Front Page Titles (by Subject) (d) essence and issue of the maritime states - The State
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(d) essence and issue of the maritime states - Franz Oppenheimer, The State 
The State: Its History and Development viewed Sociologically, authorized translation by John M. Gitterman (New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1922).
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(d) essence and issue of the maritime states
All these are true “States” in the sociologic sense, whether they arose from the fortresses of sea-robbers, or from harbors of original land nomads as merchant colonies which obtained dominion or which amalgamated with the dominating group of the host people. For they are nothing but the organization of the political means, their form is domination, their content the economic exploitation of the subject by the master group.
So far as the principle is concerned, they are not to be differentiated from the States founded by land nomads; and yet they have taken a different form, both from internal and external reasons, and show a different psychology of classes.
One must not believe that class feeling was at all different in these and in the territorial states. Here as there the master class looks down with the same contempt on the subjects, on the “Rantuses,” on the “man with the blue fingernails,” as the German patrician in the Middle Ages looked on a being with whom, even when free born, no intermarriage or social intercourse was permitted. Little indeed does the class theory of the καλοχάγαθόι (well-born) or of the patricians (children of ancestors) differ from that of the country squires. But other circumstances here bring about differences, consonant, naturally, with class interests. In any district ruled by merchants, highway robbery can not be tolerated, and therefore it is considered, e.g., among the maritime Greeks, a vulgar crime. The tale of Theseus would not in a territorial state have been pointed against the highwaymen. On the other hand, “piracy was regarded by them, in most remote times, as a trade nowise dishonorable . . . of which ample proof may be found in the Homeric poems; while at a much later period Polycrates had organized a well developed robber-state on the island of Samos.” “In the Corpus Juris, mention is made of a law of Solon in which the association of pirates(ἐπὶ λείαν οίΧόμενοι) is recognized as a permissible company.”90
But quite apart from such details, mentioned only because they serve to cast a clear light on the growth of the “ideologic superstructure,”∗ the basic conditions of existence of maritime states, utterly different from those of territorial states, called into being two exceedingly important phenomena, which are of universal historical importance, viz., the growth of a democratic constitution, whereby the gigantic contest between the sultanism of the Orient and the civic freedom of the West was to be fought out (according to Mommsen the true content of universal history); and in the second place the development of capitalistic slave-work, which in the end was to annihilate all these states.
Let us first consider the inner or socio-psychological causes of this contrast between the territorial and the maritime state.
States are maintained by the same principle from which they arise. Conquest of land and populations is the ratio essendi of a territorial state; and by the repeated conquest of lands and populations it must grow, until its natural growth is checked by mountain ranges, desert, or ocean, or its sociological bounds are determined by contact with other states of its own kind, which it can not subjugate. The maritime state, on the other hand, came into being from piracy and trade; and through these two means, it must strive to extend its power. For this purpose, no extended territory need be absolutely subjected to its sway. There is no need to carry its development beyond the first five stages. The maritime states rarely, and only when compelled, proceed beyond the fifth stage, and attain to complete intra-nationality and amalgamation. Usually, it is enough if other sea nomads and traders are kept away, if the monopoly of robbery and trade is secured, and if the “subjects” are kept quiet by forts and garrisons. Important places of production are, of course, actually “dominated”; and this applies especially to mines, to a few fertile grain belts, to woods with good lumber, to salt works, and to important fisheries. Domination here, therefore, means permanent administration, by making the subjects work these for the ruling class. It is only later in the development, that there arises a taste for “lands and serfs” and large domains for the ruling class beyond the confines of the narrow and original limits of the State. This happens when the maritime state by the incorporation of subjugated territories has become a mixture of the territorial and the maritime forms. But even in that case, and in contradistinction to territorial states, large landed properties are merely a source of money rentals, and are in nearly all cases administered as absentee-property. This we find in Carthage and in the later Roman Empire.
The interests of the master class, which in the maritime state as well as in every other state, governs according to its own advantage, are different from those in the territorial state. In the latter the feudal territorial magnate is powerful because of his ownership of lands and people; while conversely, the patrician of the maritime city is powerful because of his wealth. The territorial magnate can dominate his “State” only by the number of men-at-arms maintained by him, and in order to have as many of these as possible, he must increase his territory as much as possible. The patrician, on the other hand, can control his “state” only by movable wealth, with which he can hire strong arms or bribe weak souls; such wealth is won faster by piracy and by trade than by land wars and the possession of large estates in distant territories. Furthermore, in order thoroughly to use such property, he would be obliged to leave his city to settle down on it, and to become a regular squire; because in a period when money has not yet become general, where a profitable division of labor between town and country has not yet come about, the exploitation of large estates can only be carried on by actually consuming their products, and absentee ownership as a source of income is inconceivable. Thus far, however, we have not reached that portion of the developments. We are still examining primitive conditions. No patrician of any city state would, at this time, think of leaving his lively rich home, in order to bury himself among barbarians, and thus with one move cut himself off in his state from any political rôle. All his economic, social and political interests impel him with one accord toward maritime ventures. Not landed property, but movable capital, is the sinew of his life.
