This book is about how aggressive men in history, especially those who operated in chiefdoms, kingdoms and empires, acted to create systems of inequality.  This fabrication of oppressive structures began in earnest in the early Neolithic chiefdoms.  According to Tim Earle (2002:51) chiefdoms “precede and presage” the evolution of state societies.  I want to focus on the extractive processes that were put in place in the early chiefdoms, and were expanded in kingdoms and empires and, according to my thesis, have continued to plague human populations under the rulership of the leaders of nation-states. 

In the pages that follow, I am saying that inherent in officialdom, in the institutional structures of offices that were created in early chiefdoms, and which coalesced in the palace-temple complexes of the kingdoms and empires of ancient history, were the seeds of opportunism, a fabricated structure within which, and behind which, officers could operate to siphon wealth from the labors of the vast majority of society’s members.  In all cases, from chiefdoms to nation-states, officers could, and did and do, operate behind the mask of office, in the bowels of officialdom, in ways that not only were and are not beneficial to the commonweal; but in many historical cases were detrimental, even leading to the destruction of their social world (for example see Cases 5.2 and 5.3 that discuss the demise of ninth century Copán in Central America). 

As the cases in this book will show, the rulers of officialdom through the ages have acted in a manner that did not contribute to the health and vigor of their societies because of their greed, their desires for ever increasing amounts of power, prestige and personal wealth.  This opportunistic plunder of social resources did not necessarily rest in the uniqueness of any given officer or set of officers.  Rather, the ability to act contrary to the good of society was an inherent structural function of the political economies created throughout history.  I am saying that if, and when, a political economy is created, the opportunity for exploitation by its officials is automatically created in the process.  Throughout history we see many examples of leaders and their close associates who did just that.  They devised ways to siphon wealth from the people’s labor, value that often went into their own pockets or that was used for personal aggrandizement through ego-driven construction of monuments or through needless wars.  We will see the many ways in which officers – monarchs, viziers and priests – have used the veil of office to seek personal aggrandizement at the expense of the subjects whose lives they were supposed to protect and enhance.

While there may have been early states in which leaders did not leave behind physical or inscriptional evidence of leadership grandiosity, I would assume that where royal grandeur existed, so did siphoning élites.  We could postulate the following: the higher the displayed grandiosity: the higher the extraction of value from the population, with grandiosity largely being evidenced by monumental architecture.

When we say that chiefdoms “presaged” nation-states, we mean that there is a linkage between the activities of early leaders and the political and economic processes they put in place on the one hand; and those in play in modern-day nation-states.  In other words, in Case I.3 (Sumerian Domination by Mystification) we see Sumerian leaders devising all manner of bewildering fabrications to allow them to dominate the minds of the people of the kingdom, processes that are sprouting in Case 2.7 (Yakut-Mono Chiefly Malfeasance) where Yakut-Mono little chiefs[1] and their shaman collaborators used similar mystifying techniques to dupe and deceive their fellows.  These two cases show official malfeasance in the political realm; but some cases such as Cases I.4, Ecclesiastical Mischief; 2.13, Papal Falsification of Information in the Middle Ages & 2.18, Fabricating the Separation of the Medieval Church and State highlight the lies and deceit of religious officers.

In many of the cases we see those in officialdom operating against the wishes and best interests of society’s members; but in Case 8.1 (Catalonian Stratification) we see the Count of Barcelona, the head of Catalan society in the Middle Ages, working in concert with the landed nobles to oppress Catalan peasants.  Much of the official mischief I document in this book took place in ancient polities; but in Case 5.7 (The Sacralization of Chiefship in Sisalaland Northern Ghana) we have a case in which a British-appointed chief in 20th century colonial West Africa used the same techniques of mystification to augment his shaky authority, the same methods that we see operative in the ancient world. 

