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Thread: Ancient Germanic Socialism?

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    Ancient Germanic Socialism?

    On Germanics:

    Quote Originally Posted by Book VI of Caesar's 'de Bello Gallico'
    They do not pay much attention to agriculture, and a large portion of their food consists in milk, cheese, and flesh; nor has any one a fixed quantity of land or his own individual limits; but the magistrates and the leading men each year apportion to the tribes and families, who have united together, as much land as, and in the place in which, they think proper, and the year after compel them to remove elsewhere. For this enactment they advance many reasons-lest seduced by long-continued custom, they may exchange their ardor in the waging of war for agriculture; lest they may be anxious to acquire extensive estates, and the more powerful drive the weaker from their possessions; lest they construct their houses with too great a desire to avoid cold and heat; lest the desire of wealth spring up, from which cause divisions and discords arise; and that they may keep the common people in a contented state of mind, when each sees his own means placed on an equality with [those of] the most powerful.
    Source:http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/jcsr/dbg6.htm


    On the Suevi:

    Quote Originally Posted by Book IV of Caesar's 'de Bello Gallico'
    But among them there exists no private and separate land; nor are they permitted to remain more than one year in one place for the purpose of residence.
    Source:http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/jcsr/dbg4.htm


    I remember other sources mentioning a part of a Germanic tribe had to move every nine years, although I don't recall where I've read it. It's interesting that the texts I've quoted above show the importance of an aristocratic "government" in the distribution of land. This contradicts the idea of the ancient Germanics being liberals.
    Maybe someone else knows about other sources on the topic?

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    Senior Member velvet's Avatar
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    I would think that modern terms like 'socialism' and 'liberalism' with their modern, systematic associations are in no way valid to describe a situation, where none of these concepts existed yet.

    In fact, in the folkish communities back then no 'ism' whatsoever existed. An ism implies a thought-through systematic attempt, which it cannot have been, due to the inner tribe's structures which were de-central, as well as the power distribution was. It is due to this that there havent been cities f.e., not because we were so 'backwards' and couldnt build any. It simply didnt develop from this structure, and basically is also imcompatible with the de-central organisation.

    And you should view the descriptions by Caesar, Tacitus and other Roman writer's also in this light. They try to describe something, which is pretty much the exact opposite of the totally structured and well organised Roman society, which indeed was in almost a modern sense 'socialistic'. They got many things wrong. This, and the fact that Caesar had indeed interest in painting the Germanic tribes as negative as possible (the Roman history writer's job was to praise their leader, so there are always some grains of salt too), you should always keep in mind when reading these texts and try to interprete them, they don't give an objective picture.
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    Quote Originally Posted by velvet View Post
    I would think that modern terms like 'socialism' and 'liberalism' with their modern, systematic associations are in no way valid to describe a situation, where none of these concepts existed yet.
    I agree and hence the question mark. I only used the term in the title in an encouraging manner.

    Quote Originally Posted by velvet View Post
    And you should view the descriptions by Caesar, Tacitus and other Roman writer's also in this light. They try to describe something, which is pretty much the exact opposite of the totally structured and well organised Roman society, which indeed was in almost a modern sense 'socialistic'.
    And yet Caesar's description of Germanic societies as a society where land is distributed by the authorities is not such an exact opposite. Caesar's shows us a society that is organised and structured and which might be an example of 'socialism' as well. So in this case Roman subjectivity is not a reason to discard the text I think.

    Quote Originally Posted by velvet View Post
    They got many things wrong. This, and the fact that Caesar had indeed interest in painting the Germanic tribes as negative as possible (the Roman history writer's job was to praise their leader, so there are always some grains of salt too), you should always keep in mind when reading these texts and try to interprete them, they don't give an objective picture.
    Yes but as I said above, there is no reason to discard this text in this case, so it would be interesting to see whether there are more sources portraying the same image of ancient Germanic society.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bernhard
    And yet Caesar's description of Germanic societies as a society where land is distributed by the authorities is not such an exact opposite. Caesar's shows us a society that is organised and structured and which might be an example of 'socialism' as well. So in this case Roman subjectivity is not a reason to discard the text I think.
    True, but you must keep the perspective in mind.
    And as said, the term socialism, or if you want you could even use the term communism to describe the ancient tribe's reality, in its/their modern sense will not really bring you nearer to the truth, even though they are, from certain aspects of their basic meaning, not entirely wrong.

