amalgamation -- 9/14/23

Today's encore selection -- from Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared M. Diamond. The amalgamation of one society into another:

"Societies with effective conflict resolution, sound decision making, and harmonious economic redistribution can develop better technology, concentrate their military power, seize larger and more productive territories, and crush autonomous smaller societies one by one.

"Thus, competition between societies at one level of complexity tends to lead to societies on the next level of complexity if conditions permit. Tribes conquer or combine with tribes to reach the size of chiefdoms, which conquer or combine with other chiefdoms to reach the size of states, which conquer or combine with other states to become empires. More generally, large units potentially enjoy an advantage over individual small units if -- and that's a big 'if' -- the large units can solve the problems that come with their larger size, such as perennial threats from upstart claimants to leadership, commoner resentment of kleptocracy, and increased problems associated with economic integration.

"The amalgamation of smaller units into larger ones has often been documented historically or archaeologically. Contrary to Rousseau, such amalgamations never occur by a process of unthreatened little societies freely deciding to merge, in order to promote the happiness of their citi­zens. Leaders of little societies, as of big ones, are jealous of their indepen­dence and prerogatives. Amalgamation occurs instead in either of two ways: by merger under the threat of external force, or by actual conquest. Innumerable examples are available to illustrate each mode of amalgam­ation.

"Merger under the threat of external force is well illustrated by the for­mation of the Cherokee Indian confederation in the U.S. Southeast. The Cherokees were originally divided into 30 or 40 independent chiefdoms, each consisting of a village of about 400 people. Increasing white settle­ment led to conflicts between Cherokees and whites. When individual Cherokees robbed or assaulted white settlers and traders, the whites were unable to discriminate among the different Cherokee chiefdoms and retaliated indiscriminately against any Cherokees, either by military action or by cutting off trade. In response, the Cherokee chiefdoms gradually found themselves compelled to join into a single confederacy in the course of the 18th century. Initially, the larger chiefdoms in 1730 chose an overall leader, a chief named Moytoy, who was succeeded in 1741 by his son. The first task of these leaders was to punish individual Cherokees who attacked whites, and to deal with the white government. Around 1758 the Cherokees regularized their decision making with an annual council modeled on previous village councils and meeting at one village (Echota), which thereby became a de facto 'capital.' Eventually, the Cherokees became literate ... and adopted a written constitution.

"The Cherokee confederacy was thus formed not by conquest but by the amalgamation of previously jealous smaller entities, which merged only when threatened with destruction by powerful external forces. In much the same way, in an example of state formation described in every Ameri­can history textbook, the white American colonies themselves, one of which (Georgia) had precipitated the formation of the Cherokee state, were impelled to form a nation of their own when threatened with the powerful external force of the British monarchy. The American colonies were initially as jealous of their autonomy as the Cherokee chiefdoms, and their first attempt at amalgamation under the Articles of Confederation (1781) proved unworkable because it reserved too much autonomy to the ex-colonies. Only further threats, notably Shays's Rebellion of 1786 and the unsolved burden of war debt, overcame the ex-colonies' extreme reluc­tance to sacrifice autonomy and pushed them into adopting our current strong federal constitution in 1787. The 19th-century unification of Ger­many's jealous principalities proved equally difficult. Three early attempts (the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848, the restored German Confederation of 1850, and the North German Confederation of 1866) failed before the external threat of France's declaration of war in 1870 finally led to the princelets' surrendering much of their power to a central imperial German government in 1871."



Jared M. Diamond


Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies


W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.


Copyright 2005, 2003, 1997 by Jared Diamond


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