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Herbert Spencer observes that class structures emerge in societies as a result of war and violence (1882)

In his discussion of the origin of the state and the elites which control it, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) notes that war made it possible for class and exploitation to emerge, whether between men and women or between master and slave:

Where the life is permanently peaceful, definite class-divisions do not exist. … As, at first, the domestic relation between the sexes passes into a political relation, such that men and women become, in militant groups, the ruling class and the subject class; so does the relation between master and slave, originally a domestic one, pass into a political one as fast as, by habitual war, the making of slaves becomes general. It is with the formation of a slave-class, that there begins that political differentiation between the regulating structures and the sustaining structures, which continues throughout all higher forms of social evolution.

So is it when we pass from the greater or less political differentiation which accompanies difference of sex, to that which is independent of sex—to that which arises among men. Where the life is permanently peaceful, definite class-divisions do not exist. …

§ 456. As, at first, the domestic relation between the sexes passes into a political relation, such that men and women become, in militant groups, the ruling class and the subject class; so does the relation between master and slave, originally a domestic one, pass into a political one as fast as, by habitual war, the making of slaves becomes general. It is with the formation of a slave-class, that there begins that political differentiation between the regulating structures and the sustaining structures, which continues throughout all higher forms of social evolution.

… Be this as it may, however, we find that very generally among tribes to which habitual militancy has given some slight degree of the appropriate structure, the enslavement of prisoners becomes an established habit. That women and children taken in war, and such men as have not been slain, naturally fall into unqualified servitude, is manifest. They belong absolutely to their captors, who might have killed them, and who retain the right afterwards to kill them if they please. They become property, of which any use whatever may be made.

The acquirement of slaves, which is at first an incident of war, becomes presently an object of war. …

The class-division thus initiated by war, afterwards maintains and strengthens itself in sundry ways. Very soon there begins the custom of purchase. … Then the slave-class, thus early enlarged by purchase, comes afterwards to be otherwise enlarged. There is voluntary acceptance of slavery for the sake of protection; there is enslavement for debt; there is enslavement for crime.

Leaving details, we need here note only that this political differentiation which war begins, is effected, not by the bodily incorporation of other societies, or whole classes belonging to other societies, but by the incorporation of single members of other societies, and by like individual accretions. Composed of units who are detached from their original social relations and from one another, and absolutely attached to their owners, the slave-class is, at first, but indistinctly separated as a social stratum. It acquires separateness only as fast as there arise some restrictions on the powers of the owners. Ceasing to stand in the position of domestic cattle, slaves begin to form a division of the body politic when their personal claims begin to be distinguished as limiting the claims of their masters.

About this Quotation:

One of the things that makes it hard to read Spencer’s magnum opus The Principles of Sociology is the large number of historical examples Spencer provides to support each of his claims. In this quotation I have removed the examples in order to focus on Spencer’s conclusions. The key passages refer to the very different types of societies which emerge under peace (“industrial types of society”) or under war and violence (“militant types of society”). In his view, in a peaceful society dominated by voluntary exchange and other relationships, “where the life is permanently peaceful, definite class-divisions do not exist.” The very existence of class, where one group uses force to dominate and exploit another, does not appear until war becomes the dominant feature of the society. The need to fight and to supply the fighters with the resources they need, creates class. It turns relations between men and women “political” whereby they become “the ruling class and the subject class” respectively. Much the same happens to domestic slavery as “habitual war” turns slavery into a “mass commodity” (my term not his).

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