Chapter 1 of The Bourgeois Revaluation:
“All Places with Towns had Bourgeois Capitalists”

The bourgeoisie specializes in markets and exchange — instead of specializing as other classes do in laboring and plowing, or fighting and praying. Such a bourgeois group, even if merely part-time, appears to have existed pretty much always among us Homo sapiens, and certainly since the invention in Africa of full language. The archaeologists do not yet agree on when exactly the coming of full language and its associated flowering of trade took place. The majority favor 50,000 BCE, give or take a dozen millennia, with worldwide evidence from North Africa to Australia of rock painting and spear throwers. Check A minority see in the East Cape of South Africa at the Blombos Cave as early as 120,000 BCE and in the Levant as early as 100,000 BCE signs of the “five Bs” of the “upper” Old Stone Age: blades, beads, burials, bone toolmaking, and beauty. The minority admits, though, that such early achievements were subject to backsliding into Middle Stone Age technologies when populations crashed. The permanent and worldwide spread of the five Bs seems to have awaited the 50,000 BCE mark, and the explosion of Homo sapiens out of Africa. 5

The raw materials for blades and beads, and the new ideas for burial and bone tools and beauty marks, depended on trade goods. The archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef wrote in 2002 that:

Compared with the slow pace of cultural changes during the Middle Paleolithic. . . . not the least of the human achievements of the Upper Paleolithic were the long-distance exchanges of raw materials and precious items. . . . Long-distance exchange networks in lithics [e.g. flint and obsidian], raw materials, and marine shells during the Upper Paleolithic reach the order of several hundred kilometers They consistently differ from the much shorter ranges of raw material procurement during the Middle Paleolithic. 6

Bar-Yosef is of the majority, 50,000-BCE school. But he notes cautiously that “perhaps one of the exceptions is again [earlier he had noted its exceptionally early use of bone for tools, but also its subsequent replacement by a less advanced culture, perhaps from famine] the Howiesons Poort in South Africa (Deacon and Wurz 1996) because raw material was transported to the site from a long distance.”

At any rate the trade seems to have been facilitated by language. Bar-Yosef: “All scholars agree that language plays a major role and that it probably evolved in time. Communication facilitated everything from transfer of technologies to long-distance exchange.” 7 One could speculate that perhaps language in a recognizably modern form was first spoken around the caves in South Africa — the hint comes for example from the uniquely large number of meaningful sounds surviving even now in the languages of the Khoisan (or “Bushmen,” with for example their five clicks, who once lived all over South Africa), and from the very early genetic distinctness of such people, dating it seems from about 50,000 BCE. 8 But in any case, as the anthropologist Monica Smith argues:

Language encodes past and future, memory and planning, conditional statements and situational accommodation. The use of language to express the conditions of possession through space and time constitutes another way in which the coevolution of language and objects can be surmised. Spoken language, fully operational by 40,000 years ago, was a means by which the subtleties of possession, such as usufruct and temporary access, could be communicated. 9

And by the New Stone Age of artistically polished tools and the first evidence around 10,000 BCE of that female invention, agriculture (the other female inventions of pottery and weaving came as early as 30,000 BCE) the case for trade goods is overwhelming. The economic historian George Grantham notes that flint “extracted from the best quarries in Poland, Picardy and lower Loire traded up to 600 kilometers from their point of origin. 10 “The earliest central European Neolithic sites,” he continues, “contain necklaces made from shells of a Mediterranean gastropod, long-distance movement of small ornamental objects must date almost to the beginning of permanent agricultural settlement.” 11 He describes “the extensive galleries at Can Tintore (Barcelona), where which miners around the turn of the fifth millennium extracted a green gemstone that was locally worked into beads which were subsequently deposited in tombs along the full range of Atlantic Europe’s megalithic rim.” 12 That would mean as far north as the Shetlands, north of Scotland, 2500 miles as the crow flies from Barcelona. And such trading was true worldwide: it’s not some peculiar European superiority.

Long-distance trade in luxuries is the most glamorous exchange, Marco Polo, Kublai Khan, and all that. Amber from the shores of the Baltic Sea turns up in Egyptian grave goods. Lapis lazuli is a blue gemstone, for a long time in the Old World the only source of blue paint, which is why purple-blue plus red-was so imperially expensive. It came only from Afghanistan, yet it litters archaeological sites far away, in the Mideast and South Asia. Such sparkling objects have suggested to people that what must matter the most is trade over long distances in every luxury from Silk Road silk to flat-screen TV’s. We still believe it-witness the recent obsession over the U.S. trade balance with far China, or the older obsession with the trade in spices as an engine of growth.

