The Story of Civilization: Economic Elements – Economic Organization

“It was a great moral improvement when men ceased to kill or eat their fellowmen, and merely made them slaves.”
Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage”, page 20.
(A slave in Louisiana or Mississipi, 1863: in spite of slavery in Brasil “being over” for longer than in the USA, I can’t find any Public Domain images. I wonder why…)

SUMMARY: Agriculture has led to property, to inequality, to slavery, to industry, to class struggle, to the State; that is, to “civilization.”


Commerce was the great troublemaker of the primitive world, because prior to the money and profit that came with it, there had been no property and therefore little government. Almost everywhere, the land belonged to the community, just like all the food.

Why did this primitive communism end when man became civilized?

Perhaps because it proved itself non-biological, an obstacle in the struggle for survival; perhaps for giving little encouragement to inventiveness, industry and economics; perhaps, by failing to reward the most skilled and to punish the less skilled, it generated a leveling of human capacity that is hostile to growth and competitive success over other groups.

Communism brought some security to the poor, but it did not remove them from poverty. Individualism brought wealth, but with it came insecurity and bondage; he stimulated the latent powers of superior men, but also intensified the competition for life, and generated contempt for that same poverty which, when it was common to all, bothered no one.

Communism flourishes best in times of hardship and scarcity, when the common danger of hunger fuses the individual with the group. When times of plenty come, and danger declines, social cohesion diminishes and individualism grows – “Communism ends where luxury begins.”

The growth of any civilization multiplies inequalities, for the natural differences of man combine with different opportunities to produce artificial differences of wealth and power; and where there are no laws or despots to suppress these artificial inequalities, they eventually reach a point of rupture when the poor have nothing to lose by violence. The chaos of revolution then levels man once again into a community of destitution, the return of which man welcomes because they idealize such a condition, remembering equality and forgetting poverty. In this respect, all economic history is a back-and-forth of natural concentration of wealth and natural explosion of revolution.

The inequality between men and the need of labor for a rising agriculture caused the employment of the socially weaker by the socially stronger. Killing and cannibalism declined, while slavery increased. Slavery was also stimulated by war, and war was stimulated by slavery.

It was probably through centuries of slavery that we have acquired our habits of toil. No one would do any hard or persistent work if it could be avoided without any physical, economic or social punishment. “Slavery became part of the discipline by which man was prepared for industry.” Indirectly, it fostered civilization, as it increased, for a minority, wealth and the leisure necessary for intellectual production. It eventually became something accepted as normal; Aristotle argued in favor of slavery as natural and inevitable, and even St. Paul gave his blessing to this institution which must have seemed, at that time, a design from God.

Gradually, the relative equality of the natural society was replaced by inequality and class divisions; the struggle between classes became a red thread passing through history; and the State emerged as an indispensable instrument for class regulation, property protection, war, and organization of peace.


  1. What are the possible reasons for the end of primitive communism?
  2. Why are inequalities multiplied by the growth of a civilization?
  3. What is the relation between communism, inequality and revolution?
  4. Why does agriculture lead to property and slavery?

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