Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Rejoinder to the Honorable N. T. Wrong's Question

I was flattered that a free and critical thinker such as N. T. Wrong would read, much less comment, on my blog. However, he asked a penetrating question to my rather shallow, generalization concerning the possibility of identifying socialist modes in the ancient Near East. Admitting at the outset that whatever I offer here should not be understood as any type of coherent argument for such existing in the ancient world. Yet, I will try to pull together some of what I was considering (with the caveat that presently I have about 35 books opened and stacked on my desk with another 40 arranged around my little scholarly cubby-hole in the only space my infant daughter and wife will permit me to have as "office space;" the importance of this fact being that I have slept since I had those thoughts cross my mind and I don't know if I will be able to find again the tidbits I read in various sources giving birth to those ideas). Now after dancing with nuance to divert you from the fact that I have said nothing substantive yet, let us proceed.

I think the first thought occurred to me as I was researching the Neo-Assyrian rise followed by the rise of Neo-Babylon. Primarily, I was working in the history and religious inscriptions (that is translations of them [e.g. ANET, COS, et al.]), when in D. S. Vanderhooft's published Harvard dissertation I gleaned upon his section concorning Babylonian economic "geography" (The Neo-Babylonian Empire and Babylon in the Latter Prophets [Harvard Semitics Monographs; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999], 110-14). Again, with a rough notion of socialism that is a system in which basic goods are "distributed through a system of political allocation" (M. Novak ed., Capitalism and Socialism: A Theological Inquiry [Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1979], 85-6). In the midst of Vanderhooft's discussion of Oppenheim he notes that there is some evidence for both privately and royally sponsored merchant trade both domestically and internationally. Again the situation is certainly not "socialism" tightly defined in our present world. Rather, the function of goods, royal tribute, taxation, and the distribution of goods throughout the empire are issues in play. Further, what we see is a fundamental failure because as with the capitalist motif, our old friend Empire was the driving force. Thus, Neo-Babylon and her monarchical fascism. Thus, socialism as defined by the locus of authority resting among the society or community in terms of goods and trade is not exactly there; rather what we (I) see, or thought I was seeing, was the possibility of conflictual forces in play among some ancient societies. Ergo, could there have been a postcoloniality or postcolonial space wherein the fascism of the royal ruler met other forces driving mechanisms of goods distribution that was populist oriented? To this, I answer... I don't know. I'm not a sociologist, and I certainly don't claim to have read enough economic theory to say anything. So, Bishop Wrong, I trust I have thoroughly failed to present substantive data, but hopefully that shows your some of the forces at work in my thought that day.


N T Wrong said...

Hmmmmm... so there was no ancient socialism after all?

Maybe in the Cisjordan high country, on a lazy and dry Saturday morning, some of the local families got together and talked about the days when they rebelled against the bourgeouisie in the lowlands. I don't know.

Rob G. Reid said...

Well, I don't think there is any question about class struggle, and speaking of the Cisjordan, what about Persian Yehud? The Persian sponsored Temple-state functioning by means of the elite returnees certainly betrays problems. I find it difficult to read Ezra and Nehemiah and not pick up the imperial propaganda depicted in Yahwistic-colored rhetoric.

Thanks for the humbling interaction :(