But local “penny capitalism,” as the anthropologist Sol Tax once called it, occurs in every society, and matters more to people’s lives. 13 I offer my big piece of cloth for ten of your fine bone needles. In early Europe the knappers of flint were specialized manufacturers. 14 It’s penny-ante stuff, but not trivial, because there is so much of it. At the three dollars or so a day that our remote ancestors earned the non-trivial pennies accounted for most of their livelihood. Monica Smith, who in 1999 took up the same theme, observes that stage theories assume that

exchange activity in premodern societies is based on the demands of a small group and that the mechanisms of trade, once established by the elite, inexplicably [by which she means inexplicably according to the archaeologists] expand to accommodate the demands of a broader sector of the population. Prior to this expansion [continuing with her report on what archaeologists mistakenly think], utilitarian goods (especially comestibles [i.e. foods]) are assumed to be the result of self-sufficiency and, therefore, not perceived to be a driving mechanism for increased exchange. This dichotomy is seen to persist until the eve of the Industrial Revolution: [the great Marx-influenced sociologist and historian Immanuel] Wallerstein, speaking of the European feudal trade that preceded the modern world-system, claims that it was a trade in luxuries, which “depended on the political indulgence and economic possibilities of the truly wealthy.” 15

She notes further that the “substantivist” criticism of the very existence of trade in very olden times assumes that modern methods of transport and information are necessary for trade-which is mistaken: “The assumption that strong political systems are necessary for viable exchange environments means that often, the potential complexities of an ancient economy may be neglected a priori.” 16

Both points apply to the present as much as to the very distant past. After all, most American competition and cooperation-trade involves both-is with other Americans, even with the American down the street. Local markets and exchange, always, dominate the trade in exotic goods, quantitatively speaking. But it’s still trade. You spend more dollars on plumbing repair and police work and school teaching and dry cleaning and rental accommodation provided by people in your own neighborhood than on hammers and answering machines made by the Chinese. People living on $3 or so a day, as most did before 1800, spent their pennies more on bread than on lapis lazuli. When penny capitalism was translated as it was in the eighteenth century into an ideology of free markets it had the power therefore to transform the world.

We can detect the exotic trade most easily, and so it figures prominently in the archaeological digs. But local trade dominated always. Most of us nowadays are local export-import traders, many even in hunter-gatherer societies, and certainly always in conditions of settled agriculture. From the earliest times the obsidian for knife blades from Southeast Asia, Central America, and central Turkey ends up hundreds of miles away from its source (in the Middle East from Cappadocia beginning around 14,000 BCE17 ). [More archaeological evidence, pre-town?]

The running of markets and exchange in towns, and therefore what I am calling the bourgeois life, is of course not so ancient, because towns date from settled agriculture. The domestication of plants and animals, and even of Canis familiaris in China, did not occur until DDDD or so, in the ancient Near East and later elsewhere. Yet of course from the earliest strata at Jericho in 9000 BCE the towns have traded. What is now Oman at the eastern tip of Arabia was by 2500 BCE a middleman between the Indus Valley civilization hundreds of miles east in what is now Pakistan and the Sumerian civilization hundreds of miles northwest up the Persian Gulf in what is now Iraq. 18 Monica Smith notes of India in the Early Historic Period (the first few centuries BCE and CE), “archaeological and historical documentation indicates a thriving trade in a variety of goods,” despite feeble states, supported by such non-state activities as merchant guilds forming “guild armies” to protect trade and pilgrims. 19 Her town of Kaudinyapura in central India, for example, with about 700 souls, consumed sandstone (for grinding pestles), mica (to make pottery shine), and rice, none of which were available locally: merchants brought them from at least 50 miles away. As Adam Smith said, “when the division of labor has been once thoroughly established. . . . every man thus lives by exchanging, or becomes in some measure a merchant, and the society itself grows to be what is properly a commercial society.” 20

Towns mean trade of course because-to speak of sheer human geography-no town above a couple of thousand in population can live entirely on cultivating the land without trading services for food. Even within a farm village I trade some of my wheat for your eggs or vegetables, or your wheelwrighting services. With very large numbers crammed into a town not everyone could live by trudging out to the local grain field each morning. The fields get too far away. In well-watered Europe in the Middle Ages the area of two football fields in grain could support a person for a year, and perhaps could likewise in irrigated Mesopotamia. The average round trip per day would then be one mile for a town of 1000, two miles for a town of 2000, and so on in proportion. It gets onerous fast (though in fact to this day many a weary peasant worldwide engages in such commutes).