    I also sense again a try to bash 'liberal'. You oversee the little side sentence in your quoted text where it says '[nor had anyone...] his own individual limits'. Being bound in the frames set by the tribe doesnt make one unfree. But in no way you should confuse individual freedom with modern (ruleless) liberalism. This simply is not the same.


    Quote Originally Posted by Bernhard
    Yes but as I said above, there is no reason to discard this text in this case, so it would be interesting to see whether there are more sources portraying the same image of ancient Germanic society.
    Hauke Haien once posted an interesting docu on ancient Germanic tribes, which took archaelogical evidence and other written sources into account and pointed out the problematic viewpoint that derived from the Roman history writers regarding our way of life pretty well.

    It was in German though, when I remember right, dont know how good your German is?
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    I'm reminded of the English artist William Morris, the instigator of the Arts & Crafts Movement (which I see as admirable and exemplary). Morris was a Marxist, but with many traditionalist tendencies as well. He wrote two books concerning the life of the Goths during their time of conflict with the Romans: The House of the Wolfings and its follow-up The Roots of the Mountains. Both books are in the public domain and can be found and read online easily. J.R.R. Tolkien declared them to be exemplary for his own works.

    Morris saw in early Germanic life glimpses of the Marxist ideal. And sure, there are qualities to early Germanic tribal society that come close to the kind of society the Marxists had in mind, like communal property and such. However, two essential factors of early Germanic tribal society were ethnicity and religiosity; factors which don't sit well with orthodox Marxism, as far as I can tell. Plus, early Germanic life wasn't 'intellectualised' and 'mechanised' like that of Marxist social planners. But like I said, Morris (and many like him) were just as much deeply traditionalist (conservative). Which really shows in their magnificently creative artistry.

    Anyway, I don't think the Romans aimed to depict the early Germanics as negative as they could. In fact, they often wrote how incredibly brave the Germanics were. Of course, this often only to accent their own bravery, for one must be brave to fight brave men. Also, in Tacitus we find just as much admiration as disgust, and this is undeniably in large part due to the mirror he wanted to hold up to the faces of his fellow countrymen, whom he thought were decadent, as did many other Roman intellectuals. In short, if one can say the Romans made the early Germanics look worse than they were in certain aspects, one can be just as sure that the Romans made them look better than they were in other aspects.

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    Quote Originally Posted by velvet View Post
    True, but you must keep the perspective in mind.
    And as said, the term socialism, or if you want you could even use the term communism to describe the ancient tribe's reality, in its/their modern sense will not really bring you nearer to the truth, even though they are, from certain aspects of their basic meaning, not entirely wrong.
    I agree. The use of modern terms should not be taken too seriously although they can help to make one's thoughts on something clear.

    I also sense again a try to bash 'liberal'. You oversee the little side sentence in your quoted text where it says '[nor had anyone...] his own individual limits'. Being bound in the frames set by the tribe doesnt make one unfree. But in no way you should confuse individual freedom with modern (ruleless) liberalism. This simply is not the same.
    I'm not trying to bash liberalism, but I do think that aspects of liberalism are often falsely applied on ancient Germanic societies. If Caesar's description is historically correct, it would be an argument against economic liberalism, indeed not liberalism as such, but an aspect of liberalism which revolves around the freedom of the individual.
    I read a Dutch translation before I searched on the net for an English translation to post. In the Dutch translation "Limits" is translated with terrain/territory. So limits should be understood differently. In Latin it says: "Neque quisquam agri modum certum aut fines habet proprios". I've never learned Latin, but it seems to say that none had property.

    Hauke Haien once posted an interesting docu on ancient Germanic tribes, which took archaelogical evidence and other written sources into account and pointed out the problematic viewpoint that derived from the Roman history writers regarding our way of life pretty well.

    It was in German though, when I remember right, dont know how good your German is?
    I've already started watching it. My German is good enough to be able to watch such documentaries.

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    Ancient Germanic Socialism?

    ..they may keep the common people in a contented state of mind, when each sees his own means placed on an equality with [those of] the most powerful.