These were the moving causes of the actions of the master class in the maritime cities; and even where geographical conditions permitted an extensive expansion beyond the adjoining hinterland of these cities, they turned the weight of effort toward sea-power rather than toward territorial growth. Even in the case of Carthage, its colossal territory was of far less importance to it than its maritime interests. Primarily it conquered Sicily and Corsica more in order to check the competition of the Greek and Etruscan traders than for the sake of owning these islands; it extended its territories toward the Lybians largely to insure the security of its other home possessions; and finally, when it conquered Spain, its ultimate reason was the need of owning the mines. The history of the Hansa shows many points of similarity to the above. The majority of these maritime cities, moreover, were not capable of subjugating a large district. Even had there been the will to conquer, there were extraneous, geographical conditions that hindered. All along the Mediterranean, with the exception of some few places, the coastal plain is extremely narrow, a small strip fenced off by high mountain ranges. That was one cause which prevented most of the states grouped about some trading harbor from growing to anything like the size we should naturally assume to be probable; while in the open country, ruled by herdsmen, and this very early, immense realms came into being. The second cause for the small beginnings of these states is found in this, that the hinterland whether in the hills or on the few plains of the Mediterranean was occupied by warlike tribes. These tribesmen, either hunters or warlike herdsmen, or else primitive feudal states of the same master race as the sea nomads, were not likely to be subjugated without a severe contest. Thus in Greece the interior was saved from the maritime states.
For these reasons the maritime State, even when most developed, always remains centralized, one is tempted to say centered, on its trading harbor; while the territorial State, strongly decentralized from the start, for a long time continues to develop as it expands a still more pronounced decentralization. Later, we shall see how this is affected by the adoption of those forms of government and of economic achievement which first were perfected in the “city-state,” and which thus obtained the strength to counteract the centrifugal forces, and to build up the central organization which is characteristic of our modern states. This is the first great contrast between the two forms of the State.
No less decisive is the second point of contrast, whereby the territorial State remains tied up to natural economies as opposed to money economies, toward which the maritime State quickly turns. This contrast grows also out of the basic conditions of their existence.
Wherever a State lives in natural economy, money is a superfluous luxury—so superfluous that an economy developed to the use of money retrogrades again into a system of payments in kind as soon as the community drops back into the primitive form. Thus after Charlemagne had issued good coins, the economic situation expelled them. Neustria—not to mention Austrasia—under the stress of the migration of the peoples reverted to payment in kind. Such a system can well do without money as a standard of values, since it is without any developed intercourse and traffic. The lord’s tenants furnish as tribute those things that the lord and his followers consume immediately; while his ornaments, fine fabrics, damascened arms, or rare horses, salt, etc., are procured in exchange with wandering merchants for slaves, wax, furs and other products of a warlike economic system of exchange in kind.
In city life, at any advanced stage of development, it is impossible to exist without a common measure of values. The free mechanic in a city can not, except in rare cases, find some other craftsman in need of the special thing which he produces, prepared to consume it immediately. Then, too, in cities the inevitable retail trade in food products, where every one must purchase nearly everything required, makes the use of coined money quite inevitable. It is impossible to conduct trade in its more limited sense, not between merchant and customers, but between merchant and merchant, without having a common measure of value. Imagine the case of a trader entering a port with a cargo of slaves, wishing to take cloth as a return cargo, and finding a cloth merchant who at the time may not want slaves but iron, or cattle, or furs. To accomplish this exchange, at least a dozen intermediate trades would have to take place before the object could be achieved. That can be avoided only if there exists some one commodity desired by all. In the system of payment in kind of the territorial states this may be taken by cattle or horses, since they may be used by any one at some time; but the ship owner can not load with cattle as a means of payment, and thus gold and silver become recognized as “money.”
From centralization and from the use of money, which are the necessary properties of the maritime or the city State, as we shall hereafter call it, its fate follows of necessity.
The psychology of the townsman, and especially of the dweller in the maritime commercial city, is radically different from that of the countryman. His point of view is freer and more inclusive, even though it be more superficial; he is livelier, because more impressions strike him in a day than a peasant in a year. He becomes used to constant changes and news, and thus is always novarum rerum cupidus. He is more remote from nature and less dependent on it than is the peasant, and therefore he has less fear of “ghosts.” One consequence of this is that an underling in a city State is less apt to regard the “taboo” regulations imposed on him by the first and second estates of rulers. And as he is compelled to live in compact masses with his fellow subjects, he early finds his strength in numbers, so that he becomes more unruly and seditious than the serf who lives in such isolation that he never becomes conscious of the mass to which he belongs and ever remains under the impression that his overlord with his followers would have the upper hand in every fight.