The point is that the processes of misrule began with the emergence of Neolithic corporations (see chapters 3 & 4), prevailed throughout history and are still operative today in the bowels of American business (Case 10.1, Enron: A Case in Corporate Mismanagement) and American government (Case 11.1, The State-Management System in the USA).  In Cases 2.7 (Yakut-Mono Chiefly Malfeasance) & 4.8 (Ownership of Occult Powers in Sisalaland) we see that the seeds of such official impropriety exist in less complex societies than chiefdoms and rise to great heights in the official misconduct on the parts of the enthroned monarchs of Sumer (Cases I.3, Sumerian Domination by Mystification; 1.9, Militarism in Ancient Sumer & 2.16, The Ziggurats of Sumer), Egypt (Cases 2.1, Ramesses II: Self-Promoting Publicist & 2.20, Evolution of the Egyptian State), Mesopotamia (Cases 2.4, Mesopotamian Stratification; 2.5, Piety & Public Service in Mesopotamia & Mesoamerica & 2.19, Evolution of the Mesopotamian State), Moghul India (Case I.6, Moghul Extravagance in Ancient India & 7.2, Lifestyle of a Moghul King), the Aztec world (Cases 2.3, Piety & Public Service in Mesopotamia & Mesoamerica & 3.5, The Aztec Tributary Mode of Production), the Mayans (Cases 2.10, Mayan Ritual & Non-Expansive War; 2.11, Mayan Imperialism; 5.2, The Fall of a Complex Mayan Chiefdom – the Case of Copán; & 5.3, Environmental Mistakes in Copán’s Demise), the complex chiefdoms of the Northwest Coast of the Americas (Cases 4.6, Hadza Ownership; 4.7, Nootka Ownership & 4.10, Tlingit Storing and Stratification), the Inka State (Case 2.14, Inka Control of Information & 7.7, The Inka of South America), Hawaii (Case 2.2, Hawaiian Chiefdoms: Rise of a Political Economy) and Catalonia (Cases 2.15, Catalonian Falsification of Information; 4.9, Catalan Élite Violence in the Middle Ages; 8.1, Catalonian Stratification & 8.2, Catalonia Imperialism).

We see abuses of rule by officers in chiefdoms, kingdoms, empires, nation-states, the business world (Cases I.1, The Diamond Invention of DeBeers; 2.8, Secretary of State Kissinger & Operation Condor & 10.1, Enron: A Case in Corporate Mismanagement), the religious community (Cases I.4, Ecclesiastical Mischief; 2.13, Papal Falsification of Information in the Middle Ages & 2.18, Fabricating the Separation of the Medieval Church and State) and in the world of the English Parliament (Case 4.11, Land Theft in Georgian Britain).  Case 10.2 (The Congo: A Case of Aggrandizement in the Fog of War) is an especially egregious example of greed and mismanagement in the post-colonial world of Africa.  In pre-colonial Africa, we see the formation of divine kingship in Case 7.1, The Creation of Edo Kingly Domination & Case 7.4, Kuba Divine Kingship.  Divine kingship shows up as well in Asia in Case 7.6, The Divine Kings of Southeast Asia.

The suppression of women can be seen clearly in the Mesopotamian example (Case I.2, Mesopotamian Women); but that is a theme that runs throughout most of the cases.  Also evident in many cases is the fact that, all too often, the greed and egotism of leaders led their societies into war (Cases 1.9, Militarism in Ancient Sumer; 1.11, Celtiberian Warfare; 5.10, Akkadian Imperialism; 9.1, Catalonia Imperialism & 11.1, The State-Management System in the USA), although again this is a theme that runs through almost all the cases.

In many of the cases we see extravagant living on the part of political leaders and their courtiers, though that is perhaps exemplified by Case I.6 (Moghul Extravagance in Ancient India) and Case 7.2 (Lifestyle of a Moghul King).  In this regard, see also: Cases 2.1, Ramesses II: Self-Promoting Publicist; 2.3, Aztec Work Units of the Palace-Temple Complex; 2.4, Mesopotamian Stratification; 2.19, Evolution of the Mesopotamian State; 2.20, Evolution of the Egyptian State; 2.21, The Rise of the State in South Asia; 2.22, The Rise of the State in China; 3.5, The Aztec Tributary Mode of Production; 7.6, The Divine Kings of Southeast Asia and 7.7, The Inka of South America.  Also, high living came to those close to power, as we see in a case I have somewhat indulgently included, since it is about my distant ancestors in Spain[2] – Case 2.12 (The Mendoza Rise to Power in Spain).