    Yes, since tribalism and local socialism go hand in hand. All indications point to Germanic tribalism being localized and founded on the commonweal. Which literally means the common good. Common representing community, which can not feasibly extend beyond those who have a regular physical contact with each other. Socialism that attempts to be greater than local, degrades as it's reach extends beyond the community. Because it becomes more and more difficult to secure the trust of those whom you have no physical interaction with. Here, the strengthening of individuality becomes vital to the survival of the group and promotes abundance. The opposite communism, where individuality is torn down weakens the group, resulting in complete scarcity.


    But among them there exists no private and separate land; nor are they permitted to remain more than one year in one place for the purpose of residence.
    Localized socialism exists everywhere in the natural order and is apparent among all life that has a tendency to organize. It also should be understood that in nature it is scarcity that compels organization, either for food or for defense. Usually once it has been overcome, the organization either splits up and forms new kingdoms or becomes scattered by natural disaster, thus the expansion of species promotes only the strongest.

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    It is of course correct that to some extent, all Agrarian and pre-Agrarian societies tended to be rather Collectivist. Pre-Agrarian societies tended to even be rather Egalitarian.

    To call that "Socialism" is wrong though. Socialism is a term which describes certain Collectivist, in the case of Marxism/Communism even Egalitarian movements in a different type of society, being mainly Urban societies.

    Personally I don't consider it much of a coincidence that 18th and 19th century urbanised societies tended to be more Monarchist, more Absolutist than those at an earlier stage of urbanisation, these were oft yet more hierarchic than the societies in the medieval Argarian-Urban mixed societies.

    It would thus appear that the larger a construct becomes, the more there is a tendency towards further stratification, and ultimately the creation of a clear hierarchy. As such, what may be most natural, applicable and dynamic for a modern, Urbanised society, may not be the same which was natural and applicable for an Agrarian society.

    As such equating the needs of old Germanic society, generally more rural and actually also more based on subsistence economics, with the modern construct of an industrialised and urbanised society, is quite fallacious. Different times, different answers --- and the need for answers arises by "civilisation" boring itself so far that it bothers itself with the philosophical question of how a hierarchy, or lack thereof, should ideally look.

    Now that I personally believe gradual de-urbanisation and a greater re-localisation wouldn't be all-negative, and that I am still of the opinion that industrialisation wasn't all-positive, is a different matter altogether. What remains though is that what would be natural and clearly effective for an ancient Agrarian society is not necessarily natural and effective for a modern Urbanised society, and that if we aim to deal away with Urbanised society we must be able to work within that constraint for awhile.

    If we wish to aim closer to the ancient ideal of the "village society" then this need to take steps both direct (de-urbanisation) and perhaps indirect (re-syndicalisation) to in one way create a more personal, more collectivist ideal whilst at the other hand not losing overall competitiveness or progress, a type of "guild system" mixed with "voluntary redistribution of wealth" by the rich could work, i.e. by developing infrastructure inland for collective gain rather than outland for personal gain.

    An all-equal system on the other hand does not work in modern society without losing progress. Thus, redistribution of wealth, if considered beneficial, could come from above, since some hierarchy as well as reward for industriousness is natural. A "benevolent dictator" is likewise always more natural in stratified society than a lack of leadership as Marxism suggests.

    The "benevolent guild-leader" to benefit the collective by his generosity is what could create the welfare of the collective, the organisation in a type of "guild/co-operative system" is what could re-localise the economy. Of course this would also be subject to the demands a "philosopher king" political leader would see and then decide what is natural and beneficial to the collective, with the economy to follow suit in a symbiosis between localised yet hierarchic political leadership and localised yet hierarchic economic leadership.

    Of course without a political change, it is impossible to achieve the idea that some economic tycoon be helping out his fellow folk by financing institutions and places that are to the benefit of all without their own gain. This needs an altogether change of attitude, otherwise it'd be absolutely impossible, with a more folkish ideology reigning this would perhaps be no longer that much of a problem.

    But to some extent the hierarchy is needed for all parts of public life, the "Führer principle" overarches into all natural constructs. And as long as it is applied Platonic rather than Machiavellian that wouldn't even have to come at cost of relative individual freedom - something in it for all.
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    Quote Originally Posted by velvet View Post
    I would think that modern terms like 'socialism' and 'liberalism' with their modern, systematic associations are in no way valid to describe a situation, where none of these concepts existed yet.