The economic logic of course runs the same way, and more powerfully than the sheer geography. As Smith said in 1776, “the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market.” The bigger the place, the higher the proportion of people who find it prudent to specialize in pottery or weaving or keeping accounts. Even in a small hunter-gatherer band there was after the invention of cooking a specialization: the women specialize in hearth-linked activities, the men in venturing forth, or smoking. The crippled man among the Ilongot who specializes in being a little factory for scrapers and arrow points, or the spiritually gifted woman in being a shaman, got their food from exporting their manufactures or services. Such a nascent middle class grows larger as the town does. You may be 30 percent faster at throwing pots relative to your speed at hoeing than other people, but the comparative advantage does you little good in an isolated village of 100 souls, because after all there are too few people to buy your great output of pots. In a big town of 10,000, however, it will be worth your while to hang out a shingle and specialize. And in a metropolis of 100,000 you will hire apprentice potters, make each year 70,000 big pots with your own handsome design, and become well and truly bourgeois.

And so if the archaeologist’s spade uncovers a big town, it is a sure thing that many non-peasants lived in it. No surprise, of course: our image of towns from ancient and not-so-ancient writings such as the Hebrew Bible or The Thousand and One Nights, or historical accounts of life in Athens, or, truth be told, movies by Cecil B. DeMille, are not populated by field-bound peasants, but by proletarians if they work with their backs and hands and bourgeois if they work with their pens and brains.

Towns such as Ur, Kish, and Nippur dotting Mesopotamia south of modern Baghdad began around 5000 BCE as agricultural villages with peasants clustered to protect their stored grain and to honor their gods. Brendan O’Flaherty points out that for an area that is square with a defense that is linear (a wall, or a defensive force in line to man it) then protection exhibits economies of scale. The larger the area defended the cheaper per acre is the defense. 21

Towns not all good news: There’s a nice summary of a model of defense, similar to mine, at Wiki “City.” Violence from outside (or inside: Williamson’s word for taking advantage) requires violence in return, and to make it work a monopoly of violence. Scales up: use Mafia case in Palermo, leading to a state.

Tom Palmer’s theme that state = exploitation. Paradox that state extortion was supported by cities, which led to literacy, and eventual liberalism; or monopoly attempts by urban bourgeoisie in an anarchic feudal Europe led to liberties. One escapes from serfdom in Muscovy to join the wild Cossacks. One lights out for the Territories to escape prison in New York. “What was your name in the States?” asks the American folk song: “Was is NNN or NNN or Bates?/ Did you murder your wife/ and flee for your life?/ What was your name in the States?”

Palmer, Tom. “Life on the Edge: Denizens of the Periphery Find Ways to Escape the Predatory State.” Reason. June 2010

Confirmed by Ferejohn, John, and Frances Rosenbluth [check], “War and State Building: Lessons from Medieval Japan.”

Scott, James C. 2010. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Clastres, Pierre. 1974. Society Against the State.

Rüstow Freedom and Domination.

By 3000 BCE the typical substantial town in Mesopotamia would be two to four thousand, as for example one “Eresh” was. 22 In Eresh there would still be quite a few peasants of the fields, if not only them. But a great city like Uruk, with a wall 9 km round which Gilgamesh himself claimed to have built, would have held in DDDD 40,000 to 160,000 people, most of them not raising crops. 23 The city of Lagash had a population of 120,000. Around 2000 BCE the ur-city of Ur seems to have had a population of about 200,000. 24

And so to Changan (X’ian), China in 195 BCE at 400,000, with then the 52 cities of late in the Sung dynasty (DDDD-DDDD) in China of over 100,000 households, and Rome in 25 BCE at 450,000 souls, down to Beijing in 1500 CE at 672,000 and Istanbul in 1500 at 900,000. The capital of China in the seventh century CE had a million people. 25 These are not huge by modern standards-Chicago proper is about 3 million and the metropolitan area 8.6 million, enabled first by the tram and bus and then by the automobile, not to speak of Mexico City’s metropolitan area population approaching 20 million, and Lagos in Nigeria 17 million. But the Mesopotamian and then Chinese and Egyptian great cities were big enough for great specialization by the bourgeoisie. [Direct evidence on size of B in such places?]

The city people of any time, that is, were mainly neither peasant cultivators nor aristocratic rulers, and neither priests nor bureaucrats. Almost all were traders in an extended sense-not growing anything and not taxing anything, but trading goods or labor to live. They bought low and sold high, made finished goods (sold high) from purchased raw materials (bought low), serviced the rest of economic activity in jobs as scribes, lawyers, surveyors, teamsters, manufacturing workers. Remove from the big-town total the proletarians and slaves, and put the taxing aristocrats and tithing priests in their own classes, and their bureaucrats in the category of a clerisy. What’s left is a commercial bourgeoisie, the substantial minority in the town or city that made its living managing by bitter or sweet words the markets for goods and labor and land.

[Add a little comparative discussion on Africa, China, Americas, Pacific to avoid leaving the false impression that only the old Breasted story of "us" from Mesopotamia to the University of Chicago is Civilization.]

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“All Places with Towns had Bourgeois Capitalists”


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