exercise and a sport. In the absence of real quarrels, companions challenged each other to a trial of skill, in which one of them frequently perished. When Scipio celebrated the funeral of his father and his uncle, the Spaniards came in pairs to fight, and, by a public exhibition of their duels, to increase the solemnity* .
In this wild and lawless state, where the effects of true religion would have been so desirable, and so salutary, superstition frequently disputes the ascendant even with the admiration of valour; and an order of men, like the Druids among the ancient Gauls and Britons† , or some pretender to divination, as at the Cape of Good Hope, finds, in the credit which is paid to his sorcery, a way to the possession of power: His magic wand comes in competition with the sword itself; and, in the manner of the Druids, gives the first rudiments of civil government to some, or, like the supposed descendent of the Sun among the Natchez, and the Lama among the Tartars, to others, an early taste of despotism and absolute slavery.
We are generally at a loss to conceive how mankind can subsist under customs and manners extremely different from our own; and we are apt to exaggerate the misery of barbarous times, by an imagination of what we ourselves should suffer in a situation to which we are not accustomed. But every age hath its consolations, as well as its sufferings* . In the interval of occasional outrages, the friendly intercourse of men, even in their rudest condition, is affectionate and happy† . In rude ages, the persons and properties of individuals are secure; because each has a friend, as well as an enemy; and if the one is disposed to molest, the other is ready to protect; and the very admiration of valour, which in some instances tends to sanctify violence, inspires likewise certain maxims of generosity and honour, that tend to prevent the commission of wrongs.
Men bear with the defects of their policy, as they do with hardships and inconveniencies in their manner of living. The alarms and the fatigues of war become a necessary recreation to those who are accustomed to them, and who have the tone of their passions raised above less animating or trying occasions. Old men, among the courtiers of Attila, wept when they heard of heroic deeds, which they themselves could no longer perform* . And among the Celtic nations, when age rendered the warrior unfit for his former toils, it was the custom, in order to abridge the languors of a listless and inactive life, to sue for death at the hands of his friends† .
With all this ferocity of spirit, the rude nations of the West were subdued by the policy and more regular warfare of the Romans. The point of honour which the barbarians of Europe adopted as individuals, exposed them to a peculiar disadvantage, by rendering them, even in their national wars, averse to assailing their enemy by surprise, or taking the benefit of stratagem; and though separately bold and intrepid, yet, like other rude nations, they were, when assembled in great bodies, addicted to superstition, and subject to panics.
They were, from a consciousness of their personal courage and force, sanguine on the eve of battle; they were, beyond the bounds of moderation, elated on success, and dejected in adversity; and being disposed to consider every event as a judgment of the gods, they were never qualified by an uniform application of prudence to make the most of their forces, to repair their misfortunes, or to improve their advantages.
Resigned to the government of affection and passion, they were generous and faithful where they had fixed an attachment; implacable, froward, and cruel, where they had conceived a dislike: addicted to debauchery, and the immoderate use of intoxicating liquors, they deliberated on the affairs of state in the heat of their riot; and in the same dangerous moments, conceived the designs of military enterprise, or terminated their domestic dissensions by the dagger or the sword.
In their wars they preferred death to captivity. The victorious armies of the Romans, in entering a town by assault, or in forcing an incampment, have found the mother in the act of destroying her children, that they might not be taken; and the dagger of the parent, red with the blood of his family, ready to be plunged at last into his own breast* .
In all these particulars, we perceive that vigour of spirit, which renders disorder itself respectable, and which qualifies men, if fortunate in their situation, to lay the basis of domestic liberty, as well as to maintain against foreign enemies their national independence and freedom.
OF THE HISTORY OF POLICY AND ARTS.
[* ]Abulgaze’s Genealogical History of the Tartars.
[* ]Pigrum quin immo et iners videtur, sudore acquirere quod possis sanguine parare.
[* ]History of the Caribbees.
[* ]Tacitus de moribus Germanorum.
[* ]Jean du Plan Carpen. Rubruquis, Cæsar, Tacit.
[* ]Kolbe: Description of the Cape of Good Hope.
[† ]Simon de St. Quintin.
[* ]De moribus Germanorum.
[† ]Chardin’s Travels.
[* ]See Hume’s History of the Tudors. — There seemed to be nothing wanting to establish a perfect despotism in that house, but a few regiments of troops under the command of the Crown.
[* ]See the History of the Huns.
[* ]De Bello Gallico, lib. 6.
[* ]Livy, Lib. 3.
[* ]Priscus, when employed on an embassy to Attila, was accosted in Greek, by a person who wore the dress of a Scythi n. Having expressed surprize, and being desirous to know the cause of his stay in so wild a company, was told, that this Greek had been a captive, and for some time a slave, till he obtained his liberty in reward of some remarkable action. “I live more happily here,” says he, “than ever I did under the Roman government: For they who live with the Scythians, if they can endure the fatigues of war, have nothing else to molest them; they enjoy their possessions undisturbed: Whereas you are continually a prey to foreign enemies, or to bad government; you are forbid to carry arms in your own defence; you suffer from the remissness and ill conduct of those who are appointed to protect you; the evils of peace are even worse than those of war; no punishment is ever inflicted on the powerful or the rich; no mercy is shown to the poor; although your institutions were wisely devised, yet, in the management of corrupted men, their effects are pernicious and cruel.” Excerpta de legationibus.
[† ]D’Arvieux’s History of the Wild Arabs.
[* ]D’Arvieux’s History of the wild Arabs.
[* ]Liv. lib. xli. 11. Dio Cass.