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Archive for May, 2015

“Nations”

Every time I come across the word “Nation” from an older text I am immediately reminded of the claims that Nationalism is a modern phenomena that has precedent historically. Obviously the word nation and nationalism are distinct, one indicates an identifiable group of people, the other is an ideology that these people belong together politically, usually in a fixed space.

I just came across a 10th century text by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII. The works is partially based upon an earlier work title “On the Governance of the state and various nations“. The word nations stands out here and I wonder what is indicated by it for the Byzantine Emperor. For me at least, the use of the word nation puts a chink in the degree of novelty that nationalism embodies. The word has an older lineage and it refers to the existence of a distinct group of people. All of the nations mentioned by the Emperor might not be politically united, but at least some of the members of this nation present themselves as a cohesive force which must be addressed. Their loyalties to each other seem to stem from a common identity which gives them unity. Interesting nuance on the history of nationalism and nations.

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Controlling Hierarchical and egalitarian societies

One explanation for the rapid control of Europeans over foreign populations often refers to the importance of existing hierarchical political arrangements which Europeans can take over. This can be seen in the book by James Mahoney on Colonialsim and Post-Colonial Development. Extrapolating from this, one would expect that the US invasion of Iraq should have led to easy political control for the Unites States. Authoritarian Iraq is a clear case of an existing hierarchical political system. Why is it that we do not see an ability for the US to exert control on Iraq, similarly why is it that these systems collapse so totally into non-hierarchical politics with the subsequent state being unable to exert control?

Two answers come to mind. The first is that the US did not take on the existing political organization of Iraq, but rather it destroyed it and attempted to build up a new one. A second answer focuses on the ideological repertoires available to inhabitants of these countries. Ideas of self determination and rejection of foreign based rule become widespread after WW2 and under such an ideological environment simply taking over an existing political apparatus ceases to work like it did. If either of these are true than the Mahoney thesis stands, however if these are not true, then the explanation for the ease of takeover of Europeans of colonial lands is not a convincing one.

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Policing in the Ancient World

The book Espionage in the ANcient World, by SHeldon RM is a great bibliograohy with many juicy sources for disparate topics. I’m looking at covert ops right now, but there is an interesting entry on the police on anceint egypt under Rome that indicates the existence of policing in the ancient world, including domestic information gathering and capturing of spies (p43). It is very interesting to see th extensive use of cryptography and codes in the ancient world to hide information from unwanted audiences. The practice is quite extensive and well documented. (60) A Greek residing in persian court Histiaeus wanted to communicate with his son-in-law Aristagoras, the tyrant of Miletus. Since the roads were guarded, he shaved the head of a trusted slave, tattooed the message on the slave’s head, and let the slave’s hair grow back. THe slave was sent to Aristagora with verbal instructions to shave his head.

Also¬† see Dvornik’s “Origins of Intelligence Services” on p137-138 on Egyptian police.

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