This in itself brings about an ever progressive dissolution of the rigid system of subordinated groups first created by the feudal state. In Greece the territorial states alone were able to keep their subjects for a long time in a state of subjection: Sparta its Helots, Thessaly its Penestæ. In all the city States, on the other hand, we early find an uprising of the proletariat against which the master class was unable to oppose an effective resistance.
The economic situation tends toward the same result as the conditions of settlement. Movable wealth had far less stability than landed property: the sea is tricky, and the fortunes of maritime war and piracy not less so. The rich man of to-day may lose all by a turn of Fortune’s wheel; while the poorest man may, by the same swing, land on top. But in a commonwealth based entirely on possessions, loss of fortune brings with it loss of rank and of “class,” just as the converse takes place. The rich Plebeian becomes the leader of the mass of the people in their constitutional fight for equal rights and places all his fortune at risk in that struggle. The position of the patricians becomes untenable; when coerced they have ever conceded the claims of the lower class. As soon as the first rich Plebeian has been taken into their ranks, the right of rule by birth, defended as a holy institution, has forever become impossible. Henceforth it follows that what is fair for one is fair for the other; and the aristocratic rule is followed first by the plutocratic, then by the democratic, finally by the ochlocratic reégime, until either foreign conquest or the “tyranny” of some “Savior of the Sword” rescues the community from chaos.
This end affects not only the State, but in most cases its inhabitants so profoundly that one may speak of a literal death of the peoples, caused by the capitalistic exploitation of slave labor. This latter is a social institution inevitably bound to exist in every state founded on piracy and maritime ventures and thus coming to use money as a means of exchange. In the primitive stages of feudalism, whence it was derived, slavery was harmless, as is true in all economic systems based on exchange and use in kind, only to become an ulcerating cancer, utterly destructive of the entire life of the State as soon as it is exploited by the “capitalist” method, i. e., as soon as slave labor is applied, not to be used in a system of a feudal payment in kind, but to supply a market paying in money.
Numberless slaves are brought into the country by piracy, privateering, or by the commercial wars. The wealth of their owners permits them to work the ground more intensively, and the owners of realty within the confines of the city limits draw ever increasing revenues from their possessions, and become more and more greedy of land. The small freeholder in the country, overburdened by the taxes and military service of wars waged in the interests of this great merchant class, sinks into debt, becomes a slave for debt, or migrates into the city as a pauper. But even so there is no hope for him, since the removal of the peasants has damaged the craftsmen and small traders, for the peasants were wont to purchase in the city, while the great estates, constantly increasing by the removal of the peasantry, supply their own needs by their own slave products. The evil attacks other parts of the body politic. The remaining trades are gradually usurped by masters exploiting slave labor, which is cheaper than free labor. The middle class thus goes to pieces; and a pauper, good-for-nothing mob, a genuine “bob-tail proletariat” comes into being, which, by reason of the democratic constitution achieved in the interim, is the sovereign of the commonwealth. The full course, political as well as military, is then a mere question of time. It may take place without a foreign invasion; which, however, usually sets in, when by reason of the physical breakdown caused by the immense depopulation, by the consumption of the people in its literal sense, the final stage is attained. This is the end of all these states. Within the scope of this treatise we can not dilate on this phase.
Only one city State was able to maintain itself throughout the centuries, because it was the ultimate conqueror of all the others, and because it was enabled to counteract the consumption of population by the only method of sanitation possible; by extensive recreations of middle class populations, both in cities and in country districts, as well as by vast colonizations of peasants on lands taken from the vanquished.
The Roman Empire was that state. But even this gigantic organism finally succumbed to the consumption of population, caused by capitalistic slave exploitation. In the interval, however, it had created the first imperium, i. e., the first tensely centralized state on a large scale, and had overcome and amalgamated all territorial states of both the Mediterranean shores and its neighboring countries, and had thereby for all time set before the world the model of such an organized dominion. In addition to this it had developed the organization of cities and of the system of money economy to such an extent that they never were utterly destroyed, even in the turmoil of the barbarian migration. In consequence of this, the feudal territorial states that occupied the territory of the former Roman Empire either directly or indirectly received those new impulses which were to carry them beyond the condition of the normal primitive feudal State.
the development of the feudal state
[∗]How characteristic of these relations it is that Great Britain, the only “maritime state” of Europe, even at this present day will not surrender the right to arm privateers.
[87.]Ratzel, l. c. II, p. 191; cf. also pp. 207-8.