    In fact, in the folkish communities back then no 'ism' whatsoever existed. An ism implies a thought-through systematic attempt, which it cannot have been, due to the inner tribe's structures which were de-central, as well as the power distribution was.
    Tribalism, feudalism, capitalism, and other "isms" came into being without any "thought through systematic attempt."

    Quote Originally Posted by Anlef View Post
    Anyway, I don't think the Romans aimed to depict the early Germanics as negative as they could. In fact, they often wrote how incredibly brave the Germanics were. Of course, this often only to accent their own bravery, for one must be brave to fight brave men. Also, in Tacitus we find just as much admiration as disgust, and this is undeniably in large part due to the mirror he wanted to hold up to the faces of his fellow countrymen, whom he thought were decadent, as did many other Roman intellectuals. In short, if one can say the Romans made the early Germanics look worse than they were in certain aspects, one can be just as sure that the Romans made them look better than they were in other aspects.
    You make a good point which I think is often overlooked in our research. If we are going to be skeptical about some of the perceived "negative" accounts of our ancestors by outsiders, then we should be skeptical about some of the "positive" accounts as well. In more modern times, we have seen the way in which the subjective motivations of some of our own historians and ethnologists have distorted their perceptions and led to myths about the "noble savage" in non-European lands.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sigurd View Post
    It is of course correct that to some extent, all Agrarian and pre-Agrarian societies tended to be rather Collectivist. Pre-Agrarian societies tended to even be rather Egalitarian.

    To call that "Socialism" is wrong though. Socialism is a term which describes certain Collectivist, in the case of Marxism/Communism even Egalitarian movements in a different type of society, being mainly Urban societies.
    I agree that pre-agrarian societies were generally collectivist, but if we can detect any slightly different tendencies and characteristics between them, maybe we could speculate about which modern political construct would be best suited to them?

    For instance, I once took a class on the ethography of native North Americans, and from what I was told, there were several Indian tribes that were so collectivist in their culture that the concept of something such as competing in a foot race was completely alien to them. On several occasions white observers set up such races for them, and they noted that the faster Indians would deliberately slow down when they realized they were outpacing their slower counterparts, so that in the end they would all cross the finish line at the same time.

    If these accounts are accurate (i.e. they're not just left-wing "noble savage" fairytales) and the Indians in these races were indeed conducting themselves in accordance with their indigenous cultural values, then I think it would have at least some implications as to what their modern political inclinations might be.

    I highly doubt any certain conclusions can be drawn and in the end it's just a moot excercise, but at least it could make for some interesting discussions/arguments between the libertarian and socialist camps here at Skadi.

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    Socialism does work if it is localized as mentioned above. Secondly it is not all inclusive. The ancient Germanics would put defective babies out in the forest to die. If a member of the community was a moron they would look down upon him and possibly cast him out. Modern socialism is the opposite they take the whole goal of modern socialism is to prop up the defective and social parasites. National Socialism is ancient Germanic socialism. It mirrors Marx in a number of ways exept in important areas such as it doesn't prop up the weak, mix races, not globalist etc.

    In the past most Europeans lived in big manors with a big extended family that worked together as one cohesive unit. We need to start coming together and living together as families more. The key factors to an effective socialism: 1) it must be small scale- everyone must know everyone else and people must be held responsible for their reputations. 2) it must have standards- everyone must pull their own weight and defective members are cast out. A father can disown a criminal or stupid son.

    With a National Socialist nation the local scale goes upward. The local "cell" or tribe has a leader. These leaders meet in a regional council that is small enough so everyone knows everyone else. this regional council has a leader or representative who also meets in a larger scale where everyone knows everyone else on up to the top fuhrer. There is no democracy when you cast one vote in millions and it is easy to cheat. Yet if you vote by a show of hands in a small community it is hard to corrupt such a system. Liberals always want to get bigger and go global. That is the trait of the parasite. Any responsible and higher person wants to be exclusive and tribal. Tribalism is the basis of the whole thing or we could say folkism. The moment the group becomes too big to monitor itself you run into problems and social parasites thrive. Likewise behavior that benefits the group becomes no longer desirable for the individual (if everyone is a crook you must be crooked to survive as well).
    “success and survival are above all the rule of life. As such it is the highest command of moral law” –Lord Livwell (me)

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