Tuesday, August 6

Are primitive societies more 'democratic'?

In "Totem and Taboo" Freud describes how the rulers have to be protected in such a degree that among natives of  "Sierra Leone the resistance against accepting the kingly honour was so great that most of the tribes were compelled to make strangers their king".

These excerpts give an idea of what was demanded from a ruler:

"The behaviour of primitive races towards their chiefs, kings, and priests, is controlled by two principles which seem rather to supplement than to contradict each other. They must both be guarded and be guarded against[53]."

"It seems like an obvious contradiction that persons of such perfection of power should themselves require the greatest care to guard them against threatening dangers, but this is not the only contradiction revealed in the treatment of royal persons on the part of savages. These races consider it necessary to watch over their kings to see that they use their powers in the right way; they are by no means sure of their good intentions or of their conscientiousness. A strain of mistrust is mingled with the motivation of the taboo rules for the king. “The idea that early kingdoms are despotisms”, says Frazer[59], “in which the people exist only for the sovereign, is wholly inapplicable to the monarchies we are considering. On the contrary, the sovereign in them exists only for his subjects: his life is only valuable so long as he discharges the duties of his position by ordering the course of nature for his people’s benefit. So soon as he fails to do so, the care, the devotion, the religious homage which they had hitherto lavished on him cease and are changed into hatred and contempt; he is ignominiously dismissed and may be thankful if he escapes with his life. Worshipped as a god one day, he is killed as a criminal the next. But in this changed behaviour of the people there is nothing capricious or inconsistent. On the contrary, their conduct is quite consistent. If their king is their god he is or should be, also their preserver; and if he will not preserve them he must make room for another who will." (emphasis added)

Source: "Totem and Taboo" by Freud

Malinovski and other anthropologists made it clear that primitive societies have their own rules, structure and social bonds that mus not be considered as inferior. Just by taking a glimpse on some aspects of the world today might help some people understand that rather than consider this civilization as superior is a complete absurd.

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