After an extended break I’m back to James Scott’s “The Art of Not Being Governed”. Just a few pages back in and I had to stop. He writes “Not particularly religious to begin with, let alone orthodox, peasants eymologically, the term pagan, meaning nonbeliever, comes to us directly from the Latin paganus, meaning country-dweller) turned to anti-establishment revolutionary sects when their economic and social independence was menaced”. Since Christianity today is The Religion You Don’t Believe In and is most widespread in European/western culture, it’s natural for Scott to associate it with orthodoxy. But when Christianity was a young minority sect, it was confined almost exclusively to the cities. And since the world was more agrarian then and cities were a population sink, most people were pagans in the old sense. Worship of the old gods had long been integrated into the Roman empire, and Edward Gibbon (echoing pagans of the time) associated Christianity with the demise of that empire. Rural people are traditional, and new cults are novel. The peasantry may not be “orthodox” (“theologically incorrect“), mostly because they don’t know what the educated elite’s “orthodoxy” is, and may simply assume the practices of their neighbors and ancestors is normative for co-religionists in the metropole. Fundamentalism is the product of modernist rationalism, and attracts the uprooted migrants to cities. As Ed Glaeser (and Azar Gat) has noted, the concentration of people in cities facilitates rebellion. Despite all my complaints, I’m not going to dispute Scott’s expertise on the rebellious milleniarism of the hill peoples of southeast asia. The problem is that he is now conflating them with peasants, when so much of his book is about the dichotomy between “barbarians” and peasantry and how each develops a strongly held identity of not being the other.

Advertisements