frightful muddle

Daniel A. Foss (U17043@UICVM.BITNET)
Thu, 13 Oct 1994 22:42:32 CDT

a frightful conceptual muddle; perhaps it's best to return to historical
The Primitive is constituted when decisive and seemingly irreversible
politico-military events occur whereby the category of the Backward is
also constituted. This occurred for the first time in the Hellenistic
period; at least, this is the first occasion *recorded* for our reading
pleasure. Barbarians, we recall, are not necessarily technically inferior,
especially in the military sphere. The point to recall about the Persian
Wars of Classical Greece is how close the Greeks came to losing.

Alexander The Great's conquests changed all that. In Classical Greece,
*ethnos* was rather sloppily used for "any social category or regional
population with a distinctive subculture." The Hellenistic Monarchs of the
Near East, ruling societies now deemed Backward, to whom the Greek and
Macedonian thugs, as settler-colonists, *cleruchs*, brought the blessings
of Hellenism to the benighted masses, found formerly rather loosely controlled
peoples in the backlands to whom they applied the word *ethnos*, meaning
"tribe." The officially-sanctioned rulers of these peoples were given the
title *ethnarch*, tribal chief, by monarchs and bureaucrats, who did not
necessarily know what they were doing, much as British and French colonialists
were to do later. These were charged with duties of collecting taxes and
levying troops, much as their counterparts in the British and French Empires
were to do later.

In the Crusading period, the Latin West failed to crushingly subdue the
Muslim Near East, but by the thirteenth century had plainly relegated
Byzantine Civilization to the category Backward. The latter responded with
a movement of mystical religious fanaticism and anti-Westernism known as
Hesychasm. There wasn't, at this time, a "tribal" hinterland of the Byzantine
East where the Primitive might have been constituted, and the most Tribal of
Barbarians at this time were of course the Mongols, who had reduced the flower
of German and Polish chivalry to rusting garbage at Leignitz in 1241; and did
the same to the army of Bela IV of Hungary in the same year. The closest you
got to Primitives were the Prussians and Balts who were raw meat for the
Teutonic Knights. Rough, tough Tribes who could take care of themselves were
not Primitive. This is why the Basques still speak Basque, for example; and
those Welsh and Highland Scots who still speak Celtic do so. (It was the
Catholic Basques, not the Infidel, who chewed up Charlemagne's rearguard at
Roncesvalles in 780.)

The Primitive does not always exist. From the perspective of the Hegemony,
there is what's Backward->Underdeveloped->Developing->Less Developed, and
Worse than that is what's Primitive. We time-parachute S.F. Nadel into the
Carolingian Empire, and we're pretty certain he'll come back with a book
called A White Byzantium.

The categories are subject to change without notice to us by posterity,
so don't count on the Wars of Religion of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries getting excluded from the analysis of Primitive War, just because
to us this period is part of Early Modern Europe.

That said, which "primitives," which "wars"?

And what in blazes do Deleuze & Guattari have to do with this?

Daniel A. Foss