Front Page Titles (by Subject) (b) the central power in the primitive feudal state - The State
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(b) the central power in the primitive feudal state - 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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(b) the central power in the primitive feudal state
The patriarch of a tribe of herdsmen, though endowed with the authority which flows from his war-lordship and sacerdotal functions, generally has no despotic powers. The same may be said of the “king” of a small settled community, where, generally speaking, he would exercise very limited command. On the other hand, as soon as some military genius manages to fuse together numerous tribes of herdsmen into one powerful mass of warriors, despotic centralized power is the direct, inevitable consequence.93 As soon as war exists, the truth of the Homeric
is admitted by the most unruly tribes, and becomes a fact to be acted on. The free primitive huntsmen render to their elected chief unconditioned obedience, while on the war-path; the free Cossacks of the Ukraine, recognizing no authority in times of peace, submit to their hetman’s power of life and death in times of war. This obedience toward their war-lord is a trait common to every genuine warrior psychology.
The leaders of the great migrations of nomads are all powerful despots: Attila, Omar, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Mosilikatse, Ketchwayo. Similarly, we find that whenever a mighty territorial state has come into being as the result of the welding together of a number of primitive feudal states, there existed in the beginning a strong central authority. Examples of this may be seen in the case of Sargon Cyrus, Chlodowech, Charlemagne, Boleslaw the Red. Sometimes, especially as long as the main state has not yet reached its geographical or sociologic bounds, the centralized authority is maintained intact in the hands of a series of strong monarchs, which degenerates, in some instances, to the maddest despotism and insanity of some of the Cæsars: especially do we find flagrant examples of this in Mesopotamia and in Africa. We shall merely touch on this phase: the more so, as it has little general effect on the final development of the forms of government. This point should, however, be stated, that the development of the form of government of a despotism depends in the main, on what the sacerdotal status of the rulers may be, in addition to their position as war-lords, and whether or not they hold the monopoly of trade as an additional regalian right.
The combination of Cæsar and Pope tends in all cases to develop the extreme forms of despotism; while the partition of spiritual and temporal functions brings it about that their exponents mutually check and counterbalance one another. A characteristic example may be found in the conditions prevailing among the Malay states of the East Indian Archipelago, genuine “maritime states,” whose genesis is an exact counterpart of that of the Greek maritime states. Generally speaking, the prince has just as little power among these, as, shall we say, the king at the opening of the history of the Attic states. The chieftains of the clans (in Sulu the Dato, in Achin the Panglima), as in the case of Athens, have the real power. But where, “as in Tobah, religious motives endow the rulers with the position of a Pope in miniature, an entirely different phase is found. The Panglima then depend entirely on the Rajah, and are merely officials.”94 To refer to a well-known fact, when the aristocrats and chiefs of the clans in Athens and in Rome abolished the kingdom, they preserved at least the old title, and granted its use to a dignitary otherwise politically impotent, in order that the gods might have their offerings presented in the accustomed manner. For the same reason, in many cases, the descendant of the former tribal king is preserved as a dignitary, otherwise totally powerless, while the actual power of government has long since been transferred to some war chief; as in the later Merovingian Empire, the Carolingian Mayors of the palace (Majordomus) ruled alongside a “long locked king,” rex crinitus, of the race of Merowech, so, in Japan, the Shogun ruled beside the Mikado, and in the Empire of the Incas, the commander of the Inca beside the Huillcauma, who had been gradually limited to his sacerdotal functions.∗95
In addition to the office of supreme pontiff, the power of the head of the state is frequently increased enormously by the trading monopoly, a function exercised by the primitive chieftains as a natural consequence of the peaceful barter of guest-gifts. Such a trade monopoly, for example, was exercised by King Solomon; and latterly by the Roman Emperor Friedrich II.†96
As a rule, the negro chieftains are “monopolists of trading”;97 as is the King of Sulu.98 Among the Galla, wherever the supremacy of a head chief is acknowledged, he becomes “as a matter of course, the tradesman for his tribe; since none of his subjects is allowed to trade with strangers directly.”99 Among the Barotse and Mabunda, the king is “according to the strict interpretation of the law, the only trader of his country.”100
Ratzel notes, in telling language, the importance of this factor: “In addition to his witchcraft, the chief increases his power by a monopoly of trading. Since the chief is the sole intermediary in trade, everything desired by his subjects passes through his hands, and he becomes the donor of all longed-for gifts, the fulfiller of the fondest wishes. In such a system, there lie certainly the possibilities of great power.”101 If, in conquered districts, where the power of government is apt to be more tensely exercised, there is added the monopoly of trade, the royal power may become very great.
