What aspects of Diamond's argument do you agree and disagree with in Chapter 14 "From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy" of Guns, Germs, and Steel?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In order to help you answer this question, I will lay out the basics of the most important arguments that Diamond makes in Chapter 14 of Guns, Germs, and Steel.  You can then decide for yourself which arguments you agree with.

In Chapter 14, Diamond is concerned with figuring out why large, complex societies come to exist.  He says that societies exist first as bands or tribes, which are very small.  They then grow to chiefdoms and finally to states.  All modern societies are states.  Diamond wants to know why people stop living in the smaller groups and end up in states.

One argument Diamond makes is that people have to start living in states because large groups of people who are not related to each other have to have a government.  He says that bands and tribes can get along without real governments because the people are all connected by kinship or friendship.  In large societies, this is no longer the case so a strong government is needed to keep people from killing one another.  Do you agree with this?

When people get together in these large groups, Diamond says, the government takes away some of their wealth (in taxes or tribute) and some of their freedom.  Diamond calls governments “kleptocracies” because they are based on stealing from the people.  So why do people stand for this?  Diamond says there are four reasons why we stand for this.  They are:

1. The government makes sure that only they have serious weaponry.  That way no one can rebel.

2. The government makes people happy by using the tax money to buy things for the people.

3. The government makes people happy by keeping the peace through policing. 

4. The government relies on ideology or religion to justify their power.  Diamond argues that this is really important because it, among other things, causes people to sacrifice themselves for their country in wars.  They fight because they believe God wants them to or because they believe that democracy is better than communism.

Do you believe that these are the ways that governments get people to consent to be ruled?

The last important point that I see in this chapter is that food production (farming) makes it possible to have states.  Diamond says you cannot have a hunter-gatherer state.  There are three ways that farming makes states possible.

  1.  Farmers have to work part of the year on their farms, but at other times they are available to do work the government wants them to do.
  2. Farming creates surplus food.  This food can be used to feed government officials, soldiers, and other people needed for a state.
  3. Farming makes it possible for people to settle down and live in one place instead of being nomadic.  This allows them to build up technology and possessions.

Do you agree that farming is necessary in order to have a state?

To summarize, Diamond says that farming leads to the creation of large states.  Large states are richer and more powerful than small groups of hunter-gatherers and can conquer them.  This leads to the creation of even larger states.  Thus, the people who got farming first had an advantage over the people who did not.  Do you agree with this?

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