A story for you here on this fine January morning.
A long, long time ago, the world (it was thought) was divided up into four classes of people: Nobles, and commoners, clergy and serfs. Commoners and serfs were barred from bearing arms, and were thus reliant on the protection of "knightly violence" - thus was born the veneration of the "noble warrior,' the notion of class, and the acceptance of any pillage the noble warriors cared to make.
Warriors ruled, okay.
Such was society for thousands of years, in thousands of different places. Such was the culture of medieval Europe, of Shinto Japan, of ancient China, of pre-European New Zealand, of today's Islamic states. The three "estates" (comprising nobles, clergy and commoners, with serfs consigned to the memory hole) were said in medieval Europe to be part of an "organic whole" that "reflected the order of heaven." Nobles (said their clerical allies) were divinely mandated to live off the backs of others. Poverty and plunder and the "chivalry" and "warrior code" that created them were nothing to be reviled, but a recognition of divine order -- "The poor will always be with us" was not so much a plaintive cry as the ordering of a society "one and triune like the divinity who had created and would ultimately judge it."
So said the clergy.
The clergy and the knights needed one another: The nobles needed the sanction of the clergy to continue their plunder; the clergy needed the protection of the sword to keep their own game going. Ayn Rand pointed out that these two represent two sides of a vicious and mutually dependent coin -- she characterised them with the images of Attila and the Witchdoctor:
While Attila extorts their obedience by means of a club, the Witch Doctor obtains it by means of a much more powerful weapon: he pre-empts the field of morality. . . . Both of them are incomplete parts of a human being, who seek completion in each other: the man of muscle and the man of feelings, seeking to exist without mind. . . . Atilla rules by means of fear, by keeping men under a constant threat of destruction--the Witch Doctor rules by means of guilt, by keeping men convinced of their innate depravity, impotence and insignificance.
The nobles acquired their values by force; the clergy by the fraud of "mystic revelation." Their mutual need to keep the plunder going created the "warrior culture" and the veneration of martial virtues that made this setup so widespread. The astute reader will be able to draw examples of his own, and will also be able to see what was missing.
What was missing was someone to create the values being plundered. Pillage was revered; production was not. Plunder was valued; trade was not. No wonder human history has mostly been a history of conflict and stagnation and pauperism, at least in those times and places in which this con game has dominated and the warrior culture has not been supplanted by a trader culture.
A trader does not seize his values by force; he trades value for value -- a mutual exchange in which both parties benefit. In those times and places in which the warrior culture is dominant, life has been nasty, brutish and short; in those times and places in which a trader culture is dominant, human history is more benign. Reflecting at the end of his life on the necessary overthrow of the witchdoctors and the warriors, Thomas Jefferson pointed out the necessity of "of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government."
All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
After centuries of struggle, the light of reason and the recognition of the rights of man has led, at least in those parts of the world where the light is allowed to shine, to the burying of poverty and the veneration of greater virtues than slaughter and plunder and the apologetics of witchdoctors. Let us ensure that the light continues to shine ever brighter, even as the forces that seek to snuff out that light gather and redouble their efforts.