It may be stated as a general rule, that even in the apparently most extreme cases of despotism, no monarchical absolutism exists. The ruler may, undeterred by fear of punishment, rage against his subject class; but he is checked in no small degree by his feudal followers. Ratzel, in speaking of the subject generally, remarks: “The so-called ‘court assemblage’ of African or of ancient American chiefs is probably always a council.... Although we meet with traces of absolutism with all peoples on a low scale, even where the form of government is republican, the cause of absolutism is not in the strength of either the state or of the chieftain, but in the moral weakness of the individual, who succumbs without any effective resistance to the powers wielded over him.”102 The kingdom of the Zulu is a limited despotism, in which very powerful ministers of state (Induna) share the power; with other Caffir tribes it is a council, sometimes dominating both people and chieftains.103 In spite of this control “under Tshaka every sneezing or hawking in the presence of the tyrant, as well as every lack of tears at the death of some royal kinsman, was punished with death.”104 The same limitation applies to the West African kingdoms of Dahomy and Ashanti, notorious because of their frightful barbarities. “In spite of the waste of human life, in war, slave trade, and human sacrifices, there existed at no place absolute despotism.... Bowditch remarks on the similarity of the system prevailing in Ashanti, with its ranks and orders, with the old Persian system as described by Herodotus.”105
One must be very careful, and this may again be insisted upon, not to confuse despotism with absolutism. Even in the feudal states of Western Europe, the rulers exercised, in many cases, power of life and death, free from the trammels of law; but nevertheless such a ruler was impotent as against his “magnates.” So long as he does not interfere with the privileges of the classes, he need not restrain his cruelty, and he may even occasionally sacrifice one of the great men; but woe to him were he to dare to touch the economic privileges of his magnates. It is possible to study this very characteristic phase, completely free, from the standpoint of law, and yet closely hemmed in by political checks, in the great East African empires: “The government of Waganda and Wanyoro is, in theory, based on the rule of the king over the whole territory; but in reality this is only the semblance of government, since, as a matter of fact, the lands belong to the supreme chieftains of the empire. It was they who represented the popular opposition to foreign influences, in the time of Mtesa; and Muanga did not dare, for fear of them, to carry out any innovations. Although the kingship is limited in reality, yet in form it occupies an imposing position in unessentials. The ruler is absolute master over the lives and limbs of his subjects, the mass of the people, and feels himself restrained only in the narrowest circle of the chief courtiers.”106
Precisely the same statement applies to the inhabitants of Oceania, to mention the last of the great societies that created states: “At no place does one find an entire absence of a representative mediation between prince and people.... The aristocratic principle corrects the patriarchal. Therefore, the extremes of despotism depend more on class and caste pressure than on the overpowering will of any individual.”107
[∗]“The rule of the many is not a good thing, over the many there should be one king.”
[∗]In Egypt we find a similar state of affairs, beside the bigoted Amenhotep IV., the Majordomus of the palace Haremheb, who “managed to unite in his hands the highest military and administrative functions of the empire, until he exercised the powers of a regent of the state.” Schneider, Civilization and Thought of the Ancient Egyptians. Leipzig, 1907, page 22.
[†]Cf. Acta Imperii, or Huillard-Breholles, H. D. Fred. II. —Translator.
[90.]Both cited by Kulischer, l. c., p. 819, from: Buechsenschuetz, Besits und Erwerb im grieschischen Altertum; and Goldschmidt, History of the Law of Commerce.
[91.]Ratzel, l. c. I, p. 263.
[92.]F. Oppenheimer’s Grossgrundeigentum und soziale Frage. Book Two, Chapter I. Berlin, 1898.
[93.]Nomadism is exceptionally characterized by the facility with which, from patriarchal conditions, despotic functions are developed with most far-reaching powers. Ratzel, l. c. Vol. II, pp. 388-9.
[94.]Ratzel, l. c. I, p. 408.
[95.]Cunow, l. c. pp. 66-7. Similarly among the inhabitants of the Malay Islands numerous examples are found in Radak (Ratzel, l. c. I, p. 267).
[96.]Buhl, l. c., p. 17.
[97.]Ratzel, l. c. II, p. 66.
[98.]Ratzel, l. c. II, p. 118.
[99.]Ratzel, l. c. II, p. 167.
[100.]Ratzel, l. c. II, p. 218.
[101.]Ratzel, l. c. I, p. 125.
[102.]Ratzel, l. c. I, p. 124.
[103.]Ratzel, l. c. I, p. 118.
[104.]Ratzel, l. c. I, p. 125.