While most of the cases deal with the influence of the political on the economic, Case I.1 (The Diamond Invention of DeBeers) shows how the concept of political economy is a two-way street in that we see the economically-powerful men of a company influencing politicos in order to achieve a monopoly over the production and distribution of diamonds in the world market.  Another business related case – 10.1, Enron: A Case in Corporate Mismanagement – deals with how men holding corporate power used it to cheat their stockholders, eventually killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.  In Case 11.1 (The State-Management System in the USA) we see business from another angle.  Here businessmen exert influence over government officials in order to get lucrative military contracts, their economic power altering political decisions.  This has led to a situation at the writing of this book where half of the government’s discretionary expenditures in the USA go to the military and defense.  Thus, both in our first case – I.1 (The Diamond Invention of DeBeers) – and in our last case – 11.1 (The State-Management System in the USA) – we see the power of wealth influencing those holding political power.  In both cases, a few well-placed individuals are getting wealthy at the expense of the general population and both cases involve operations behind closed doors in order to keep information from the people and to obscure malfeasance of managers and officials.  Most of the other cases in the book also involve withholding information, the issuing of misinformation or activities in the chambers of power that officials work to keep secret.

[1] Chiefs that lacked fully-institutionalized authority. 

Paleolithic leadership was ad hoc.  In time, however, it became codified

and official.  The continuum would look something like this: Incipient

leaders > little chiefs > big chiefs > kings> emperors.

[2] The Portuguese Mendonça (a.k.a. Mendonsa) family is descended from the more famous Mendoza family.

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Comment by John McCreery on June 28, 2011 at 6:18pm

Greater transparency is, all other things being equal, a good thing. It may, however, make it impossible to get anything done. Harlan Cleveland addresses this issue in The Knowledge Executive, an old but still highly relevant book by someone with a large and varied experience (on the ground distributing aid to both Communists and Nationalists during the war against Japan, helping administer the Marshall Plan in Europe, later President of the University of Hawaii). 


Democracy, too, is, all other things being equal, a good thing. But, as both Aristotle and the authors of the Bill of Rights observe, majority rule rapidly degrades into tyranny. Checks and balances do not produce a perfect world; they limit the tendencies inherent in every pure form of government, Democracy, Aristocracy or Monarchy, all of which may be, from time to time, either benign or appalling. 

Comment by Eugene L. Mendonsa on June 28, 2011 at 2:46pm


It seems to me that the Federalist Papers solution of establishing checks and balances against official abuse only goes so far, though it is useful.  My book makes clear that we must go farther than that to have true democracy.  Partly this is because those officials in power in the institutions and offices that are being checked and balanced by regulations share a common elitism and have the capacity to circumvent the checks and balances.  The average person does not have the cultural knowledge to cope with their shenanigans.  Therefore, in addition to checks and balances, we need greater transparency into the inner workings of officialdom.  Corruption will still continue, but we may be better informed as to how our officials are pulling off their misdeeds and we will better be able to adjust the regulatory machinery to cope with official mischief.  It is an incomplete solution, but that is the way things are in our imperfect world.


Comment by Eugene L. Mendonsa on June 7, 2011 at 2:42pm

In essence, in this book, I am showing empirically how, after the domestication of plants and animals, élites created and/or gained official power (authority) and, consequently, were able to become wealthy; and that those who subsequently became wealthy (often the descendants and followers of the officers) were able to gain office or influence officers more often than the average person.  Those in office and those who influence them inordinately show by their actions, on a cross-cultural basis, and throughout history, the tendency to fiddle the rules to continue their special access to wealth and power.  Professor McCreery asks: “Is the conclusion that, corruption being inevitable, there is nothing to be done about it?”  Clearly, my book is stronger in showing the history of the development of the creation of inequality than solutions; but it is also clear that to become a more civilized and democratic society, we need to install institutions that foment transparency, ways to catch official misbehavior and punish official deviants.  That is the single most important solution to deviance in officialdom.  Moving toward true civilization for our sadly uncivilized societies is an evolutionary process.  The problem of élite dominance is not a problem that cannot be easily or quickly solved.  The closest thing we have to a “silver bullet” is more institutionalized transparency for authorities and those who act to manipulate officialdom in order to maintain or gain access to more power, prestige and property.


Comment by John McCreery on June 7, 2011 at 2:20am
Is the conclusion that, corruption being inevitable, there is nothing to be done about it? Or is something possible along the lines articulated in The Federalist Papers, developing checks and balances that set competing interests against each other in a way calculated to prevent any particular set of individuals from achieving overweening power?


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